Since the Brexit vote, Britain has undoubtedly seen a rise in racist attacks. White nationalist graphited slogans and stickers have begun to cover predominantly foreign areas of Britain, and there is a lurking sense of threat amongst many immigrants living here, including children. This racism stems partly from a Brexit campaign fuelled by scaremongering about immigrants and refugees. Despite the backlash they received, UKIP thought nothing of using a poster with a line of refugees on it, and the words ‘breaking point’ scrawled across the front of it in big letters. The idea of politicians using hatred of foreigners as a campaign tool went from being unheard of, to being part of normal everyday political discourse. This is not to say I think the campaign has made people racists, but that since the Brexit vote happened, racists consider their views to be more socially acceptable. It is sad then, that one of the most often repeated replies I get when I explain this to people is the ridiculously fallacious ‘Not all Brexiters are racist’. The problem with this argument is that nobody is suggesting that all Brexiters are racist, but simply that racists were more likely to vote to leave the EU, than to remain. In this blog post I would like to explain why there have been an increase in racist attacks, and why racism played a role in the overall referendum result.
Post Brexit Racism
The fact that there has been spike in racist attacks since the UK’s vote to leave the EU is undeniable. This is not, as some might claim, the liberal media trying to brainwash everyone into becoming anti - Brexit. Rather, the facts are right in front of us. True Vision, a police funded hate crime website, saw a 57% increase in reporting between Thursday 23rd June and Sunday 26th, compared with the same period the previous month. Stop Hate UK, has also seen an increase in racist attacks while anti islamophobia group Tell Mama, an organisation that normally receives about 40 reports a month, received 33 within 48 hours. This goes beyond numbers on a page however. Reports of Racism keep piling up: The firebombing of a Halal butchers in Walsall, Graffiti on a polish community centre in London, and cards reading ‘No more polish vermin’ being posted through letterboxes in Huntington. These are only a few examples.
So why is this happening now? Paul Baguley, a Sociologist based in Leeds University says being interviewed by the guardian, that the racism that is going on now is a kind of ‘celebratory racism’. This would make sense. As immigration is the second most common reason for voting for Brexit, this vote may make some racists feel as if they have won. In addition to this, the Group Hope not Hate, cite the constant ‘controling our borders’ rhetoric as the main reason for post Brexit racism, meaning that while not everyone who votes for UKIP is a racist, the absence of the BNP as a serious political party, mean that it is now UKIP who attract the racist vote. As such, it is easy to see why Brexit would clearly draw racists to its cause. Through the constant use of Xenophobic catch phrases like ‘we want our county back’, high profile Leave campaigners were able to pit the referendum as a war between the patriotic British and the immigrants. Something else that may have contributed to the rise in racist attacks, is the political and economic instability that followed Brexit. With the pound falling and both the UK’s major political parties in turmoil, it may seem to some as if we have entered a state of chaos, where racists can get away with whatever they like. One thing is for certain though, we help nothing by refusing to realise that this is a problem. The longer we continue to throw around meaningless slogans like ‘I voted out and I am not a racist’, the further away we will be addressing the problem.
Most Brexiters are not Racists, but most Racists Are Brexiters
There are of course a number of reasons why people voted to leave the EU. These included anti-establishment sentiment, a desire to get rid of David Cameron, the fact that the EU is undemocratic and the fact that the official Leave campaign decided to chuck around brazen lies about membership fees and immigration. Despite this, it is common sense to presume that out of the 17.4 million people that voted Brexit, some of them were either racist, or had been inspired by racist rhetoric.
This is still somewhat vague however, so let’s analyse this further. An ICM poll conducted after the referendum result, found that 23% (that’s about 4 million) of Brexit voters, supported the position that EU citizens living in the UK should be deported, and that British people living in the EU should be forcibly sent back to the UK! How illiberal and authoritarian would you have to be to want your government to force expel people living and working here legally, and to force British people to live in the UK. As if I need to prove to you what a horrible idea this is, after the Second World War the Charter of the Nuremberg Trials, declared the forced deportation of citizens to be a crime against humanity. Not only this, but there are likely to be more racist Brexiters than the 4 million mentioned here, as the ones who support forced deportations are likely to be the extreme right lunatic fringe of racist leave voters.
Not only is the idea of forced deportations bordering on full on fascism, it is also ridiculously impractical. The vast majority of EU migrants move to the UK to work, and are far less likely to claim unemployment benefit than average UK citizens. In addition to this, thousands of UK expats have moved abroad to enjoy their retirement. Can you imagine the damage British businesses would undergo if they suddenly had to have thousands of skilled EU workers deported? Are these workers really going to be replaced with thousands of furious pensioners, who have been forced to come out of their retirement in Spain or France? This would be completely illegal and unjust. The idea that ordinary, non-racist British people are going to stand by and watch, as their friends and co-workers are rounded up and deported, is not only completely ignorant but absolutely disgusting. Germany is already considering offering dual nationality to British people who live there, so they can feel safe from force repatriation, and other EU nations are likely to follow suit. If you care about ordinary people no matter what their race is, it is up to us to make sure that everyone has the right to a decent way of life.
As I said earlier in this article, there are a myriad of reasons why people voted for Brexit. However, racism certainly played a part. It is important that we acknowledge this, and not just trot out phrases like ‘Not all Brexiters are racists’ which mean nothing, and only serve to slow the course of social justice.