I went to bed Thursday night knowing that the London (and U.K.) that I’ve grown to love over thirty years would not be the same when I woke up the next morning once the results of the E.U. referendum (aka Brexit) were revealed. I had spent the day texting my U.K. friend and he was feeding me live updates as I refreshed my twitter feed. We talked about the campaign (which was pretty ugly in my opinion with half-truths on both sides), about the issues which, sadly, were scary soundbites and wondered if people would really vote “Leave” if they researched the issue because it didn’t make financial sense to us (we both have Finance/Accounting/Compliance backgrounds and were in the “Remain” camp).
My love of London and the U.K. isn’t a secret, it was my first international trip in my sophomore year of college during Thanksgiving break. It was the country that first stamped my passport, one that inspired my wanderlust and one that showed me that a common language doesn’t mean we see things the same way. Over the years, I would visit London here and there and then when I started working for a U.K. firm based in The City of London, my trips became more frequent and regular. My daily speech was peppered with British words/saying (to the chagrin of my friends and family) and I kept up to date with what was happening in the U.K. as it was part of my job. When that job ended, I tried to get a job in London but was met with many barriers, mainly that I didn’t have the right to work in the E.U. and firms weren’t keen to sponsor my Tier 2 visa. I wanted to experience the ex-pat life working in Finance in London, the ultimate win in my books for a new chapter in my life. But the harsh immigration laws in my opinion against non-E.U. citizens would make it impossible for me to achieve this goal. I was gutted.
So the E.U. Referendum was quite frankly surprising to me. Why would the U.K. want to leave the E.U.? Sure the E.U. has problems and needs reform in my opinion but like any relationship, couldn’t we have seen a therapist to work out our issues? A divorce just seemed a drastic move without talking, just like that the people decided it was time to part ways. I get it – folks are angry, fed up and feel marginalized with the government. They want their voice back, they wanted their Britain back and wanted to limit global input and immigration/migrants. But I wondered did they really know what the effects of this divorce would look like – did they have a plan? I knew when I went to sleep that the markets would take a hit on Friday (the pound was already falling, the market losses were massive with S&P estimating over $2 trillion!!!) and that the world, which is so interconnected (I could talk for hours about this) would be affected. I could see the Finance folks in The City of London losing jobs as companies move their E.U. headquarters elsewhere in order to do business with their E.U. clients. I wondered how my friends would be affected by this. My friend decided to stay up all night and watch history in the making with his whiskey because while my 401k was taking a hit, his day to day life was now changing and his country was going to be torn apart by this vote (52% to 48%). There were already reports of violence, bullying and ethnic intimidations (xenophobia was a key campaign theme) which is sad.
On Friday, my Facebook feed was filled with sadness and surprise as my friends (mostly “Remain”) wondered “what’s next” and “what do I do now”. I drove to work listening to the BBC for more information. I heard speeches of victory and defeat. My colleagues asked me how I was with the results. I watched CNN in the lunchroom and answered a co-worker’s question “What is the E.U.” and “Why is this so important”. (ok, first shocked that so many U.S. folks don’t know what the E.U. is) I explained what the E.U. was, the main issues of contention and why this was a big deal. That’s not as bad as “What is the E.U.?” being the #2 Googled search term by the U.K. the day AFTER they voted – did they not know what they were voting for? Scary.
I started to read the stories of British citizens who lived abroad in other E.U. countries – what would happen to them? The E.U. investment in the Arts & Sciences in Britain? I saw interviews with those who voted “leave” having regrets not knowing the domino effect of their vote who wanted another vote (really? There are no do-overs in elections). I kept shaking my head, my friend who never slept and ran out of whisky was also shaking his head too. My friends and family kept asking me if I was ok as they heard about the U.K. vote.
I read results that showed the older folks (over 50) voted to “Leave” and I wondered why they would choose to limit the possibilities for their children and grandchildren to live and work in 27 other countries (although maybe they keep this right who knows?). I saw that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to “Remain” and their futures were now linked to the British folks who voted to “Leave”. It just seemed like a crazy mess and will continue to be for a while until it gets sorted in the next few years. New trade agreements, new tariffs/taxes, new passports to issue, new rules for current E.U. workers, visitors, residents in the U.K. and other countries, new E.U. offices to establish (I’m thinking Ireland wins here). They need a new Prime Minister. They need a plan. They can’t cherry pick the E.U. parts they like. Folks are angry at the bankers, the lawyers and the government but the bankers will move their jobs, the lawyers will get more work with all the changes and the government will do as governments do continue to function and continue to frustrate us all. So what was gained in all of this?
But we’re in the U.S. so why should we care? As travelers we should know about the countries we are traveling to and how the politics and cultural norms could affect us when we travel. How are we contributing to the society – does the society welcome us? This result will affect the U.S. financially – It’s going to reverberate in the U.S. as interest rates may stay level (good for refinancing, bad for savings), affect your 401k (you probably lost money like I did) as I’m sure you are invested in U.S. companies that have a U.K. presence and affect inbound tourism from the U.K. to popular destinations like New York City, Orlando and Las Vegas.
London and Europe has been “on sale” for a while now with lower pound and euro rates. So if you’ve wanted to travel to the U.K. it’s a bit cheaper to sleep, eat and enjoy. U.S. airfares haven’t changed for summer but will be low for fall and winter. Package tours were priced out last year so you won’t see those prices change much as they are in US $. The deals are those bought in local currency GBP with a credit card that has no fx charges. I’m planning two trips in fall to London so I’ll look at whether points make sense or using cash. I might upgrade my hotel now as it will be in my budget range but other than that, not much else will change for my travels.
So now I wonder like the rest of my friends “what’s next” as we step into the unknown. Will the United Kingdom really be united? Or will Scotland and Northern Ireland try to go their own way too? Will the E.U. remain after this or will this trigger other countries to vote to leave? Will I need to resurrect my French Francs, Italian Lire and Greek Drachmas (doubtful)? What will the people do next is anyone’s guess. As my former colleague in London would say “Watch this Space”
What are your thoughts to the “Brexit” and will the lower pound entice you to book a trip to the U.K. anytime soon?