This is how the events were summed up by a British friend. He does not have any strong preference for staying or leaving. This is true of Britain as well; the referendum counted 51.9 per cent in favour of leaving and 48.9 per cent against. In general, rightists voted to leave, and leftists voted to stay: 95 per cent of United Kingdom Independence Party supporters and 61 per cent of Conservatives were in favour of leaving, while 85 per cent of Labourites, 80 per cent of Greens and 68 per cent of Liberal Democrats were in favour of staying. More old people – 64 per cent of those over 65 and 60 per cent of 50-64-year-olds – were in favour of leaving; more young people – 71 per cent of 18-24-year-olds and 54 per cent of 24-49-year-olds – were for staying. But amongst the young and old there was another fissure: the more educated were in favour of staying, the less educated wanted to leave. Sixty-eight per cent of graduates, 48 per cent of those who had studied beyond school but not finished a degree, and 50 per cent of those who had finished A-levels favoured staying. Of those who had gone no further than GCSE, 70 per cent favoured leaving, presumably out of the fear of Poles and other job-seekers.
There was a strong geographical divide: most of England and Wales had majorities wanting to leave; only the Thames and Avon valleys and the west coast of Wales had majorities in favour of staying. Scotland and Northern Ireland were solidly in favour of staying – as were the distant Shetlands and Gibraltar. Both Cambridge and Oxford had over 70 per cent voting to stay. Amongst other localities in favour of staying were City of London, Westminster, Vale of White Horse, and Na- h-Eileanan Siar. Boston and South Holland voted in favour of leaving – yes, both are in England. So did Wyre Forest, Epping Forest, Forest Heath, Forest of Dean, Bracknell Forest, and New Forest.
Nonwhites often face abuse in England; they take this to be race prejudice, going back to when Britons ruled browns and blacks. That is history; prejudice has become more sophisticated since. Will Dahlgreen, who did a survey of prejudice in Britain, found that the British generally thought better of the old than of the young and of women than of men, and broadly ranked whites, Jews, Chinese, black Caribbeans, Pakistanis, Poles and Australians in that descending order. Indians do not figure in the list; they presumably got fed up and migrated to the US long ago. Vijay Mallya, who lives the life of a squire in an English village, apparently has not made much of an impression on English consciousness.
I was surprised to find Poles amongst the unpopular ones. They did not do too badly in terms of perceived qualities such as intelligence, honesty, hard work or politeness, but they scored high on bad habits such as travelling without a ticket, taking drugs, drunkenness and sexual activity. I would have put down their unpopularity to Britons’ xenophobia; but then I remembered that there are people they broadly approve of – Americans and Canadians, for example. South Americans also do not attract much opprobrium; nor do Chinese and Japanese. There is some prejudice against Australians, but nothing comparable to Pakistanis – and Poles. The English, who were amongst the first Europeans to spread out across the world, who ruled, traded with and lived amongst the most diverse populations, continue to have a strong parochial element. They do not exactly welcome strangers in their midst. Their departure from the European Union is part of this xenophobia.
Can there be a compromise? I am sure David Cameron tried it, asking to be exempted from free movement of people in the EU, and failed. The European Union has 27 members. Its decision-making body consists of all the 27 prime ministers and equivalent; and they decide by concensus. So they find it much easier to take negative than positive decisions. They had no difficulty in telling Britain to leave; and when Britain asked for exemption from freedom of movement of people, they found it easy to say no. So my reading is that there cannot be any compromise. Britain is out; EU will eventually treat it like any other foreign country. EU does not treat all foreigners equally badly; it treats Americans much better than Turks. But it will be less than best treatment.
Can Britain get closer to some other block or country? Cameron has been trying. He has been to China and India a number of times. But neither sees any advantage in making special deals with Britain. Obama cannot be happy with Brexit; he was urging Cameron all the time to make the best deal possible. There are no alternative arrangements available. So Britain will have to get used to being on its own. it is an island, and has enjoyed being one. But it may not be able to continue that either. For Nichola Stearn, first minister of Scotland, is strongly opposed to Brexit. She has been in Brussels asking to be allowed to stay in; the 27s have told her she has to settle with England first. Since the 27 have thrown Britain out, the only way Scotland can stay in is if it separates from England. It voted against Scexit in November 2014; now it may ask for another referendum and vote for separation.