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The View From Britsburgh: Expats See U.S. Parallels In Brexit Vote

Vote Leave Brexit
David Holt

British voters decide today whether the UK will remain in the European Union, or forge its own path. After a months-long debate that was often acrimonious, British expatriates all over the world are anxiously awaiting the outcome.Tony Battle is one of many who now call the Pittsburgh area home. 

90.5 WESA’s Josh Raulerson spoke with the Monroeville business owner about what it’s like to watch the process from abroad.

Josh Raulerson: Can I ask how you plan to vote, or have you voted already?

Tony Battle: Yeah, I voted in favor of staying in. I looked at both sides, and, I'll be honest with you, I think it's a tough call. 

I mean, I was pretty much very self-centered in the way that I voted because I see that the damage that it would do pulling out is far greater than if they stay in. Now, I don't live there. I don't live there on a permanent basis. But if I was living there on a permanent basis, I'd be seriously worried about the immigration problem.  

As bad as we think it might be here in the United States, it's minuscule in comparison to what's going on in the United Kingdom. Unlike here, you can't just build housing developments because there's no land. Every piece of land that's available, you know, is already taken. So, you're cramming more people into less space and, obviously, that's not good for, you know, the social climate of Britain. 

I don't know, and I don't think anybody does, know exactly how it's all going to pan out. I think that they will stay in; if you follow the bookmakers in the UK, I think now the odds are pretty heavily in favor of staying in. 

JR: I had the impression that maybe the decisive moment when it began to turn in that direction--at least from my vantage point over here on this side of the pond--was the assassination last week of a (member of parliament). That kind of gets to the next thing that I wanted to ask you, which is how charged politically is the situation there, and how well do you think Americans understand what's going on?

TB: Well, I think, answering the latter first, I think that Americans really are almost ambivalent about what's going on in the UK. I think that if you talk to the average Pittsburgher about Brexit, and I think probably seven out of ten wouldn't know what you were talking about. The three out of 10 that do know what you're talking about really don't see it as having any effect on daily life here in the United States. And, um--

JR: And yet you noted there's some striking parallels between the situation there and here related to immigration and, sort of, nationalism.

TB: Right. But, I hate to be sort of ... blunt, but Americans, by and large, don't care what's going on outside of the United States borders. They really don't. You know, I'm a businessman; I travel frequently. I have friends of mine who do travel a lot. They're much more tuned in. Unfortunately the average American doesn't really see that, no matter what happens--they don't think it will affect the United states in any way, shape or form. 

And they don't see a parallel with what's going on socially in this country as to what's going in Britain or Europe, for that matter, even though it's very obvious that there is a correlation. It just happens to be divided by three-and-a-half hours and miles of water. 

The circumstances are very similar, and I think that United States citizens need to wake up and realize that we're living in a global world, whatever happens in the UK or the rest of Europe, is going to affect the United States in one way or another. 

JR: I'm curious how other people in the British expat community in Pittsburgh--I don't know how much contact you have with other folks.

TB: Oh, a lot. 

JR: What's the conversation like among them?

TB: I think that the vast majority of them--I have friends that, you know, we've known for a long time who work for Westinghouse on the nuclear division. Those people are overwhelmingly in favor of staying in the EU. 

When you talk to those people, they're not all looking at it from economic point of view. They're also always looking at it from, you know, is it better for Britain from a political and strategic point of view to allow access to immigrants, you know, to come and move into the country. And I think most people would say, "Yes, it's good for Britain. We need certain types of labor."

It's almost like the food industry in California. If it wasn't for immigrant labor, the fruit industry in California would collapse. The same thing would apply in the hospitality industry in Britain. That would collapse too because people who're basically providing the workforce in hotels, restaurants, bars, etc., are mostly immigrants. 

You know, I hate to be sort of crass, but most Britons wouldn't work for the minimum wage there, which is about double what our minimum wage is. They wouldn't work for that, you know? But the Eastern Europeans and some of these other foreign nationals will work for that kind of money and are only too pleased to get a job because it's more than what they would get paid back in their native countries. 

So, I would say that most Brits living here and ex-pats living here, I would say, would definitely be in favor of staying in. I haven't spoken to too many lately that have wanted to pull out.