EU Referendum

Brexit on minds of expats in Singapore too

The British Union Flag (right)and the European Union (EU) flag is seen on display at a gift shop at the Parlamentarium in Brussels, Belgium. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Out or in? The Brexit debate on whether the United Kingdom should quit the European Union has also been preoccupying British expatriates here, and views are mixed.

But there is a common worry whether this week's vote could leave the country divided after a four-month campaign marked by vitriol, and especially coming in the wake of last week's killing of pro-EU British lawmaker Jo Cox, who was shot by a man heard shouting "Britain first" before the attack.

"The arguments have been intense and, at times, very contentious. Brexit appears to have coaxed the British public out of their usual reserve and feelings run deep," said Ms Sarah Birchwood, a 40-year-old English teacher who has been in Singapore since 2007.

"Remain" supporters who spoke to The Sunday Times worried about the economic impact if Britain leaves. Banker Joe Windle, 36, said: "The negative impact on Britain's GDP and free trade will be greater than any benefits we reap. I haven't seen one coherent argument for leaving, even though I regularly read commentaries from think-tanks and the press."

Ms Debbie Wilson, a 33-year-old scientist, also favours staying in the EU. "There are advantages of having more immigrants. UK, for instance, is heavily reliant on nurses from other EU countries," she said.

For some, if Britain decides to stay, some things should not change. Said 45-year-old housewife Sasha Collett, who has been living here for the last year: "If you add up the pros and cons of each side, it only seems fractionally better to stay - but we must do so on our own terms and maintain the separate currencies."

Mr Michael Grainger, 31, a PhD student in law who has been here for four years, also expressed concern that the public's judgment of the issue could be clouded by the "amount of misinformation and misunderstanding flying around".

Ms Samantha Mei Reeve, 20, a British student who supports Brexit, said: "A lot of people are just afraid of change, which the Remain camp capitalises on. The thing that worries me is that my country's future is going to be decided based on fear."

There were also concerns about the unity of the British people, and the shadow cast by the murder of MP Cox.

Said Ms Birchwood: "No doubt the politicians will soon return to their rhetoric but the shooting is, at its heart, a human tragedy that transcends the politics of both the Leave and Remain camps."

Mr Christopher Burge, 62, a humanities tutor at Hwa Chong Institution, believes that the referendum could have "untoward effects" on the British political landscape.

"It is difficult to know whether the vote will actually be about keeping Britain in Europe or just keeping other Europeans out of Britain," he said. "I worry that whether or not we remain part of a United Europe we will become a much more dis-United Kingdom."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline Brexit on minds of expats in Singapore too. Subscribe