Semester in London: Brexit through the gift shop

SPM blogger David Marino travels away from London and into Havering, England to learn more about Brexit voters

I’m told in high and low places alike what I should think about Brexit: that it was a momentous mistake on the U.K.’s part, that those who voted for it were primarily motivated by a racist fear of immigrants, and most importantly, it was a lot like the election of President Donald Trump.

Before I left London, I had spoken to a few friends about the humorous dread I harbored about being asked about President Trump while abroad. One friend captured the essence of all others with a simple quip. 

“Well, they can’t give you too much sh--t. They voted for Brexit!”

On its face, the Brexit comparison makes sense. Both elections yielded surprising, and to many unsettling, results. And both votes were seen as a populist backlash against the establishment. 

And to top it all off, Trump has compared himself to Brexit, once giving himself the moniker “Mr. Brexit” in a pre-election tweet. He also mused about the vote shortly after it occurred while opening a new golf course of his in Scotland, calling it a “fantastic thing.”  

I’d met a whole lot of Trump supporters in the States, but never someone who was a steadfast supporter of Brexit, a Brexiteer, as they are sometimes referred to in the U.K. 

I wasn’t going to find many Brexiteers outside my central London flat. The area I live in voted 75 percent to remain in the EU, according to BBC News. So I went to a place where I might find some. 

Let me take you to Havering, the easternmost Borough of London. The population of Havering is 250,000-strong, and 83 percent White British (London itself is only 45 percent White British). Although it’s within the London city limits, it’s far more suburban than much of London. It is filled with residential neighbors, lots of trees and parks, and a whole lot of people doing yard work, often bringing to my mind my hometown in suburban New England.  

But most importantly, this area is a hotbed of Brexit sentiment. About 70 percent of people in this area voted to leave the European Union last year, easily the most heavy-Leave presence in the London region and the 12th heaviest Leave vote in the U.K. out of nearly 400 areas. 

For Glen Mills, 38, voting Leave was a no-brainer. Mills did so out of opposition to what he believes is the undemocratic nature of the EU, which he described as a “bit like a dictatorship.” 

“I’d had enough of being governed by an unelected parliament,” Mills said.

However, Mills distanced himself from the anti-immigration nature of the Leave campaign, which he described as the “bad thing” about Brexit. He said England was “made” on migrants, and would suffer without them. 

Mills also made a point to voice concerns for refugees. While he acknowledged that migrant caps are needed, and proper screening processes should be done on those attempting to enter the U.K., he said not accepting any migrants should never be an option. 

“There are people being murdered in all different countries,” Mills said. “They need some sort of refuge, and we should be able to give them that.” 

Mills said he could understand the comparison between the campaign for Brexit and the election of Trump, whom he described as a “dangerous” TV entertainer.

“It was a vote of no confidence,” Mills said. “The public on both sides of the pond have had enough; they want some change.” 

For Kim Beadle, 53, voting to leave the European Union was not just about the present political climate, but England’s long history. 

“We, England, should be on our own,” Beadle said. “We’ve always been a great country. All the wars, we’ve come out over everything.”

You might think that a person who valued national pride and sovereignty with a dose of immigration skepticism would be for President Donald Trump, right? 

Apparently not. Beadle does not have a particular liking for Trump, whom she describes as a “bit of a fruitcake.” 

“I can see some of his points of view, but he can be a bit racist,” Beadle said. “Why can’t we all live in peace together. Why can’t everyone just get on?”

Yasser Manjouneh, 50, was the only person I was able to speak to in Havering who voted to remain in the European Union. He did so because of his belief in a united Europe and what he sees as beneficial EU trade deals.

Manjouneh was more than aware that he was in the minority vote in the area, which he blamed on people being misinformed.

“Some who are very close to me voted out. They say we need to get our sovereignty back,” Manjouneh said. “It’s a very poor excuse.” 

My conclusion to all of this, and I don’t want to be misunderstood: politics is quite a complicated thing, and saying that people voted for any few specific reasons is always going to a simplification.

What I know is this: Brexiteer or not, everyone I spoke to, including those who refused to go on the record, gave negative assessments of Trump, the president of the United States, of whom the U.K. is supposedly in a “special relationship” with. 

While Trump may call himself Mr. Brexit, from what I can tell from here in the east London suburbs, the only thing that pro and anti-Brexit people have in common is their disdain for Brexit’s self-proclaimed king.

Reach the blogger at or follow @Marinodavidjr on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this blog are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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