In the first part of our Brexit in Copenhagen series, we speak with British expat Nigel who now lives on Amager. A keen runner, we met Nigel in his running clothes for a photoshoot and interview that took place at Amager Strandpark.
On the 1st November 1990, Britain’s The Sun newspaper printed a headline that has since become famous throughout the nation. It read, “Up Yours Delors”, and was a direct attack on the then EC president Jacques Delors, in response to his supposed attempts to force European federalism upon the UK.
It’s a front page 50-year-old Amager resident Nigel Barnfield remembers well. “They made it seem like [Brussels] were always after [the UK],” he says in regards to the newspaper’s constant efforts to criticise the European Commission. “I suppose most of the population felt that Britain was closer to America than the rest of Europe, so it’s no surprise we voted to Leave.”
Born in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, Nigel grew up in Newport, Wales, before moving to Copenhagen in 2001 on a three-month contract for a Danish insurance company. He eventually settled down after meeting his wife and now calls Denmark his home. The 2016 Brexit vote was his final vote in the UK, as his 15-year UK voting rights have now expired. He voted Remain, but that wasn’t the case for the rest of his family back home.
“Because of immigration, pure and simple”
“They all voted Leave, without having any idea of the impact Brexit would have on their lives,” he tells me. “All of the things they took for granted as EU citizens were papered over as ‘of course we will still keep all our benefits’, without anyone giving the first detail.“
So why did the EU Referendum vote go the way it did, resulting in the triggering of Article 50 and a chaotic two-year process of negotiating a deal between the member states? According to Nigel, the answer is simple. “Because of immigration. Pure and simple. [Former UK Independence Party leader Nigel] Farage and his ilk made it all about the fear factor, and how we were being overrun, and people fell for it.”
But Nigel isn’t convinced the Danes are that much different than the Brits when it comes to relations with the European Union.
“Denmark is easily as far to the right as we were.,” he argues. “You see shades of similarities in how Dansk Folkeparti, for example, try to make the EU out to be the ‘ruling oppressor’. If they’d’ve started such a campaign as we saw with ‘Leave’, then I could have seen the same thing happening here. But now everyone has seen what a mess it’s caused and thought, ‘that doesn’t look good’. But the mistrust of foreigners, and wish to go ‘back to the way it was’ is as strong in Denmark as it is in the UK.
“A second referendum will be seen as undemocratic”
The million dollar question is what should the UK Government do now. Nigel feels that the whole situation is such a mess that it’s tough to see a way out of it.
“A second referendum will be seen as undemocratic by the Leave vote, but at the same time, nobody voted for this kind of mess. I suspect Theresa May is now just running down the clock to force Parliament to accept her deal. Being as the UK government has basically talked of nothing but Brexit for two years, it may even be that once the dust settles, people actually just get on with things after that.”
If the UK doesn’t negotiate a deal with the EU, Nigel believes Brits are in for a rough ride for the next couple of years. “We’ve already seen the impact on jobs with Honda, Nissan and Airbus,” he explains, “but it could be 100 times worse.”
But Nigel’s prophecy is not all doom and gloom. “If we get a late deal, then a lot of the uncertainty around right now could cause a bit of a boom, once people can actually move on to something else. I certainly hope so.
“Regardless of the outcome, I honestly don’t think my life will be that different. I travel a lot with work, so that will be a pain if I have to use the Non EU passport queues all the time, but I can’t see the Danish government taking away any rights. There’s no incentive. I haven’t noticed any difference as yet.”