When the Zinselmeyer family first decided to travel to England and Scotland they had no idea they would witness firsthand what may be one of the biggest political events of the decade for Britain.
Great Britain had made the decision to hold a referendum on June 23, 2016, voting whether or not to leave the European Union (EU), something no country in Europe had ever done before. A very slim majority, just 51.9 per cent, voted to leave, triggering the event now known as Brexit.
The Zinselmeyers, father Don, mother Jodee, and daughters Zoe and Maia arrived in London on June 16, 2016, immediately heading to Heritage Moorings where they had booked quarters on a houseboat through Airbnb.
“We were walking to the mooring, and as we approached we saw several media personalities and TV crews and cameras,” said Jodee. “A thick crowd had gathered at the gate of the mooring and we weren’t sure what was happening. We had reporters approach us and asked us, ‘What are your thoughts on the assassination of Jo Cox?’ We weren’t aware and they provided us with the details of what had happened hours beforehand.”
At almost the exact same time they had arrived in the country, Jo Cox, a young Member of Parliament (MP) for the British Labour Party, had been brutally murdered by a man campaigning for the “Leave” movement. She had been shot and stabbed repeatedly, quickly succumbing to her wounds.
Cox and her family lived on the boat moored and anchored right next to the one where the Zinselmeyers would be staying. The family they were renting from were friends of the Cox family.
“The mom met us, and she was trying so graciously to show us the captain’s quarters where we would be sleeping and she was like ‘I’m so sorry, our friend just got murdered,’” Jodee continued. “We had suggested re-booking to give them time and space to absorb the shock of what had happened, but they were extremely gracious about it and insisted that we stay.”
Over the next few days many people showed up at the mooring to pay tribute to Cox and her family, bringing flowers, candles, even photos of the MP and her family, with candle-light vigils held every evening.
Jodee said the mood in London was very heavy. Though the metropolitan city’s tourist season was just getting underway, there was an undercurrent of doubt, as if a shadow had been placed over the country.
When not taking part in their planned events, the Zinselmeyers used their time to look up any information they could relating to the vote and why it was happening.
“It was really interesting for us not to formulate our own opinion but to listen to the different views,” said Jodee. “Some of the views were based on the immigration situation, some of it was on economy.”
On June 23 the family travelled to Scotland, waking up early in the morning of June 24 to find out the results of the vote, which had been tabulated overnight.
There wasn’t a single media outlet not covering the results.
Unlike other parts of the United Kingdom, the majority of Scottish residents voted to remain in the EU.
“Scotland was really upset because they didn’t want to leave the European Union because they don’t have the same infrastructure (as England),” said Zoe Zinselmeyer. “It was really hard on the people, especially the working people, they were very upset.”
“Everybody on the streets were fully absorbed with the newspapers and television screens, it was almost eerily quiet,” she said. “The next day we went to some of the centres and there was this presence, this looming aftershock.”
After the vote it was revealed that some who chose to vote “leave” didn’t actually want Great Britain to leave the EU and thought the percentage of those voting to remain would be higher.
Some wonder if a second vote should take place because results were so close. But some leaders in the EU disagree. They feel that since Great Britain voted to leave they should leave and that is that.
On March 29, Theresa May, Prime Minister of England, triggered Article 50. This article begins the process that will enable Great Britain to leave the EU, however matters don’t end there.
Because Scotland still wishes to remain as part of the European Union there are talks of whether another referendum for Scottish independence could take place. The most recent one was on Sept. 18, 2014.
The Zinselmeyers found the whole experience enlightening.
“I though it was pretty eye opening because it was different than what was going on in Canada,” said Maia.
Zoe feels the same way.
“I felt really shocked that I had been there when something like that had happened,” she said. “It’s crazy how we were staying in the boat beside Jo Cox’s, living with her friends, and being in Scotland when everybody was upset.”
For Jodee the thought of being somewhere as a historic event was happening never occurred to her. She thinks a person can be curious and can be invested in wanting to learn about it, but she doesn’t think people truly appreciate the magnitude of an event like Brexit and its outcome unless they live and work there.
“To be in Britain at that very time and place was very surreal,” she concluded. “To be present, observing history unfold first-hand gives you a greater appreciation for world events beyond the comfort of your television many thousands of miles removed.”