the urbanist

London Is Already Feeling the Post-Brexit Fallout

Hugh Wade-Jones, Angelica Udueni, and Karolina Kielb Photo: Immo Klink

It’s been four months since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union, and the New York Times recently reported that the Marmite shortage is the “first tangible victim of that decision.” (Brits started hoarding their beloved condiment after news that the weakening pound caused a price ­dispute between the brand and the ubiquitous grocery chain Tesco.) But for the two dozen Londoners ­interviewed, in this waiting period before March 31, when Prime Minister Theresa May plans to trigger Brexit and the U.K. will officially begin its departure, there have been noticeable changes in their day-to-day lives. Some of these changes have been incremental, like a sudden ­jitteriness that seems to have shrouded the art world. For ­others, the effects have been more life-altering, like the student who’s found that fellow Londoners now feel emboldened to shout out racist slurs to her on the street. One thing that most everyone agreed on was that on the eve of the United States presidential election, no American should take anything for granted. And as the artist Aaron Angell said: “I thought Brexit-era British politics were in the ­toilet, but it was really nothing compared to what’s happening in the U.S.”

“I got a job, then lost it.”
“The referendum happened as I was finishing university. I started applying for jobs. I got a position to be an architectural assistant at a major architecture firm in London Bridge. They were recruiting for a European project they were about to undertake. I got the verbal offer during the interview, only to find, two weeks later, that because of Brexit this project that they were going to put me on had been lost. They had nine people that they would be taking on to start in September, and they had to let all of them go due to the ­referendum outcome.” —­Karolina Kielb, recent university graduate

“Racist people feel braver.”
“My friend Karissa set up @PostRefRacism, as a space for people to document their ­experiences of racism, ­xenophobia, Islamophobia.
People send us stories, ­screenshots, articles that are related to the increase of hate crimes, and then we retweet. In the first four weeks after the ­referendum, we got up to 100 messages a day: In Manchester, an Afro-Caribbean community center received death threats. An Egyptian family reported racist graffiti on their home in Cardiff. We still get messages every week. For me, I am black, and I’ve noticed more people shouting at me in the street since the referendum. Racist people just feel braver to speak up, I would say.” —Angelica Udueni, 20-year-old student

“Business has never been busier.”
“If you’ve got dollars in your pocket, you’re actually 30 percent richer than you were before Brexit because of the devaluation of the pound. I haven’t been ­busier. An American client of mine has a business based in the States, but his family lives in St John’s Wood and was offered the adjoining property to his current home at the turn of the year by his neighbor for £5,100,000, which he declined. At that time dollar versus pound was around 1.47, I believe. He was offered it again in May (a month before Brexit) at £4.9 million for a quick sale and eventually closed on it a few weeks ago. The combined saving of a slight price drop and swing in currency meant he ended up saving a fortune.” —Hugh Wade-Jones, mortgage broker

“Who knows if it can be done by March 31?”
“The prime minister has set this date for March 31 [when ­Article 50 will be enacted], which is her trying to be seen as tough, saying, ‘We’ve got a clear mandate from the people.’ As I’ve said in an inter­view, how can you call 52/48 a clear mandate? They’re contending in the High Court that Article 50 requires a parliamentary vote. I’ve spoken to Lord Pannick personally about this. He said if he wins, he knows the government will appeal; if he loses, he will ­appeal. Then it will go to the ­Supreme Court; in ­December we will know ­whether Parliament has a say in Brexit or not. If Parliament does, who knows if it can be done by March 31.” —­Lord Karan ­Bilimoria of the House of Lords

Maurina Harrisons and Lord Karan Bilimoria Photo: Immo Klink

“Its changed my relationship with my mother.”
“I grew up in an average working-class family. My mum worked in a shop for a few years before she had kids and then stayed home to raise us. In the run-up to Brexit, I was one of the people who was like, Oh my God, this is actually going to happen, because I was hearing people like my mum heavily on my social-media feed just having these absolutely nonsensical arguments — primarily about the immigration thing — for why we should vote ‘Leave.’ She and I disagreed on the immigration issue before, but it never really materialized as something that we had to have a debate about.
I tried to disengage. But two or three weeks before the vote, our arguments got heated to the point where she was like, ‘You’ve changed. You live in a world now where you can afford to be all liberal and care about everyone, but the reality is that you’re only where you are because I stand for the principle of looking after your own.’ A few days after the vote, she WhatsApped me being like, ‘I think it’s very immature that you can’t bring yourself to talk to me just because things have not gone your way.’
I effectively responded, ‘I don’t think it’s a great idea if we talk right now.’ What saddens me is that before I never would have thought she could really believe these things — she is my mother, she bore me, how can we possibly disagree so fundamentally?” — Amber*, education strategist

… And my nephew.”
“I voted to leave, and my nephew, he’s American and just kept badgering me in our WhatsApp group. He kept sending me newspaper clips about what’s going to happen to the economy, and that’s when I just said, ‘Forget it. I’m leaving the WhatsApp group.’ I didn’t want to discuss it anymore. I know now if we start talking again, the same thing will happen. He’ll say, ‘Oh, look how things are now. The pound has dropped.’ And it would be like, ‘You know what? It’s happened. It’s in the past. Things will be okay.’ ”
Maurina Harrisons, phlebotomist at the National Health Service

Photo: Joe McKendry

“A different friend is moving to Berlin every week.”
“I’d been working temporarily in Berlin, but Brexit made me want to stay because of the sense of panic. Jobs-wise, one of the things that Brexit is going to accelerate is the move of company headquarters to Berlin rather than London; London is no longer a bridgehead into Europe. More and more German companies are going over to English because it means they can recruit from anywhere in Europe. I’ve got friends who work at Resident Advisor and Highsnobiety and Zalando, which are all English-speaking. You go into any store in Berlin, and they can probably speak English. The guy at Deutsche Bank who opened my account spoke to me entirely in English, my online banking is in English. You can exist and do business fairly easily in English. A different friend is moving over here every week. The only problem is that my money’s been fucked. Suddenly everything in Germany is at least 20 percent more expensive because I’m paid in pounds. Whereas
I could have had a summer where everything was two-thirds the cost of London. London is so expensive it still works out cheaper than me staying put, but it does mean Berlin isn’t a bargain anymore, except for beer and rent.” — Daryoush Haj-Najafi, fashion writer

Photo: Joe McKendry

“Frieze is definitely going to suffer.”
“There have been galleries closing and others stopping doing certain sales, citing Brexit as one of the reasons. Martin Roth [museum director] left the Victoria & Albert and blamed Brexit. My gallerist said people out there in Europe have been frostier toward him and other English gallerists since the vote. Treating them as ‘the enemy,’ so to speak. Nothing has really changed yet, but it’s spooked people completely. Like, [the art fair] Frieze is definitely going to suffer if everyone starts having to pay more Customs charges, which is a distinct possibility. Everyone that works for those fairs from European galleries will have to get temporary visas. It’s almost very gracious that European galleries even do Frieze; we don’t have the collector base in this country.” Aaron Angell, ceramics artist

“Our retirement plans have been killed.”
“My partner is Australian, and we have properties that she looks after in Oz. We can’t now send money back to Australia because of the value of the pound. We now have to be more clever about how and when we send or take money to Australia. The plan was for me, because I’m coming up to retiring shortly, to emigrate to Australia. That won’t happen until things have settled down financially here, because obviously if I am going to take a huge chunk of cash with me, I’m going to have a huge loss. Basically that whole thing has been killed, so the effect on us personally has been huge. But in terms of my daughter, it may be in her favor what’s happened, because it will be easier for her to buy somewhere. I don’t think house [prices] will go up any further than they have.” Doug Barrow, city worker

“The future of our department is in danger.”
“Until Brexit, having a U.K. institution leading a big consortium was an advantage and a great thing. Now, suddenly, it’s flipped over because of Brexit. It would be interesting to carry out an analysis in perhaps one year’s time to see how many research consortia have changed their British project leader to a non-British after they have reapplied. Plus there’s the issue that most of us in the department aren’t even ­British-born. I am originally from Serbia. Our program director is from Bulgaria. We have a course leader from Belgium, a technician who is Irish, another one is Chinese, and a new lecturer is from Portugal. That future of our department is in danger, obviously; this nice scientific community that comes from everywhere.” —Dr. Danka Tamburic, professor of cosmetic science at London College of Fashion

Photo: Joe McKendry

“Our restaurant prices have already increased.”
“As a manager, I have to deal with the fact that Brexit has already increased prices. We’re a Mexican restaurant, so we import a lot of our produce. Although our products come from South America, the commerce goes through Europe [where the pound is worth less]. Before Brexit, a box of limes was £8 or £9. Now they’re closer to £12. It’s definitely going to affect the business and the staff. I have already had to cut hours. The end result is less money for the mostly foreign staff, and prices are already so high in London; it can feel like you earn less here than you would back in your country. Basically, if goods cost more to import, then the only option is
to cut wages.” —Marika Parizzi, restaurant manager

Photo: Joe McKendry

“I covered up my tattoos.”
“I moved to New York last year, but I happened to be back in London for Brexit. My parents are Turkish immigrants, and they’ve always found Britain to be kind of racist in its bones. They were already about to set the house on the market before Brexit happened, but there was definitely a feeling like, ‘Oh, well, now we’re definitely going.’ I’ve always felt like an immigrant in London, even though I was born there, but I felt really anxious before the vote. I was in Somerset one day, and there were ‘Leave’ posters everywhere. It was warm outside, but I wore long sleeves the whole time: I’ve got a lot of Arabic tattoos, I’ve got the Turkish flag on my left arm, and it was really warm. Because I just thought, I don’t want to have my arms out. I don’t want people to see anything on me that makes me even more visibly not British.—Chimene Suleyman, poet

Dane Baptiste and Doug Barrow Photo: Immo Klink

“When all the other ethnicities are complaining about racism,
I have to act surprised.”

“My experience with Brexit has been there’s some comedic twists that you can take on it. Like the smugness of Brexiters: They shout out, ‘Get over it, we voted, it’s democracy!’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, but if you’re surrounded by five men that democratically elect to take your phone, that’s a mugging!’ And for me, as a young black man, it’s been strange; now, when all the other ethnicities are complaining about racism, I have to act surprised. Now, people are all, ‘It’s really hard, my friend is experiencing and I’m experiencing some backlash.’ And I have to be like, ‘Oh my God, are you saying these people are racist? I can’t believe it!’ ” —Dane Baptiste, comedian

Photo: Joe McKendry

“We thought, Would it be possible to create a newspaper
for the 48 percent?’ ”

“After the referendum, I thought, Would it be possible to quickly create a newspaper that would articulate how it felt to be one of the 48 percent? It was a success from week one. Forty-thousand copies in the first week. Although circulation has declined a bit from the summer-holiday period, we have been growing again. The issue that typified the spirit of what we’re trying to do was the issue where we attacked the Daily Express and the Daily Mail for how insidiously they’ve been turning Britain’s head toward thinking that migrants are some form of evil. We’ve got some real loyal fans now; we’ve got people who every Friday take a photograph of themselves reading the paper.” —Matt Kelly, editor of the New European

“A lot of my European workers wanted to leave.”
“I voted to leave. I’m well-off, I’m comfortable. It doesn’t affect me either way. But I look at my staff, many of whom are European migrants. So after the referendum, I sat them down and told them, ‘Obviously there’s been a bit of a shake-up, but we will look after you of course and I don’t want you to believe what you’re ­reading. ­Nothing’s going to change. No one’s suggesting anyone expels anyone who’s got a job from Britain in the same way that Germany isn’t going to expel English workers.’ But then I found out that a lot of them, many of them who have been here 10, 15 years, they wanted Brexit! I practically fell over. They all looked at me and said, ‘We’re fine.’ ” —Jeremy Keable, multiple-factory owner

“People are basing their dating criteria on it.”
“I’ve been working on a dating show. Something that now comes up is ‘How did you vote in Brexit?’ or, more subtly, ‘What’s your view on Brexit?’ People meeting new people now see the answer as a personality trait. It’s become a part of people’s identity, and people are basing their dating criteria on it.” —Tyger Drew-Honey, British TV personality, on how Brexit is affecting courtship

*Names have been changed.

A Brexit Calendar

June 24: Final results come in: Fifty-two percent of Brits have voted to leave the EU. The next day, Prime Minister David Cameron announces his resignation, and the pound crashes to its lowest levels in three decades.

July 13: Theresa May becomes prime minister and promises to enact Brexit. People wonder whether May will allow Parliament to be consulted on the Brexit plans, per the usual process.

July 19: A time is set — for sometime in October — to hear Lord Pannick’s case against the government at the Royal Courts of Justice. Lord Pannick, a leading lawyer and peer in the House of Lords, argues that it is unconstitutional to bar Parliament from participating in Brexit negotiations.

August 23: Financial reports indicate that the U.K. is recovering from June’s falling pound.

September 7: Theresa May says, “We will not provide a running commentary” from Parliament on how the Brexit negotiations are going.

October 6: The U.K. suffers a “flash crash,” in which the pound’s value decreases by more than 6 percent. The leading theory is news that Britain is heading for hard Brexit caused the crash.

March 31, 2017: This is the date by which May promises to enact Article 50, at which point the U.K. will officially begin leaving the EU.

Do You Bregret Passporting?

A Brexit glossary.

Article 50: The section of the Lisbon Treaty that describes how an EU country might voluntarily leave the EU. It is often referred to as a button or a trigger, e.g., “When we trigger Article 50 …”

Bregret: A feeling of regret from those who voted for Brexit.

Europhilia: A feeling of admiration toward the EU.

Euroscepticism: A feeling of distrust toward the EU.

Metropolitan Elite: Used by “Leave” campaigners to describe city-dwelling “Remain” voters. In “Leave” rhetoric, the metropolitan elite are wealthy people who “can afford to be liberal.”

Passporting: Under EU law, any financial firm registered in the U.K. is authorized to operate throughout Europe. When the U.K. leaves the EU, it could lose its “passporting” rights, which could cripple the financial industry.

Soft Brexit: A phrase to describe a soft separation from the EU wherein Britain remains in the single market and can trade, but is not a full member. It is unlikely Britain could remain in the single market without
accepting European migrants.

Hard Brexit:Total separation from the EU. This would mean no immigration from Europe and no access to the single market. Trade would be governed by WTO legislation.

*This article appears in the October 31, 2016, issue of New York Magazine.

London Is Already Feeling the Post-Brexit Fallout