Saturday, 25 June 2016

Leaving the EU

I feel strongly about Brexit because it may impact my residence in Finland and my future with my Finnish partner. As I am now studying Peace, Media and Conflict Research, I am proud of the EU as an institution that was designed to maintain peace and cooperation between its member states. I'm really disappointed with the outcome of the European Union (EU) referendum. As an immigrant and someone interested in working for the EU I'm not sure what the future holds for me and my partner. At the end of the day we all have our own personal reasons for whether we want Britain to leave or stay. Perhaps I should have transferred my savings in my UK bank account to my Finnish bank account now that the pound has dropped to a 31-year low. I recently bought a new phone in Finland, and was told that it has a three-year warranty due to EU regulations. It made me wonder if such regulations will remain in place in the UK.

I'm trying not to jump to any rash conclusions because we can't really say what will happen now. The minimum period for Britain to leave is two years after we submit our application, which make take some time. The EU may express concern about the loss of one of its biggest contributors and its possible subsequent deterioration. Perhaps it will consider major reform, or Britain will have another referendum. Three million people have signed a petition demanding a second EU referendum.

The situation will depend on Britain’s negotiations with each of the 27 remaining EU member countries. I'm mostly thinking of how it will effect travel because that is important for me. The British may eventually need to apply for visas to visit EU countries where we didn't need them before, and they will need to apply for visas to visit Britain. For example, my Finnish partner might need to apply for a tourist visa to visit Britain, and if we move to Britain together she may need a work or family visa. The British may also need to get a visa to come to Finland, although I should be fine for the time being because I have already registered my residence here. It might make life more complicated and take more time and money, but I don't think getting a visa should be a problem for either of us because we both know English and I know some Finnish, we are educated, and working. I am concerned about visas because I’ve seen how it complicates the lives of my non-EU friends living here. It takes a lot of time, costs a lot of money, requires them to have a substantial amount of money in their bank account, and sometimes obliges them to return to their home country in order to reapply before coming back. Undoubtedly Brexit will have a negative effect Britain’s tourism industry as a result of the EU citizens who must now apply for visas.

Unfortunately, tuition fees for non-EU students will be introduced in Finland from autumn 2017 onwards, which means that as a result of the UK leaving the EU Brits will no longer be able to access the education without tuition fees here that I have. Furthermore, I have applied for application for financial aid with education from the Finnish Social Insurance Institution (Kela) on the basis of being an EU citizen and working at least 18 hours per week. I am now wondering if this application will eventually be rejected as I won't be an EU citizen.

Whilst taxes are extremely high here, I am extremely proud to pay them because I am not paying for my education. I realise the taxpayer is funding my education, which is why I want to give back to the University of Tampere, Tampere and Finland itself in various ways, such as through volunteering initiatives. In the same way Britain takes foreign students into its schools and universities, British students such as myself also take advantage of opportunities abroad. I think the least Britain can do is take in our share of asylum seekers and refugees due to our colonialist past and contribution to wars that caused them to flee in the first place. I cannot criticise immigrants, even if I wanted to, because in my situation I think it would make me a huge hypocrite.

I'm pleased that David Cameron has announced his resignation, but concerned about the prospective candidates for Prime Minister, particularly Boris Johnson. I'm also thankful that Britain may no longer be part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement. It has been claimed that Scotland could veto Brexit because they voted to remain, leading to further discussion of Scottish independence. I am supportive of Scotland becoming independent, although I think this could leave England quite isolated. I'm not sure how much longer the United Kingdom will be united. It’s a shame that the country might break up, but somewhere wants independence then it should have it. We have a pretty big population, and I think governance seems more effective in a smaller and more localised setting, or at least that's my experience in Finland.

Immigration is only one aspect of EU membership which seemed to dominate the debate. A very small proportion of immigrants are a threat to society. Most are productive citizens. The leave campaign was not very convincing when it continued to reiterate the same argument and disregard the other aspects. What about the free market, trade, travel, cooperation, and peacekeeping? We want to take without giving. We have so many holiday homes in France and Spain therefore we should accept the French and Spanish wishing to visit or live in the UK. We seem to be forgetting the 1.2 million UK-born people living in other EU countriesSome of these people were denied say in EU referendum due to missing postal votes. This is why I chose to vote by proxy (meaning appointing someone you trust to vote on your behalf). Furthermore, if we remain away from the UK for any more than the 15 years, we will then automatically lose our right to vote in British elections. I met a Brit who has lived in Finland for over 15 years and was therefore unable to vote, despite the huge impact that it could have on his life. Some people voted to leave the EU because they want more democracy, but the referendum itself did not appear very democratic to me.

I think the leave campaigners propagated unsubstantiated arguments surrounding immigration that promote fear and hate. It is unfortunate that some media used the murder of Jo Cox to further propel the anti-immigration argument. I think it was reasonable that remain campaigners discussed the negative consequences of leaving considering the financial and political chaos that has followed our decision to leave. It actually appears that people were shocked about the consequences of leaving the EU, and therefore were not sufficiently informed due to the remain campaign's provision of information being labelled as 'scaremongering'. Hours after the result of the referendum were announced, Google searches increased for “what happens if we leave the EU” – suggesting that many were not sure what they were voting for. According to a poll, 1.1 million now regret voting to leave, and are now in shock because they did not believe their vote would really matter. Some non-voters say they wanted to remain but did not bother voting as they were so sure we would stay in the EU. Promises made during the campaigning before the referendum have already been broken, namely the pledge of £350 million for the NHS.

As Britain is the tenth largest source of migrants in the world, we are very hypocritical to complain about immigrants when we send so many ourselves. Immigrants only comprise 0.5% of our own population. Leaving the EU will lead to fewer workers’ rights, and therefore immigration is only going to increase. It will make little difference to immigration policy, will not stop immigration, and especially will not remove current immigrants, because we have to accept the EU policy on immigration in order to be a part of the single market. It is a despicable and dehumanising concept that immigrants and their descendants are being stopped in the street and ordered to leave Britain, even those who were born in the UK, as a result of the divisive and xenophobic campaigning before the referendum. Hate crime and racial abuse have increased after the referendum, and even some of my foreign friends back in the UK have received bad treatment. Some want to apply for British citizenship so they can stay. They said that some of the Brits who voted to stay have apologised for the result making them feel unwelcome. I do not want to bring my partner to a country that is so unwelcoming to foreigners. Furthermore I don't think it’s possible to judge someone's right to be in the UK in the ways and time limits that are being suggested. Someone might be hardworking and have low points, or lazy and have high points. They might speak brilliant English but have no paperwork for it, it’s possible.

People who are claiming that leaving the EU is Britain's 'Independence Day' seem to be forgetting the fight for independence of many countries colonised by Britain, which still has impacts on those countries' language, culture and development today. It has led to poverty in many places because we exploited their resources. I have never felt more disgusted and appalled to call myself British. For that reason, I am considering applying for Finnish citizenship, for which I will need to have five years’ continuous residence. I have already completed the beginners Finnish language classes, and it will be helpful to complete the advanced classes. I want an EU passport and I want to be able to travel as freely as my Finnish partner. I can understand that people resort to nationalism when they feel that things are desperate. It was effective propaganda used in Nazi Germany. I think the bankers and governments blame the problems they've caused on the vulnerable, in this case the immigrants. Considering the facts and statistics, blaming immigrants isn't logical at all. Maybe it’s a harsh comparison, but the same happened in Nazi Germany with the Jews. I just cannot relate to those who define themselves by their nationality because it a totally arbitrary part of our identity which we have no choice in.

Some argue that language requirements in the NHS should be stricter. Having lived in Spain and Finland, and studied both languages, I know how difficult it is to learn a language until you are able to move somewhere where it is spoken and immerse yourself in it. At work I try to speak Finnish, but sometimes I have to explain things to customers in English because my Finnish is not fluent yet. Sometimes they seem surprised, but some have said that it is refreshing for them to speak in English, and appreciate the opportunity to practice. If the situation were reversed and I were a foreigner living in Britain and starting to learn English, I dread to think of the abuse I’d get from people who haven’t opened their minds to other countries and languages. Although we all work on the till and interact with customers, some my colleagues at the restaurant cannot speak much Finnish. Others can also speak a bit of Finnish, and my one colleague is fluent in Finnish after only five years, which gives me some hope. I don’t think English native speakers can always blame others for not knowing our language; we should blame ourselves for only knowing one! Like our nationality, our mother tongue is a totally arbitrary part of our identity which we have no choice in. It just so happens that some of us are lucky enough to be raised learning one of the world’s most widely used languages. On the other hand, whilst I decided to learn Finnish for personal reasons, on a global scale learning a language that is only spoken by around 6 million people is not particularly useful. In this sense I can see why it is important for foreigners to learn English.

I think most voted to leave because they do not agree with the way the EU works. Others wanted to remain, but voted to leave because they wanted to go against David Cameron. I only know four people who voted to leave. Two of them are among the 61% of those aged 65+ who voted to leave, and two of them are among the 25% of those aged 18-24 who voted to leave. I read one article about a grandfather who offered his 17-year-old grandson, who was unable to vote, the opportunity to persuade him to change his vote from leave to remain, because it is likely to have a longer impact on his grandson's life than his. Young people are questioning why 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in the 2014 Scottish referendum, but not in the EU referendum. A survey has found that the result would have been remain if these votes had been allowed.

Perhaps many older people voted to leave because they want the old Britain back. Now the younger generations have to live with the consequences. Realistically it is not possible to bring back the past because we now live in a world in which the development of technology makes it easier to travel, hence increased migration. This would probably still be the case regardless of whether we had joined the EU or not. We should focus on the positive; we are able to travel freely, and learn about other cultures whilst they are able to learn about ours. Globalisation isn’t worth fighting against because technology and communications will only continue to develop. We can try to reduce the effects of globalisation’s disadvantages and embrace its advantages People are scared of the new and the unknown. In my experience our views change once we get to know someone we previously had prejudices about.

I think that social media has been a good platform for debate. I discussed the referendum with several people and some leave campaigners presented good arguments that I had not otherwise considered. It is good to be open about and defend our opinions, and learn about both sides of the argument.


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