How Brexit Looks from New Zealand

Last week, out of the blue, I was asked to “appear” on Radio NZ. They needed a British expat to talk about Brexit, and I can only assume Google led them to this blog.


I wasn’t exactly an expert, but I agreed. I figured it would be the most interesting thing to happen to me all week. I did tell them that I was only ten years old when I moved to New Zealand, and had therefore never been registered to vote in Britain in my life, let alone in the last fifteen years. This meant I was unable to actually vote on the EU referendum. (My mum was still eligible – just, but didn’t feel it was her place to.) They still wanted me, so I hurriedly set about doing some research.

British_biometric_passportNot getting a say in Brexit, I hadn’t thought too deeply about it. I was vaguely aware of the disturbingly racist turn things were taking, and of the exaggerated threats of a financial Armageddon turning into the actual Armageddon, but I hadn’t thought far beyond how it would impact upon me directly: I’d rather not give up my EU passport, thank you very much! I like having the option of living and working indefinitely – hassle-free – on “the Continent”. In fact, my New Zealand-born, German-bred boyfriend and I attempted to do just that a couple of years ago. (We only returned to New Zealand because his mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer.)

I realised, of course, that it was selfish to think this way. If I’d believed that it was in Britain’s best interests to leave the EU, (and if, of course, if I’d been able to vote,) I would have voted Leave. After doing some proper research, however, I did not believe that leaving the EU was in Britain’s best interests. When pretty much every expert in the world says it’s a bad idea, and when Nigel Farage and Donald Trump think it’s a good idea… it probably isn’t a good idea.

During the course of my research, I became seriously disheartened. The lies of the politicians, the stupidity of the people, the crass xenophobia suddenly given not just a voice, but a megaphone… I do realise there were perfectly good reasons to leave the EU, and if you’re one of the many perfectly nice, non-racist people who actually thought about their vote with some degree of intelligence, fair enough, and I have no qualms with you. The thing is, the more I researched, the more I came to realise that the worst outcome wasn’t leaving the EU: the worst outcome had already happened.

The atmosphere that this whole Brexit debacle has awoken in Britain is bloody terrifying. Watching from New Zealand, I’m seeing scenes reminiscent of 1930s Germany. Does the human race never learn anything?! The insidious fear-mongering is simply disgusting. Aggressive, pig-headed nationalism isn’t a good look for any country and, surely, we all know where it leads. Human beings should be working together for peace, not demonising anyone with a different accent! As an immigrant myself, I can sympathise and it’s scary.

I always thought my homeland was one of the saner places in the world. Well there goes my innocence.

I watched the votes being counted on the BBC website all throughout last Friday afternoon. (It was the middle of the night in Britain.) I became increasingly nervous, not just because I was waiting to go on the radio and make complete tit of myself, but because Leave was winning. That wasn’t supposed to happen! What about Scotland?

“Don’t worry,” I said half-jokingly to a friend on Facebook. “Scotland will save us!”

internet-42583_960_720The thing is, I have four hundred Facebook friends. (When you move around a lot that tends to happen.) Of those four hundred, only two (that I saw) expressed a desire for Britain to leave the EU. Now, my friends are, naturally, made up of mostly people of a similar age to myself, i.e. young people. They are mostly either:

  • Brits living in Britain
  • Brits living/studying in other European countries
  • Brits living in New Zealand
  • New Zealanders living in New Zealand
  • New Zealanders living in Britain

When the result of the vote was announced, my Facebook wall was flooded with dismay. People weren’t just disappointed, they were angry and scared. Some of them – New Zealanders, obviously – were amused. (You know, watching Britain tear itself apart is funny.) Being mostly young people, it’s not surprising that the vast majority of my friends wanted Britain to remain in EU. The vast majority of young people who voted in the referendum voted Remain. Forgive us for being optimistic.

Young people are often called selfish by the older generation, yet my generation is, so far, the most tolerant, open and accepting of any in history. We celebrate diversity. Most of us have been brought up with the message that love is love. We want to live in peace. We want the world to live as one. (Not in a homogenised way, in an inclusive way.) We want to look outwards, and out for each other.

To me, the entire Brexit thing was deeply demoralising. A sad, ironic version of John Lennon’s Imagine has been looping in my mind since Friday. I’ve seen the young voters criticised as idealists – well, bloody hell! What’s wrong with striving to live in an ideal world? As soon as you give up striving, you slide backwards and history repeats itself!

And I really don’t want history to repeat itself now we’ve got nuclear arsenals.


You know, I’m not a hippy. I’ve never particularly loved John Lennon. I’ve always enjoyed his music in the background, but, until these last few days, it’s never brought tears to my eyes.

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one

Remember, older generation? Remember when you loved that song? You used to be young and hopeful like us. I know your experience of the world since has made you cynical. Made you want to protect your own with no room for anyone else. Back when you had nothing, you were perfectly happy to share. Why aren’t you now?

Of course, I know the answer to that. And it is disheartening.


But anyway, here’s a link to my radio thing if any of you are interested. I didn’t quite manage to say what I wanted to say. You’ll probably be able to tell by my voice that the phone was shaking in my hand. You’ll definitely be able to tell that the final question threw me – what do you think of the answer I gave? (Also, my mum said I sounded Kiwi! I don’t, do I?)

I want to make it clear that, although I said Brexit was “a bit of a bum result for young people”, I’m not one of those young people railing at old people for forcing us into a future we don’t want. Yes, something like 75% of young people voted to remain in the EU, but less than half of them actually bothered to vote in first place. Which is just another reason to feel disheartened.

New Zealand FlagMeanwhile, the Brexit vote has reignited New Zealand’s flag debate. (If anyone thought that referendum was bad…) It’s also ignited a new republic debate. What’s the point, many Kiwis are asking, of staying in the commonwealth if Britain will no longer be our gateway to Europe? Many British expats in New Zealand are now saying, well, we may as well get New Zealand passports then. (Their British passports won’t be superior for much longer.) Many here are sharing the joke that Brits can no longer call Americans stupid. (But, of course, America has a Trump card.) I’m just sitting here feeling physically sick at the thought of Nigel Farage happy.

Britain doesn’t look like a nice place to be at the moment. I’m glad I’m in New Zealand.


5 thoughts on “How Brexit Looks from New Zealand

  1. danbigmacmeal says:

    Not going to do a whole Brexit reply because I completely agree with you, I just thought that ‘Trump card’ was hilarious!!


  2. alphathread says:

    Well done Abbi. You were brave to do the RNZ interview. Even though you feel that you didn’t get the message you wanted across, you did make your point. Your post above expands on that and reflects also the view of young people I know in the UK. I’m disappointed that my generation has voted the way they have. When I lived in the UK in the early 1970’s (that shos my age) the immigrant gripe was against the Caribbeans,, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Arabs, and may others you care to name. If you go back in history there has always been immigration into Britain. The political voice of the day on immigration was Enoch Powell. There were others before him. There is no doubt that the UK does have its problems, but using immigrants as a scapegoat is politically cynical. I enjoyed reading your post.


  3. Stuart Mackey says:

    A late reply, but if you live in New Zealand, would you be happy to have its laws and policies made in another nation by people you could not remove? More to the point, Kiwis can live and work freely in Australia without a supranational government to make it happen so why should the UK be in such a position?

    I view brexit as a long term positive thing, in the same way that India regaining its independence has been a positive thing, or New Zealand’s path to independence. Yes there will be short term pain, mainly because of the UKs political establishments incompetence across all political parties.
    The UK can look forward to engaging with the entire globe in its own right rather than having its horizons limited by a regional block with aspirations to be a nation called ‘Europe’.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Deborah Maddock says:

    I enjoyed reading your article and I think you have done a good job. I would like to comment if I may? I am a 54 year old Brit who has children and grandchildren, so my vote was very carefully thought about. I have grandchildren who are half dutch, and grandchildren who are half Filippino. I do not consider myself xenophobic or racist, but I have been called both because I dared to vote Leave.
    Research of a particular cause will take you so far, but it isn’t quite the same as living in the country with all of the issues being ever present. I lived in California for 11 months and would not feel qualified to give a good unbiased view of the current political goings on in the USA right now.
    For me, there were many reasons why I felt so passionately about Brexit.
    1. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has decimated the fishing industry of the UK. Of the 100% of territorial fishing waters, the UK is allowed by the EU to fish approximately 17% (according to the best research I could find). The environmental impact has also been awful, because if a trawler for example was allowed to catch a certain amount of fish, say, Hake, and caught more than that, and also caught Cod for which it did not have an allowance left for that month, all those dead, but perfectly useable fish, had to be thrown overboard! Billions of tonnes of fish ended up this way. This is not helping fish stocks, the environment or the economy of the UK, no matter how you try to ‘spin’ it. The EU changed the rules recently, so that all of this discarded fish no longer got thrown overboard, but had to be weighed and landed, and was then sent to landfill sites as rubbish. That in itself is even more detrimental to the ecology of the sea and is a great concern.
    2. The EU have not had their accounts signed off in many, many years because there is such a massive amount of corruption and wasting of money. It is eye watering the amount of money involved here. Ex prime mininsters who keep their countries in the EU get a 6 figure pension every year for life. This is unacceptable to many who face austerity and food banks as part of their everyday existence.
    France did not like the fact that the EU was sited in Brussels and kicked up a stink about it, resulting in a massively expensive building being built in Strasbourg, where every month the whole of Brussels packs up their offices and everything is shipped to Strasbourg for the next month. The cost for this is huge. H U G E.
    3. The people who actually make the laws which we then have to implement, are not voted in or out by us or the MEPs, but they are ‘Appointed’. This is a big deal if you feel that you want a democratic way of working.
    4. The EU is actually acustoms union, which, far from helping nation states (Countries) to trade freely, imposes a common tariff wall around itself and prevents each nation state from making their own trade deals with other nations. For example the UK is not allowed to make a trade deal with either New Zealand or Australia or the USA, by itself. We have to wait for the EU to do this for all 28 nation states at the same time. The success rate for this is dire. The people of the UK who voted leave, want to trade easily with all countries of the world, unhindered and in our own best interests and the interests of the countries we trade with.
    5.The EU legislates for it’s member states and overrules our own justice system. The EU has, by stealth taken away many powers of nation states, and I for one, did not like this at all. It was a very strong reason for me voting to leave.
    6. The Eu has not been shy about their plans. The Five Presidents’ Report sets out a plan for the amalgamation of fiscal and economic policies — a process that can only take place among the 28 states as a whole, since there is no legal mechanism for eurozone-only integration. The Belgian commissioner Marianne Thyssen has a plan for what she calls ‘social union’ i.e. harmonisation of welfare systems. Jean-Claude Juncker wants a European army, which the Commission describes as ‘a strategic necessity’. These are not the musings of outlandish federalist think tanks: they are formal policy statements by the people who run Brussels.
    A number of plans were postponed in Brussels pending our vote: the ban on powerful electrical appliances; licensing rules that will decimate London’s art market; the Ports Services Directive, which was opposed by every commercial port in Britain, every trade union and (for what it’s worth) every British MEP. But that secured a majority anyway, only to be deferred at the last moment until after our referendum.
    I absolutely reject this idea of a federal Europe which the EU are working toward.

    I have seen the disgusting way the EU treated Greece (who could only join the EU after Goldman Sachs fiddled the figures to make the country meet the EU membership standards, on paper at least) when they have struggled to make the changes to their country in order to properly comply with the EU requirements. The austerity forced on the people has been awful, and then to see how Germany has taken control of many national areas such as airports in the bailout agreements. It’s a horrible mess, and I am ashamed at how the Greek people have been treated.

    I could go on, there are a lot of reasons why I voted to leave. It is complex, and everyone had differing reasons. I just wanted to help you and your readers to see that many, many people have strong feelings about the EU and many of ‘us’ feel that it is in the long term interests of the UK and our children and grandchildren to leave and be independent of what ‘we’ see as a millstone around our necks. There was easy travel to European countries before the EU and there will be after we leave. Of course there are some who have racist views, but there are more who have not, and who voted leave. I also personally know many young people who voted leave too, and they were actively involved in campaigning for leave.

    I hope that my comments come across as reasoned and thoughtful. I know there are people who disagree, and that’s fine. I respect other’s views and hope that mine can also be respected.

    Liked by 1 person

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