Sun, Apr 16, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Brexit woes grip Britain’s globalized heart

To many people in the capital, Britons’ decision to exit the EU feels like a rejection not just of Europe, but also of the values embodied by the world’s most vibrantly and exuberantly cosmopolitan city

By Sarah Lyall  /  NY Times News Service, LONDON

Illustration: Louise Ting

St Pancras International railway station, a wonder of Victorian architecture resurrected for the 21st century, opened 10 years ago as the embodiment of a particular notion: That Britain is part of something bigger than itself and that belonging to a fellowship of nations is as easy and natural as stepping onto a train.

It was both shocking and thrilling, at first, that you could catch a Eurostar from a platform in London, slide under the English Channel, hurtle through the French countryside and less than three hours later pull into Gare du Nord terminal in Paris. To ride the Eurostar was to marvel that the capitals — London so prosaic and straightforward, Paris so romantic and mysterious, the two with their long history of rivalry and discord — were part of the same larger enterprise.

Eurostar symbolized an era in which London seemed to be inevitably rushing toward Europe, too. At least that was the idea until now, at the beginning of the process known as Brexit. The trains are still running, but the era that created modern London appears to be over.

“We’ve made a horrible statement to the rest of the world, and it’s very sad,” said Martin Eden, a publisher waiting to catch the Eurostar to Paris the other day, to celebrate his 43rd birthday.

“We should be moving together, instead of moving apart,” he said of Europe.

I met Eden as I wandered around St Pancras at the moment Britain officially filed for divorce from the EU. It was lunchtime on March 29, “Brexit Day,” as it might be called, when Britain delivered a letter to Brussels and opened two years of negotiations over the rules of disengagement.

However, as Britain tries to bid farewell to its now-estranged partner of 44 years, London faces a different sort of challenge: How a great global city whose residents voted overwhelmingly against Brexit in last year’s referendum should adjust to an uncertain future governed by principles that feel antithetical to its very being. Brexit has divided Britain from Europe, but also divided Britain from itself, with London on one side and much of England on the other. (Scotland and Northern Ireland, which also voted to remain, are another story).

To many people in the capital, the vote last year feels like a rejection not just of Europe, but also of the values embodied by London, perhaps the world’s most vibrantly and exuberantly cosmopolitan city: Values such as openness, tolerance, internationalism and the sense that it is better to look outward than to gaze inward. Even as a sense of melancholy seemed to descend on St Pancras when I walked around the other day, much of the rest of Britain was celebrating.

“A Magnificent Moment,” the Daily Telegraph announced on its front page the next morning; “Dover and Out,” said the Sun, referring to the White Cliffs of Dover.

However, even as much of country has spoken darkly of the influx of immigrants, the erosion of British values and the siphoning of resources by Europe, London has remained about as heterogeneous and open-minded a place as you could imagine, especially for a 2,000-ish-year-old metropolis.

Here are Britain’s richest people and many of its poorest, living side by side in relative peace. London is stuffed with British landmarks — Big Ben [sic], Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral — but also with people comprising 270 nationalities, 8.7 million inhabitants in all.

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