Now, anti-Brexit campaigners look across the Atlantic with trepidation. Five months past the protest stage, they’re still deciding how to channel their outrage into political action, fighting internal division and burnout, and realizing now—unlike during the lead-up to the referendum—that they must begin making inroads with the opposing side.
Though the vote for Trump and the vote to leave the EU concerned drastically different issues, they were animated by the same dynamics: younger, urban, educated, affluent voters tended to opt for open borders, and to preserve the liberal status quo, while rural, older voters in places that have not reaped the benefits of globalization—the American Rust Belt, and the north and east of England—tended to swing the opposite way.
Josh Glancy, a British correspondent in New York, described the eerie parallels between the referendum vote and the U.S. presidential election. “Because I’ve been through Brexit, I kept telling people in Brooklyn to prepare, but no one really committed to the possibility, and that's why it hurts so much.” Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party leader, campaigned avidly for Brexit, spreading misinformation about the benefits of leaving the EU. He has openly supported Trump’s campaign, traveling to the Republican National Convention, stumping for Trump, and, more recently, posing with him before the gilded doors of Trump Tower.
“When we all woke up this week, it felt like the 24th of June”—the morning after Brexit— “all over again. We were all mourning again,” Palmer said. She hasn’t spoken to her family members, who voted to leave the EU and live outside London, since the vote, and is trying to build a political future. In 2020, she hopes to stand for election as a member of parliament for the Liberal Democrats. She’s helping with grassroots outreach efforts, reaching out to Leave voters and young 16 and 17-year-olds who will soon be eligible to vote.
“Be tactical. Pick your supporters, pick the politicians who'll give you some information quietly, and find out what you need to do to influence people,” Palmer said. While the initial anti-Brexit marches brought tens of thousands of people to the streets, attendance at subsequent ones in less-united areas was paltry. “There has to be a point to a protest march, otherwise you look stupid. You look like a sore loser. They're great initially to rouse people, to get people angry,” Palmer said. “But if you're trying to use it for momentum, it can actually go the other way.”
Indeed, the biggest victory so far against Brexit arose not from the streets but from the high court, which in early November ruled in favor of Gina Miller, a British businesswoman who petitioned the court to rule on whether parliament must vote on triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will initiate Britain’s departure from the EU. “A hundred thousand people marching on parliament would not have had 1 percent of the impact that she’s had,” Glancy said. Police have warned Miller to stay inside and avoid public spaces over concern for her safety—she has received death and rape threats on social media, and has been described as a “foreign-born immigrant” working against British democracy (Miller was born in British Guyana). Especially after the politically motivated murder of Labour MP Jo Cox a week prior to the referendum, the threats against Miller are not being taken lightly.