Photos taken at the BoatLeave protest on Wednesday 15 June 2016.

Q&A: History teacher witnesses responses to Brexit vote while vacationing in U.K.

(Photo used by permission of Creative Commons)
At the Boat Leave protest on June 15, protesters argued in support of Brexit.

A referendum was held by the United Kingdom (U.K.) on June 23 to decide whether to leave or remain in the European Union (EU). By a vote of 52 to 48 percent, “leave” won.

History teacher Daniel Neukom and his wife, English teacher Patricia Fels, arrived in London on June 14, and were in Rhyl, Wales, when the election results were announced. They will be leaving Britain on June 28.

Q: What places have you visited in the U.K., and what have you seen or done there?

A: We’ve visited London and Dublin for a number of days each, two beautiful little English villages (called) Ludlow and Lacock, the “bathing” (swimming) resort of Rhyl in Wales, and friends in Reading, Birmingham and Frome.

Aside from reconnecting with old friends, the highlight for me was our tour of Trinity College in Dublin, led by a very handsome third-year student, Rob, where we saw the real Book of Kells. And Porsche’s victory at the 24-hour Le Mans race was really special.

Ludlow was incredible! It had a castle, a beautiful 12th-century church, and half-timbered buildings. And it’s sited on a hilltop in the most beautiful part of England, Shropshire. Go there!

Q: Where were you when you first found out about the decision to leave the EU?

A: We were at a lovely bed-and-breakfast in Rhyl, where Ms. Fels’s pen pal – whom she met through the Herman’s Hermits fan club when she was 11 years old – lives.

Actually, Fels found out the result when she opened her laptop and read her feed from the New York Times. Then we turned on the television and watched the BBC1 channel.

Q: Before the vote results were released, were citizens – and you – expecting a different outcome?

A: The polls were all over the place, but most indicated a “remain” in the EU vote.

One of the most respected pollsters, Mori, predicted a “remain” vote just the day before the election. Another pollster on the same day indicated an easy “remain” vote by a 10 percent margin.

Q: Public opinion on leaving the EU differed throughout various areas in Britain. By your observations, what was the prevailing opinion where you were visiting?

A: Both London and Dublin were extremely pro-”remain.” But in Wales there was a slight majority for “leave.”

However, almost all the people we visited – nine of the 10 – were for “remain.”

Q: Because of the unexpected leaving decision, have there been any protests or riots that you have seen?

A: No, but almost everyone we talk to – and especially the more respectable media – is very unhappy about the decision.

We also had a long debate at a dinner party we attended!

Q: Do you have friends in Britain who have spoken to you about their standing on Brexit?

A: It was the main topic of conversation with all of the friends that we visited, including Katie Krohn, ’97, who works for a bank in London. She works for Santander, a Spanish bank, and her husband, Justin, works for a German bank.

We do have one friend, a former head of school, who was for Brexit. He’s very worried about immigration. He argued cogently – but unconvincingly – that Britain would be better off leaving.

We haven’t talked to him since the vote, though.

Q: What do you think of the petition for a second referendum? Over two million have already signed, making it eligible for a debate by Parliament.

A: We don’t think there’s any chance of that. The people just voted!

What’s more likely is a new Scottish referendum to leave the U. K., since Scotland voted overwhelmingly for “remain.”

Q: Britain is the first nation to break away from the EU; it is uncharted territory. Do you think supporters of Brexit will gain what they hope, or will their decision only hurt Britain?

A: The general feeling is that it will create economic and political problems for the U.K.

Already the prime minister, David Cameron, has announced his resignation, and the leader of the main opposition party, Labour, is probably going to be replaced very soon.

Other members of the (Prime Minister’s) cabinet – and of the shadow cabinet of the Labour party – have either been dropped or resigned.

Q: Global markets have already plummeted, and with it, the value of the pound. Has this benefited you in your spending adventures?

A: Things are 5-10 percent cheaper because of the value of the pound.

However, a grande cup of regular coffee at Starbucks this morning cost almost $3!

Q: Lastly, what is your opinion on whether Britain should have stayed in or left the EU, especially with such a close vote?

A: We think it’s significant that there was such a divide between the young and the old, the university educated and those who aren’t, and the city people and country people. In all cases, the former group voted overwhelmingly for “remain.”

It’s also significant that had it been a vote by Parliament instead of a popular vote, “remain” would have won.

The result has created schisms in the U.K.

To make matters even worse, last night (June 27), England lost to Iceland in the Euro Cup, which means England is out of the competition. Football (soccer) is England’s number-one sport. The nation is in absolute agony.

By Mohini Rye

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