As a resident at an English boarding school, I often begin my mornings by waking up a house full of teenage boys. It typically requires some prodding, but on June 24 – the morning after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union – they were wide-awake. The first thing a student said to me about Brexit was unprintable. Another boy greeted me with, “Sir, you’re being deported!”
Like me, they hadn’t gotten much sleep. The BBC’s coverage of the referendum began just before polls closed at 10 p.m., with the first results coming in a little before midnight. Newcastle was the first heavily-populated area to announce its result, a victory far too narrow for the comfort of Remainers. A short time later, a raucous cheer interrupted the announcement that Sunderland had voted Leave by a wider margin than predicted. The BBC’s chief pollster couldn’t explain what was happening. Nigel Farage, the father of Brexit, hastily walked back what had sounded like a concession.
I went to bed around 1:45 a.m. and woke up at 3 to check The Guardian, which said things were looking good for Leave. Accustomed as I am to the American electoral college, I may have thought subconsciously that the British equivalent of a swing state would come through in the wee hours of the morning and reverse the trend, but it was not to be.
I awoke again at 7 to find that Britain had voted to leave the EU. I watched Prime Minister David Cameron announce he would resign, then headed to my first-period class.
Along the way, I said “Good morning” to my housemaster, an economics teacher from Scotland. “It’s not a good morning, Stephen,” he corrected me.
Other reactions from the faculty, which consists mostly of educated Brits under 60 and includes many young immigrants, ranged from bemused fatalism to concern for their children, their savings, and their visas. Every teacher I spoke with had favored Remain – the day of the vote, a history teacher told me she hoped the rain would deter her Leaver parents from voting.
As the referendum showed, my colleagues were in the minority. Dorset is a rural area home to many retirees, making it a Leave stronghold. The yellow and purple signs of the U.K. Independence Party are a common sight along the winding country roads, and the trademark red “Vote Leave” signs adorn many a farmhouse window.
“I know which way I’m voting – get the hell out!” a bus driver told me days before the referendum. Having retired to Dorset after more than two decades as a police officer in Birmingham, he didn’t like the idea of Britain’s laws being written in Brussels.
But not all Leavers were pensioners. Two days before the vote, one student sent a passionate email to his teachers, arguing that his generation needed them to change the status quo. His generation, of course, voted overwhelmingly to stay, but every now and then a student would quietly express support for Leave.
Many have signed petitions for a second referendum, feeling that their elders have mortgaged their future. That’s not to mention the future of a time-honored British tradition, partying on the continent after finishing A-level exams.
“Now I’m gonna need visas!” one boy moaned, although his A-levels will be over before Brexit comes to pass. The younger kids in his house, however, have no way of knowing what the U.K. – or Europe – will look like by the time they graduate.
Stephen Wood ’15 is a writer and tutor based in New York. For the last three months, he has been teaching English and classics in Dorset, England. While at Princeton, he was sports editor of The Daily Princetonian, an editor of The Princeton Tiger, and a contributor to the Princeton Alumni Weekly.