Brexit – You Reap what You Sow

June 30, 2016 at 3:59 PM Leave a comment

It’s been a long time since I’ve put anything up on this blog but the historical events of the last week could not go without comment.  I have been surprised by the consternation and gnashing of teeth over the recent referendum result that saw people in the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union.  Such was the surprise over the result that it is clear that neither the Brexit camp or the government had given any thought or made any plans for the eventuality of an exit vote.  Many of my friends and work colleagues expressed surprise that I believed that there was an inevitability that Brits would vote to leave the EU from the moment that David Cameron, political opportunists extraordinaire, announced the decision to run a referendum.  Why? because it was a cast iron certainty that that referendum debate would not be about the EU at all but about immigration and migrant workers.

As a Black Brit born in the UK in the late 1950’s the debate about immigration and migration has represented the background political mood music of my life.  A product of the illusion of racial and cultural superiority that was ingrained in the population to justify the brutality and excesses of slavery and empire, it served to persuade the working class in these islands that that they shared the interests of the British elite.  Much of this debate it the 1960’s and 70’s represented the undisguised use of racism to try to gain political advantage, a rhetoric that was grounded Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood speech in 1968 which presented the spectre of the dilution of British society and culture by the allowing immigration of Black and Asian workers and their families. Powell advanced the notion that these immigrants would outbreed the Brits and take control, “that in this country in fifteen or twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man”.   The notion that the only way to have good race relations was to limit numbers persisted and became deeply embedded in British political culture.

Whilst such openly racist sentiment in politics in the 1990’s and 21st century became unacceptable the debate about immigration rumbled on in different forms.  In the early 2000’s the target was asylum seekers and the labour government of the time sought to appease hostile sentiment by trying to draw a distinction between genuine refugees and so called economic migrants who were abusing the system to get into Britain to work illegally and claim benefits. A very expensive bureaucratic system was designed that undermined and created inferior rights for asylum seekers and attempted to control every aspect of their lives. These systems were designed to deter people coming to the UK to seek asylum.  Post the 2008 economic crash it was undocumented workers or so called illegal migrants came in the firing line. Politicians claimed they threatened the very fabric of British Society and responded by building removal centres such as the Yarls Wood and stepping up forced removal flights.  Accompanying this was the removal of appeal rights, undermining of legal aid and the establishment of a principle that migrants should pay for the systems put in place to both apply for entry to the UK but also more importantly to access justice, principles that are now being applied to the whole population.  Fast forward to Coalition Government and the age of austerity where free movement was blamed for the pressure on housing, schools, health care and jobs. Even this was racialized with The Sun and other right wing newspapers raising the spectre of hordes of Roma coming to Britain when Bulgaria and Romania finally became full members of the EU.   The fact that the millions of pounds being cut from the public purse seemed coincidental as politicians of all parties advanced the idea that Brits were right to be concerned about the effect of migration not their communities and this needed to be addressed.  Most recently we have seen the hysteria over the so called European asylum crisis, so called because the numbers involved are minuscule compared to those hosted by countries in the global south.  The UK political response was to cut the funding to agency that rescued people fleeing across the Mediterranean until public opinion resulted in from pictures of the bodies of dead children being washed up on the beaches of Greece caused them to relent and agree to take a measly 20,000 people over 5 years but not anybody that had already fled the war zones. This year’s Immigration and Nationality Act it was proudly announced by the Home Secretary Theresa May was created with the expressed intention of making Btitai9n a hostile environment for people to come.

The press and media played their part.  Newspaper campaigns like the one in the Daily Express that declared Britain is Full Up and Fed up, join the campaign to stop the new floods of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants or Channel 4’s failed attempt to run a series called immigration street.  The regular diet of supposed reality TV documentary shows that portray working class people from overseas as ripping of Britain by scrounging off the dole engaging in crime or fiddling the system. Politicians used media headlines to express populist sentiment with Jack straw claiming that women wearing the veil was a threat to community cohesion, or Nigel Farage claiming that “any normal and fair-minded person would have a perfect right to be concerned if a group of Romanian people suddenly moved in next door”.  or the Prime Minister claiming that attempts to enter the UK had increased because “you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs or Boris Johnson promising that if he was in charge migrants will be barred from entering Britain unless they can speak good English and have the right skills for a job.  Any rational debate about the nature or reasons for immigration and how we welcome and treat new arrivals to our county became impossible.

So we come to the referendum where migration was used by all sides as a political weapon to harness the votes of those that had been convinced that their lives were threatened by migrants and those that were just downright racists and surprise, surprise the UK votes for exit.  You tell people that migrants are a problem enough and seek to reinforce their prejudices for your own political advantage and eventually an opportunity arises where they can act on it.  The referendum was that opportunity and as for the result and the increase in racist attack………  well you reap what you sow.

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Entry filed under: Politics.

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