A world in political turmoil began here

Today, we spoke to a freelance journalist and a political cartoonist. These two speakers linked the election of Donald Trump in the US with the Brexit vote in the UK as part of a pattern. In the past few years, a swell of right-wing populist movements have popped up around the world, such as the alt-right in the US, AfD in Germany, and National Front in France, and many of these movements supported Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidency, as well as Brexit. One movement in particular in Britain, UKIP, spurred the Brexit movement, against the wills of both of the country’s major political parties, even though UKIP doesn’t even exist anymore.

As Americans, we think of ourselves as being at the epicenter of everything. Included in that is the political turmoil that is currently changing the Western world. And, like it or not, the election of Trump was one of the most prominent signifiers of our new reality.

But, even before Trump’s victory, the rise of right-wing populism found its first big victory right here in the United Kingdom, when the vote to Leave the European Union came away with a shocking defeat against Remain in 2015. Leave’s upset victory almost perfectly mirrored the shock victory of Trump over Hillary Clinton. It left Scotland and Northern Ireland, which both voted to remain, very upset, just as many US states and communities were after Trump’s election. And, just like Trump in America, Brexit is an unavoidable subject in the UK, even though it inspires deep divisions. In nearly every one of our lectures this summer, the speakers have ended up talking about Brexit. Some were more open with their stances than others, but nearly everybody we spoke to brought it up, and they nearly all seemed to have supported Remain.

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The Monument in central London. It commemorates a devastating fire in London during the 1600s, a time when the political disputes involved European kings fighting over colonies.

The UK is scheduled to leave the European Union next March. If we had traveled to the UK even one year later, the trip would have been profoundly affected. Because the Republic of Ireland is part of the EU, travel from the UK to Ireland may become much more difficult. The easy border crossing I talked about earlier could be gone by next summer. There is also talk that Scotland might undergo a second referendum about whether to leave the UK. If Scotland, which voted to Remain, becomes its own country, it will sacrifice financially in the short term, but perhaps benefit in the long run. Northern Ireland also voted for Remain, so it could break off from the UK as well.

Of course, no one even knows what the final result of Brexit will be yet. As all of our speakers have pointed out, England is currently in a conflict about whether they will choose a “soft” or “hard” Brexit, which will affect how strongly they break away from the European Union.

France is caught up in all this political turmoil, too. We were reminded of France today when we ate lunch at a French restaurant. I had this delicious gallette.

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