Brexit: Are 52% of British Citizens Racist?

Very sadly, it seems that the issue of racism has come to dominate the post-Brexit debate. Obviously, the only way to start this video is to say that discrimination based on the colour of someone's skin or their country of origin is utterly and completely abhorrent. It has no place in civilised society and all right thinking people should have zero tolerance to racism, whichever way they voted.

However, it is also important to point out that concern, and I emphasise the word concern, about the effect that high levels of immigration have on society is not actually the same as being a racist.

I also want to remind you that I am in Barcelona, where I have lived for the last 28 years, and although I erred towards Leave, I was unable to vote because I have been out of the UK for over 15 years. So my response to the decision of the British people is of someone observing from a distance, who has a strong emotional involvement with what happens in their country of birth but I certainly wasn't completely committed to the Leave side.


The role of the press

One of the upshots of living outside the UK is that, although not generally perceived as such, I am technically an immigrant and occasionally get referred to by the mildly derogatory term "guiri", which broadly means white European, who wears socks with sandals, knows nothing about food, gets easily burnt in the sun and is a little bit stupid. I know it's not too bad, certainly in comparison with some of appalling insults I've heard applied to Eastern Europeans and Asians in the UK over the past few days, but I don't really like it because it's a banal generalisation.

Another result is that I haven't had the campaign in my face all the time. Almost all my friends on social media have been pro-Remain except for a couple of very far left mates who were for Leave.

Many of my friends in the UK, particularly the Catalan ones, have talked about the toxic campaign spearheaded by tabloids such as The Sun and The Daily Mail but to perfectly honest I don't think I've done more than glance at a copy of either rag in the last 25 years. When I'm in the UK, I generally to pick up a copy of The Guardian or the recently disappeared Independent.

I'm also not really qualified to talk about UKIP because apart from the odd news clip or appearance on Question Time, I've never been present for an election campaign and had accepted the general opinion that they were disgusting far right populists without ever really questioning it.

Most of my information has come from the Catalan press, in particular the broadly conservative Vanguardia, which I read every morning in my breakfast bar, and the general line of the articles has been "xenophobia, bigots, racists, extreme right, nazis" over and over again. This didn't seem to tally with the debates I watched on YouTube so I largely ignored it.

On the Sunday after the referendum, one of the articles was analysing the pro-Leave result in a northern English town, I can't remember which one, and began its predictable "xenophobia, bigots, racists, extreme right, nazis" diatribe.

About three quarters of the way through, it mentioned that about 10% of the population were now immigrants, most Eastern Europeans and then quoted a Polish immigrant as saying that the British were lazy. Poles apparently were prepared to work harder for as little as a third of the wages of British workers.

The article then quoted a Leave voter, who said he felt let down by both the Labour Party and the trades unions, before going back to the "xenophobia, bigots, racists, extreme right, nazis" rant.

The Immigration Issue

Now assuming this is true, it seems to me that the British working classes have perfectly legitimate worries about excessive numbers of immigrants coming in and taking their jobs and it's also not surprising that tensions rise as these concerns are ignored by the politicians who are supposed to represent them. I can say this whilst also understanding that migrant workers are simply looking for a better standard of living for themselves and their families but it seems very clear that policies have to change in order to maintain social cohesion in places like this.

One of the debates I watched was David Cameron, hardly a beacon for the progressive left, against Nigel Farage. This was the first time I'd ever seen Farage speak for any length and I have to admit that he didn't come across anywhere nearly as badly as I expected he would. He's obviously a populist but he's definitely charismatic and at no point during the debate said anything that I found wholly unacceptable.

His main point regarding immigration was that quotas need to be set and possibly an Australian-style points system introduced. At no point did he suggest that immigration would stop and, in a country that's receiving between 300,000 and half a million immigrants a year depending on who you listen to, this doesn't seem at all unreasonable to me. Admittedly, not all these immigrants are coming from the EU but the main issue seems to be the question of control. If it's the British government that decides who is coming into the country then there's some chance of slowing down the flow in the future.

I know many of my left-wing friends will disagree but it also is a question of having a welfare state being able to cope with the number of newcomers. If the perception exists, even ifs not completely true, that foreigners are coming to the country and not only taking your jobs but also being given preferential treament in health, education and housing, this perception needs to be addressed.

It seems to me that successive governments have sold the autochthonous working class, and by that I don't just mean white people but I mean people that are already British citizens whatever colour they are, down the river. It's interesting to watch question time and see that British blacks and people of Asian origin have similar concerns about job security and access to public services.

Looking at UKIP

Also a Google image search turns up plenty of images of UKIP rallies and meetings with a very multicultural feel. You might not like what they say but UKIP is not a racist party in the same way as Britain First is for example. It's a rather illiberal populist party that campaigns on the key issues of immigration and euroscepticism. It's often cheap campaign may have let a rather unpleasant racist genie out of the lamp but that's also a slightly different question.

My feeling is that the British working classes, in particular, have some very legitimate complaints that haven't been taken seriously by the politicians who are supposed represent them and it's not acceptable that when these complaints are raised everyone gets accused of xenophobia, bigotry, racism and belonging to the extreme right. One of the reasons why Leave won was that an open and honest discussion of these problems hasn't been allowed to happen and as soon as they got the chance, the people have expressed their dissatisfaction.

I've found it really disgusting that a very resentful Remain campaign has blanketted all Leave supporters as not only racists but as old and uninformed. There have even been suggestions that people above a certain age shouldn't be allowed to vote. Yes, I do think you are behaving like bad losers.

I personally have never seen a political campaign that has been completely above board and honest. That's just one of the problems of democracy. People get annoyed when the party the don't like win elections. The problem now is that there really isn't any going back on this referendum decision. To some extent, the UK's relationship with the EU is the victim of policies that have gone unchecked for more than 20 years.

Despite the fact that some disgusting people feel that they have free hand to express their prejudice, I really don't belive that 52% of the UK population are racists.

Realign Your Thinking

I know my Remain friends don't like expressions like "Move on!" but it's time to realign your thinking and if you can't embrace the result at least accept it. If you keep accusing the other side of being racists, you might really unleash the far right and find that your self-fulfilling prophecy comes true.

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