LONDON: At the Sintra cafe in south London, a group of colleagues sit having lunch in the sunbathed garden. They are British, Portuguese, Indian and French – and are all horrified by Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
“I’ve been living here for five years but I’ve never felt unwelcome, until today,” said Carlos Velazquez, a 29-year-old Portuguese charity worker. “It’s like half of the country is shouting at our faces that we’re not valued.”
Britons voted 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the European Union in Thursday’s historic referendum,many swayed by promises of ending uncontrolled migration from the 27 other countries in the bloc.
Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London who had backed a “Remain” vote, sought to reassure the almost one million Europeans living in the capital.
“You are welcome here. We value the enormous contribution you make to our city and that will not change as a result of this referendum,” he said in a statement.
Ricardo Tomaz, 41, who has lived in Britain for 20 years, said he was not worried about his employment status. “It will be a long process,” he said, referring to the two years it will take for Britain to formally quit the bloc.
But his colleague said Britain would suffer if people like him left. “If you kick all the immigrants out of London, the city will collapse,” Velazquez told AFP.
Sintra, in the inner city area of Stockwell, is a Portuguese cafe and most of the staff are from Portugal. Few of them speak fluent English.
A British member of the lunch party, who voted to stay in the EU, said she was deeply disappointed, and embarrassed, at the result.
“Half the population have not agreed to this and yet we have to deal with it,” said Georgina Nicoli, 36. “It’s really worrying about the future. And it’s about how we are seen in the rest or the world. It’s really disappointing.”
Her Indian colleague, Aapuru Jain, 21, said: “The whole sentiment is anti-immigrant. Today it’s again Europeans, tomorrow it could be against Indians.”
The Europeans around the table admitted to being shocked by the result, even though opinion polls had pointed to a close race. “I was surprised. I was living in the London bubble. I thought it was fine,” said Velazquez.
The capital voted 60 per cent in favour of remaining in Europe, while Scotland also backed EU membership. Brexit supporters in England and Wales swung the vote.
Scotland is now likely to hold a fresh referendum on breaking from the rest of the UK, only two years after voters rejected independence. “I was surprised because the price you pay is very high – you break from Scotland, you break from the EU,” said Tomaz.
WILL THEY STAY?
Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his resignation after losing his fight stay in the EU, said there would be “no immediate changes” in the circumstance of Europeans living in Britain.
“I’d like to stay, if I can,” said Mailys Flajoliet, 24, from France, adding that she has felt welcome in London. “There’s a large French community here, and you feel welcome because there’s a large international community.”
But she was upset about the blow the British have dealt to the ideal of European unity.
“My grandparents’ generation was raised to hate the Germans. It seems so normal that we are in peace – we take it for granted,” she said. “I studied in Paris, Berlin and London – this is what Europe is all about. Peace and cooperation. It’s not about going our separate ways.”
Tomaz notes that the EU citizens at the table all speak several languages and all have masters degrees. “We don’t have to be here. We could go anywhere,” he said.