• Macella Molenari

Brexit Casts a Shadow Over Local Issues

As chants of “Exit Brexit!” and “Brexit means Brexit” echo throughout the city, it is hard

to avoid the topic of Brexit. It has consumed England and most of the world in the many

questions it still has left open, steeping in anticipation as the leave deadline of March 29th inches

closer. Coming to London for a semester of study abroad, and as an intern in Parliament no less,

I expected to be swept up in the Brexit chaos. Certainly, walking through the halls of Parliament,

there is a constant buzz and commotion would make an Aaron Sorkin hallway shot look calm

and relaxed, but entering into the office, there is a different feeling.

Walking into the office for my MP, the Rt Hon. David Lidington, I expected to see a

team of people hammering away at their keyboards and constantly tied up on the phone in an

endless struggle to manage Brexit. When I walked into a small room of three people, all calmly

reading over casework with the occasional sound of light typing, I was baffled. It was my

understanding from the mob scene outside of Westminster and the constant Brexit news

coverage that there was only one thing on Britain's mind; but then my perspective shifted.

Just as in the US after the 2016 election, life goes on. The world does not revolve around

Brexit, and other issues still occur. In the shadow of Brexit, everyday issues go relatively

unnoticed and unresolved. Homelessness and knife crime are among the issues that are relegated

to the backburner as the focus remains on Brexit, with both rising 4% and 8% respectively in

2018. While leaving the EU will undoubtedly have lasting consequences, there are few who are

willing to focus on the issues happening right now. Each Parliamentary office has around one

person assigned to work on individual casework. That’s one person to look over the casework for

upwards of 60,000 people that comprise a constituency. When the government cannot step up to

head off issues that arise in constituencies, the burden is being left on these caseworkers. Elliott

Banks, the senior caseworker for David Lidington, describes that while the casework has

increased, “95% of the things you deal with in individual casework, not policy, have nothing to

do with Brexit.” While there have been stalemates in the past, he notes, referencing the little

work that came out of Parliament during debates over the Iraq war, nothing has set a precedent

that has prepared him for the overwhelming dominance that Brexit has placed on the country.

Furthermore, those facing homelessness, crime, and inadequate education are the most

vulnerable and deserve the attention of MPs – these people are paying the ultimate price. The

people who have the least are paying the ultimate price for Brexiteers to consume national

airtime and debate in the Commons. Brexit has created a socioeconomic divide, as Banks

describes, where there’s been an “increase in what would be broadly categorized as higher

socioeconomic status people writing in on things like Brexit… traditionally these people would

not contact their MP.” Senior researcher for David Lidington, Kieran Sinclair, comments on the

other end of the spectrum: “casework tends to be the most common issue, multiplied by the low

socioeconomic status of whatever type of person begets the issue… middle class people tend to

be fairly good at dealing with their own problems so what we go and do is the problems that tend

to occur to less educated people like housing and benefits.”

Food banks are running low. Public libraries are closing. Homelessness numbers are

increasing. And yet none of these issues are addressed in the national debate, and for the few

minutes that some issues do get, little action comes out of this. This is primarily affecting issues

that are constantly evolving and needing attention that evolves with the problems, says Sinclair:

“If you look at problems which trend toward entropy, then those problems need constant

government attention, and they can’t get constant attention because of Brexit.”

Recently, fifteen charities called for the Government to create a ‘hardship fund’ for

vulnerable people, warning that food banks and homeless hostels could be hit by predicted spikes

in food prices as donations dry up. Services that feed millions of people, including free school

dinners, could also be affected by higher prices. Some local governments are resisting this

change, as the local council for the town of Aberdeen has blocked a proposal to shut down all but

one library in the town in order to save £863,000. Things can only get worse should the UK

leave the EU with no deal at the end of March. Projection of No-Deal Brexit is that it could

shrink the economy by getting on for 10 percent more than banking crisis of 2008, wiping

billions of dollars out of what the central government is able to give to local councils.

With the end of Brexit coming soon, it is important for people to remember that life goes

on outside of Brexit. When few conversations are being held about other issues and little

resources are being put forth to deal with them, problems pile up and the only people left to deal

with it are three people in a 100 square foot room. While one national issue soaks up the

attention of a nation, who is left to focus on those without airtime on BBC?

#Brexit #EU #uk