I moved to London in 2010 to start an MA in Music Industry Management. I was having the worst time in Milan and London was one of the very few places in the world that offered such a course. I didn’t plan to stay but I became spoiled by choice very quickly. Soon enough I was watching 20 gigs a week and started my own record label. The truth though is that I’ve only seen the music scene diminish since then. Half of the grassroots venues I used to go to are now closed or became blocks of flats. The licensing law for venues had played a big role and tt’s true that the music industry has seen better days, but it’s the high rent prices and cost of living that are pushing creatives away from London. Most of them are going to Berlin, some to Manchester, Warsaw and Lisbon. The city changed a lot over the past years too, food and beer got better and London is becoming a much more homogenous and corporate city.
At first, I didn’t expect London to be as open to foreigners as it was. The vast majority of my classmates were Europeans but there were, of course, some Brits and also a few Americans. I remember being asked a few times if as an EU citizen I needed a visa to study in the UK. Most of my British mates back then didn’t even know the UK was part of the European Union. I’ve always felt their sense of detachments from Europe. The UK is not part of the Schengen or the Euro-zone and it’s easy to understand why people would be confused about it. For years there was nothing to talk about the EU, it was just there. The last elections for the European Parliament in 2014 were vastly ignored by most of the population and UKIP ended up being elected for the European Parliament.
Before 2013 I never had my right to live and work in the UK as a European citizen questioned or even heard any of the rightwing propaganda being propelled by a real person. First time this happened was in Helsinki. I was touring there with a band and the gig didn’t sell as many tickets as we expected. The day after while I was leaving the hotel the bassist engaged on a conversation about immigration and benefit tourism. His argument was that “lazy Brits should always be favoured over immigrants”. I confronted him and he couldn’t really justify why the Brits deserved such preference. I then explained to him that he had just come to Finland to work without the need for a visa, that we didn’t have anything to declare at the customs and that it would have been just impossible for me to organize that gig if it was any different. The conversation was over then. This sort of approach became more frequent since then.
Most of my British mates never cared for politics. But it all changed in the past month. Brexit is all people are talking about now.
There was also a time I took a couple of British investors to Brazil. They were obsessed about the idea of putting up a festival in the country and since I am also a Brazilian citizen and had lived there for 24 years they asked me to come on board. I explained them from the start that the country was very closed to foreigners, there were a lot of taxes to pay and the bureaucracy was a nightmare. They didn’t care and decided to do it anyway. Fine. We get there and are asked for bribes, the quotes we get are all abusive and the timeframe was just impossible to reconcile with all the regulations. We add all that to our budget plus a 25% tax to transfer the money overseas and the festival become unfeasible. After we are back in the UK I get a call from one of them saying he ran the costs and found a solution: We’ll take all workers and equipment from the UK, we’ll build it as a mobile festival! I said it would be impossible to get the visas, but even if we just didn’t, the customs would charge 120% on top of the market value of the equipments to get them into the country. Oh…right.
I find it very interesting how dependent the UK became from the EU without most of its people realizing it. It seems to me they would never be able to live without it. Most of my British mates never cared for politics. But it all changed in the past month. Brexit is all people are talking about now. I’ve overheard many random conversations on the streets and have been really impressed with the level of discussion. It has been amazing from a social scientist’s point of view to watch how this is all unfolding.
My views on it are that the UK will never leave. David Cameron resigned, there’s a political crisis in his party, the Brexiters have already gone back on their promises and nobody wants to push the button. Article 50 is too vague. Scotland and Northern Ireland will probably leave the UK of they invoke it. And even if we think about a future trade deal with the US it would probably look a lot like the TTIP. However, if they do leave, I can see London becoming a lot more affordable, a housing bubble bursting, Canary Wharf being transferred to Frankfurt or Paris, the City collapsing, empty buildings, shortage of workers. The immigration issue made up by the Leave campaign will finally be resolved: nobody will want to come to the UK.