A thousand private Brexits

So, last week, the citizens of the UK voted in favour of Brexit. This is bound to have far-reaching and long-term consequences, but at the moment, it is very hard to see what will happen and even what will happen next. Will there be another referendum about Brexit? Should there be? While the country debates the possibility of another vote, in a way it is already happening. Around the country, thousands of people are facing a second Brexit referendum of their own: Should we stay or should we go?

I have lived in the UK for a total of more than five years. But I am not British. Nor can I apply to become British at the moment. I am an EU citizen, which has afforded me the freedom to live and work here. But if Britain leaves the EU, this might no longer be the case. It might be fine. It might not be. The problem is, nobody knows. And we probably won’t know for years.

I am also a scientist. As scientists, we rely on funding from governments, charitable bodies and, yes, the European Union. We also rely, again, on free movement of people within the EU. If we no longer have access to EU funding, and if it becomes more difficult for bright EU students to come work at our universities, this is a problem. Of course, there might be a deal that allows for continued access to EU funding, or the British government might ramp up its domestic science funding to make up for the difference (a girl can dream!) It might be fine. It might not be. And we probably won’t know for years.

And then, I am a human being with very strong views about the worth of other human beings, and about how we should behave towards each other.  It has become clear that a large part of the Brexit vote has been an anti-immigration vote, and I am very worried about the climate of racism and hate that seems to have come out of the leave campaign and its success. I am not sure this is a climate I want to live in. Of course, there are plenty of decent people in this country. So it  might, in the end, be fine. But it might very possibly not be. And do I want to wait around to find out?

So, should I leave? Should I stay? I have been very happy living in Britain. I love my present job at the university of Edinburgh, and it is affording me amazing opportunities, both in research and in teaching. I work with bright, creative, friendly and committed people. I have just started connecting to other talented and inspiring researchers in Scotland through the Scottish Crucible programme. And Edinburgh is such a great place to live. Friendly, vibrant, culturally active, historic, beautiful, full of awesome places to run. Just look:


It is absolutely perfect. (Well, add 10 degrees Celsius. Then it would be perfect.) And to be fair, the Scottish have overwhelmingly voted to remain. The mood in Scotland is quite different from other places in Britain. It is nice. And speaking of other places in Britain: I can go to London in less than five hours. This means that after years of living on different continents, I can see my boyfriend nearly every weekend. So yes, I am very happy here. And leaving would break my heart.

Then again, staying might turn out to break my heart. If my residency status becomes threatened, if large parts of our science funding dries up, if it becomes more difficult to collaborate with partners across Europe, if the economy takes another downturn, and if the climate of racist sentiment continues to seep into mainstream society, remaining in Britain might become very, very difficult. There is no way of knowing.

It’s an impossible decision. But I am not alone in making it. Across the country, the same conversation goes on in the heads, in the homes, in the hearts of thousands. EU citizens who have been living here for a while. Spouses and partners of EU citizens. Migrants from other countries who are worried about changes to immigration law. Scientists who are worried about science funding. People, both Non-British and British, who do not like the place this has become. The big collective Brexit decision is followed by a thousand private decisions on whether to stay or to leave. Each of them barely noticeable amidst the general upheaval the country and the continent are going through at the moment. But each of them weighing heavy on the minds and hearts of those who have to make them.

For now, I will most probably stay and see what happens. As of yet, my happiness in my current job outweighs my worries about future developments. (Having said that, if you are in charge of recruiting at a top university or research institute abroad who might want to hire a computational modeller with an interest in learning and memory, please do get in touch. Just saying.)

Also, thank you Iceland! Just saying.

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