Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Politics

UK expats around Tampa Bay talk 'Brexit' (w/video)

It wasn't just another day at work on Friday for Laurie Black, a 67-year-old expatriate from the United Kingdom.

He was filled with a bit more pride than the day before while behind the counter at his shop, London Pride British Store in Largo.

The day was normal in the sense that he was selling English meat pies, sodas and flags, but the chatter was different. Most of the world is abuzz about the so-called Brexit, the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union.

"Britain is getting its sovereignty back," Black said, "and it's about to decide on its own future."

Black stayed up early into Friday morning (U.S. time) watching as the votes were counted and BBC commentators gave live updates on air.

The final tally was about 52 percent of voting Brits in favor of leaving the EU and 48 percent in favor of staying.

But the split country is voicing at least one single sentiment: bloody shock.

Many Britons are alarmed and worried about their mortgages and market turmoil resulting from the vote. But a handful of expats living in Tampa Bay told the Tampa Bay Times they voted in favor of leaving the EU, despite thinking it wasn't actually going to happen.

Gareth Kelly, 36, has been in the United States just less than 15 years but was still eligible to vote in the referendum.

"I was completely on the fence, completely undecided," he said from his Temple Terrace home. "I could see a lot of pros and cons of both. I have friends on both sides of the aisle."

Ultimately, he voted to leave — and got heat from his parents for making that choice.

The outcome, he said, shows a growing unease among the country's working-class people, who likely care more about putting food on their tables than how the markets are doing.

Many of those in favor of leaving say the EU is undemocratic. Kelly said he felt like a "rebel" when he cast his vote.

But even with all the hype and excitement, Kelly said "nothing has happened but a vote."

"The sky isn't falling. We're all still existing," he said. "(The U.K. is) not going to rush into it. … We're not just going to shoot from the hip."

He called the EU dysfunctional. Black called it a waste of money and said too many British pounds are going to pay for other countries' struggles without the British people's say.

"It's just a complete mess," said Mike Long, 46. "I think it's a great ideology around it, but it hasn't done what it was supposed to do."

He predicted that in a decade there wouldn't be an EU, but that Europe will negotiate ways to still have free trade.

Long moved to the United State about three years ago and lives in Plant City with his wife. As an American immigrant himself, he said he's not against immigration to his native country, a topic believed to have helped propel support for Brexit.

Long said many who voted to leave aren't being xenophobic. Rather, they don't want England to take in more people than it can support.

On Friday afternoon, Black bagged customers' English snacks and trinkets with a smile. Outside the store, a British flag swayed in the breeze.

He sees seceding from the EU as an opportunity for political leaders to step up.

"Britain has been a great country for hundreds of years and it will be again," he said.

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] or (727) 893-8862. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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