The results of yesterday’s referendum have come as a shock to many; in particular to EU nationals, like myself, resident in the UK. And I suspect also to Britons living in other EU countries. For us, this is a rather destabilising moment.
Perhaps because I grew up in one of the founding member states of the EU, and a country whose history and culture have been shaped by foreign invaders, I’ve identified as pan-European since a very young age. I’ve now lived in London most of my life and have always felt at home and integrated here, bar the odd episode where I’ve been made to feel like an outsider; mostly by non-Londoners.
Last year, I wrote about the accelerated process of Europeanisation the city had gone through over the past two decades; and about the gap this cultural transformation had created with the rest of the nation.
This couldn’t be any more obvious than today, looking at the map of the UK highlighting how people voted in the referendum.
Like the Scots, Londoners voted overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU – in contrast with the majority of English and Welsh people, who voted to leave.
The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has already stated that a second referendum for Scottish independence is on the table. And I can’t help but wonder – what about London?
It seems unfair that the city – an entity of nine million inhabitants – should be dragged out of the European Union against its own will, as the majority of Brits living here voted to stay. In my borough, 73% of the votes were in favour of remaining.
The outpour of hate and intolerance seen across the country during the campaign couldn’t be any further removed from our everyday reality here, where people of all ethnic backgrounds and nationalities coexist in relative peace and harmony.
I can understand very well the sense of frustration that led many people in the less well-off regions to vote to leave, especially after six years of ruthless cuts in public services. It was clearly a protest vote against the Establishment.
What saddens me, however, is that they seem totally unaware of having been used and manipulated by unscrupulous media and politicians alike. And the irony of it all is that if Brexit does cause a recession, as numerous economists have predicted, less wealthy people will be the ones to pay the highest price.
So far, not many had dared talk about London independence, because nationwide the capital is seen as “the culprit”, the cause of all evil.
But the unthinkable is now happening.
A petition addressed to the Mayor has been started on change.org to declare London independent from the rest of the UK. I had mentioned the idea (half-jokingly) to a friend only a couple of hours before coming across the petition online.
Of course, nobody is advocating that London let the rest of the country starve. But ultimately, everybody would be happier and better off in a devolved UK.
The North of England, for instance, could thrive once again, with Manchester or Liverpool as capital city. And the resentment towards London would wane.
Besides, if Scotland gained independence, under the current electoral system, England and Wales would be stuck with a Tory government for a very long time.
As well as an historic development for London, Sadiq Khan’s election as mayor last month was for many progressive people a huge relief, especially after the nasty, scaremongering and downright racist campaign conducted by his main opponent.
The Politics of Hate that dominated the referendum campaign, and divided the nation in the process, failed miserably in the London mayoral election.
This morning, Khan’s words were a source of inspiration and comfort:
“I want to send a clear message to every European resident living in London – you are very welcome here. As a city, we are grateful for the enormous contribution you make, and that will not change as a result of this referendum.
There are nearly one million European citizens living in London today, and they bring huge benefits to our city – working hard, paying taxes, working in our public services and contributing to our civic and cultural life.
We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign – and to focus on what unites us, rather than that which divides us.”