The view from London: Brexit delay adds to sense of fatigue

The view from London: Brexit delay adds to sense of fatigue

London, United Kingdom – Britons woke up on Thursday morning to a six-month, “flexible” delay to Brexit. 

A European Council emergency summit in Brussels, that ran until the early hours of the morning, ended with the 27 EU heads of state settling on a “compromise” date of October 31.

The new deadline is longer than what British Prime Minister Theresa May had requested – until the end of June – and shorter than the extension some European leaders were leaning towards to give the UK more time to rethink its Brexit strategy.

The extension comes with an option to leave earlier if the House of Commons can pass the withdrawal agreement May negotiated with the European Union over 18 painstaking months – which MPs have rejected three times. If MPs finally agree to her deal, the UK would leave on the first day of the following month.

The UK voted to leave the European Union by 52 percent to 48 percent in 2016.

The original deadline was March 29, but a deadlock in the British parliament led May to ask for an extension of Article 50, the part of the EU treaty that allows member states to leave.

With her own Conservative Party split, May sought support from the leader of the opposition, the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn, to find a cross-party solution. But those talks have so far not produced results.

Should cross-party agreement fall through, May has committed to putting a series of Brexit options to a vote in the House of Commons, and said she would be bound by the results. These could include holding a second referendum on any deal agreed by Parliament. 

Meanwhile, the EU says that if the UK is still an EU member by May 22, it should either participate in the European Parliament elections, which are scheduled for May 23-26, or leave on June 1. 

Al Jazeera went to two low-income London neighbourhoods that voted very differently in 2016, both with large migrant populations: Lambeth in South London, which emerged as the most pro-remain area in the country, with 78.6 percent of voters choosing to remain part of the EU; and Barking, in the capital’s east, which bucked the London-wide remain trend with 62 percent of people voting to leave. In Barking in 2006, the far-right British National Party (BNP) won 12 borough council seats – only to lose them all in 2010. 

Some people voiced frustration and fatigue with Brexit, while others hoped the delay would lead to a change of course.


‘Extension probably not going to make a difference’

Tamara Amarquaye, 24, events and community manager

“I think the extension is probably not going to make much of a difference, because we’ve had two years to agree on a deal. I think everyone became quite fatigued about Brexit. 

“Having a second referendum would make sense technically, because in the initial referendum people weren’t too sure about what they were agreeing on. I definitely wasn’t too sure exactly what the stakes were when I voted to stay in. I think a second referendum could possibly give us a clearer view of whether we should leave or stay. But then the question is, is it democratic to have a second referendum? 

“[As for the European Parliament elections in May], people are tired of having a say. We just want a decision to be made. Are we leaving or are we staying?”

I was so upset that I stopped reading about it

Liliana Dias, 28, from Portugal, works for a travel company

Liliana Dias was shocked when Britain voted to leave the EU [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

“I’m relieved for now. I’m from Portugal, so I couldn’t vote in the referendum. I hope there is another referendum. I haven’t been following Brexit news that much because I was so upset that I stopped reading about it. I do hope the UK doesn’t leave. 

“[At the time of the referendum,] I didn’t really believe it would be a leave vote until it happened. I have been here for nine years.”

‘Brexit is a sideshow, while Britain is falling apart’

Tokunbo Oke, 60, works in building management

Tokunbo Oke is concerned about the issues that are being sidelined by Brexit, such as a housing crisis [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

“To be honest, I think the negotiations were bungled right from the word go. There are many compelling reasons for not belonging to the European Union. The fact that it has a democratic deficit, that the European superstate is being constructed above the heads of people. Look at the way they treat migrants, even look at the way they treated Greece after Syriza, who wanted reform within the European Union. And also the euro, that is a straightjacket for the southern European countries. 

“We have to be careful about how the whole process is handled. Because the negotiations were bungled, the European Union have now taken control of the process. We have to be very careful because across the European Union, especially in Britain, there is the rise of the fascist far-right. And already they are constructing the myth of the stab in the back. 

“Personally, I think Brexit is a sideshow, while Britain is falling apart. There’s a massive housing crisis, the country is gradually slipping into recession, there’s problems with homelessness and the National Health Service. I’d rather we focused on the problems people are facing at the moment.” 


‘I voted Brexit but not because I don’t like Europeans’

Lazar Friedlander, 37, site manager in construction

Lazar Friedlander believes that London will cease to function if immigration rises [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

“Theresa May wants to leave the European Union with a deal so that before she gets kicked out of office, she can look good. She doesn’t want to go down as the worst prime minister in the history of the UK. 

“It’s all scare tactics. The average person won’t be affected. They’ll carry on buying their goods. If they don’t come from the European Union, they will come from America, from China, India. It’s all politics, politics at its worst. 

“If they put the right candidates up and they get rid of [European Council president] Donald Tusk and people like him, I would consider voting for serious democratic leaders, people who care about the actual Europe. 

“I voted Brexit [but] not because I don’t like Europeans. I don’t like that you take a country, or a city like London, and you just keep letting more and more people in, to the point where the city can’t function properly. 

“I’m Jewish, my family came here from Hungary after WWII.”

‘They should just go out without a deal’

Martin Whiting, 48, market trader 

Martin Whiting has lost faith in Britain’s politicians [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

“The ministers have had three years to get this together, and it should have been done. My family live in Spain, their roads are being paid for by the UK, while our roads are falling apart. So hurry up and get out really, because I can see the country going into a recession, it’s getting worse and worse.

“We’ve done that, we’ve had a referendum, we decided to leave. They’ve had three years to get on with it, and they haven’t. At the end of the day, do you keep voting and voting until we stay in?

“[If I was asked to vote in the European Parliament elections] I wouldn’t vote for anyone. I don’t trust them all.  

“When we leave the EU, no country is going to say we’re not going to deal with you. If there’s money involved, it don’t matter what creed or nationality you are. They’re just making excuses to try and get another referendum. We’ve had it. In six months, what if they’re still not ready? We get another six months, and another six months. They should just go out without a deal.”


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