More mail from Birmingham: Ben Heiden is preparing for the UK’s impending withdrawal from the EU and still finding time to enjoy student life.
Jan 20, 2020
It’s pouring down rain, and four of us are trying to squeeze under a tiny umbrella. It’s Saturday evening, and we’re in line for “Fab-Night,” the weekly party put on by the student union in their hall on campus. The “Fab” is an important part of student life in Birmingham together with pub nights, university sports, and take-away pizza. “For some reason I really want to talk about Brexit right now,” says one of the British guys under our umbrella. He has had a bit to drink. Suddenly, we are in the middle of a political debate about Boris Johnson and the foolishness of leaving the EU.
When the referendum was held in 2016, many people who are now students weren’t allowed to vote. Here on campus hardly anyone wants the UK to leave the EU. But at the Society Fair, where student-run groups have the opportunity to present themselves at the beginning of the year to first-year students, “Boris Johnson” hats and t-shirts with Brexit slogans stood out. The Conservative Party’s student group was wearing them. “We want to take back control,” they tell me. Their main criticism is that the European Commission lacks democratic legitimacy. No more money should be sent to Brussels.
They fail to mention that money from Brussels also flows in the other direction. Birmingham in particular has benefited from EU funding for projects that are meant to help British cities other than London continue to grow and develop.
After Boris Johnson won the parliamentary election in December – and with it the hearts of a generation of mostly older Britons – there doesn’t seem to be much standing in the way of Brexit actually happening. Birmingham, Europe’s youngest city, will just have to make do and find some way to look toward the future optimistically.
Political activism is not a foreign concept here, as I have experienced first-hand in conversations with other students leading up to the elections – and also at the international Fridays for Future protest last autumn, which drew a huge crowd.
I’ll leave the politics out of my next letter – I promise! Instead, I’ll share exciting stories about daily life here and the habits and customs of the island inhabitants.