In September 2012 I met with a new found friend from Eastern Europe. Our conversation over drinks was wide ranging and eventually turned to how she was finding life in the UK. I was horrified when she informed me that she was struggling with racism and that racism was endemic in the UK. In fact I refused to believe her.
Up to point in time, aged 47, I had only ever witnessed one overtly racist incident. Over two decades previously a senior NCO has sent away a potential Asian recruit from our Territorial Army unit and explained it to us with the words ‘we don’t want his type’.
Looking back on that conversation with my friend on that September afternoon I now realise that at the time I was very wrong and very naive to say the least.
Less than 4 years later my naivety had certainly gone, not least because in the week following June 23rd 2016 I had witnessed three overtly racist ‘incidents.’
Sadly, one of those involved my friend from 2012 who had her phone ripped out of her hand whilst speaking to a family member in their native Eastern European language as she was walking through the centre of a major UK city. She was asked rather impolitely when she leaving, and informed that ‘we voted for you to f*ck off back home.’
Given the words used by her assailant, together with the fact that the victims of both of the other incidents I witnessed that week were Eastern Europeans, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that all three incidents happened as a direct consequence of the referendum, and in particular, the poisonous nature of the Leave Campaign.
For many reading this article this will come as no surprise. There is widespread agreement in the Remain/Rejoin community that the Leave Campaign was racist. Indeed, in early July 2016, my local MP, Robert Buckland, a qualified criminal barrister and former Crown Court judge, sat in my office and stated quite clearly that in his opinion Farage had been treading a very fine line just inside the laws relating to incitement to racial hatred during the campaign over the subjects of Syrian refugees and the potential for Turkish accession. That was actually the last time I agreed with Buckland about anything to do with Brexit!
Whilst there is more or less a consensus within the Remain/Rejoin community that the Leave Campaign itself was racist, there is far less agreement, if not outright disagreement, when it comes to the subject of individual Leave campaigners, supporters and voters being racist. Indeed, one comment I often see in Rejoin circles is “How do you expect to win over Leave voters if you are constantly calling them racist?”
Many of the accusations of racism derive from the actions or statements of Leavers themselves. Indeed, in a BBC poll shortly after the referendum, 34% of Leave voters openly admitted racism had played a part in their decision to vote Leave. I know from my work researching socially sensitive issues that if 34% of people are prepared to openly admit something as sensitive and potentially embarrassing as being racist, then the real figure will be higher. Much much higher.
I’m sure most Remainers/Rejoiners have come across ‘I’m not racist but…’ statements made by individual Leave voters where that individual usually goes on to make the most incredibly racist remarks.
Many Leavers also make claims about immigrants stealing jobs, causing income levels to fall, overwhelming public services such as the NHS and so on, without so much as a single a shred of supporting evidence. Indeed, they often fly in the face of evidence and rely on their infamous ‘it’s common sense’ defence in such circumstances.
The reality is they are blaming immigrants not because they are responsible, but because they are immigrants. That is racist. I have even seen Leave voters blame traffic congestion on the M4 in South Wales on extra traffic caused by immigration. A claim that totally ignores the decades old and infamous congestion blackspot of the Bryn Glas tunnels.
Some Leave voters also seem to lack any understanding of what racism is, often thinking that racism amounts to using certain words to describe non-whites and nothing more. They appear to have no concept of institutional racism, or that constantly portraying people of a particular ethnic background in a negative way or stereotyping certain nationalities is racist. Indeed, one UKIP activist once informed me that ‘you cannot be racist to Germans because they are white’.
Other Leave voters cannot even identify the contradictions and inconsistencies in their own arguments relating to immigrants and immigration, which also point towards racism.
Probably the most infamous example of this is Schrődinger’s immigrant simultaneously claiming benefits whilst working. But there is a more blatant, and in my opinion, far worse example of this type of racist attitude amongst Leave supporters. They often articulate support for free movement amongst CANZUK nations but remain totally opposed to free movement from anywhere else, particularly the EU. Indeed, our current Government has put forward such a plan in the recent past whilst boasting about ending free movement from the EU.
Ask yourself why is free movement acceptable from those specific CANZUK countries and no others?
This inconsistency towards EU freedom of movement is also exemplified by Theresa May’s queue-jumping speech in 2018 which ignored the fact that at the time more British citizens had taken advantage of EU freedom of movement than any other EU nationality. Why is it queue jumping for Europeans in the UK but not for British people in the EU?
This queue-jumping claim effectively amounted to institutional racism on the part of the Tory party given she was Tory party leader and PM at the time. This institutional racism was subsequently reinforced and emphasised with the election of her successor as party leader and PM of an individual who has condemned himself as a racist with his own words, Boris Johnson.
Despite this racism, one of Johnson’s most ardent supporters in his leadership election campaign was my MP, Robert Buckland. Buckland has always claimed to be a ‘One Nation Tory’ and firmly against racism. Indeed, following the tragedy of George Floyd’s death last year, Buckland issued a statement condemning what had happened and, in a subsequent interview with the local paper, stated that racism should be challenged wherever it was found.
Whilst this double standard on Buckland’s part relating to his support for Johnson in his party leadership bid presented me with an open goal, this was the first and only time I have agreed with anything Buckland had said since that meeting with him in July 2016.
Buckland is correct to say that racism must be challenged wherever it is found and we must play our part in that and challenge racism whenever we encounter it.
When encountering such racism many Remainers/Rejoiners offer the defence that many individual Leave voters do not understand the issues and have been misled and that education is the key.
In many way I agree as I am sure many Leavers were misled by the likes of Johnson or Farage or the right-wing press, I am sure many are ignorant and do not understand the issues, and yes I am sure many of them are just repeating what they have heard or read with little if any thought
But racism is racism. If, after repeated challenges, particularly when the challenge is supported by evidence or efforts to educate, an individual Leave activist, supporter or voter persists in making statements that are racist in nature, then one can rightly conclude that the individual concerned is indeed racist.
That we have such overt racism in our society is of course extremely concerning and needs to be addressed by our society as a matter of some urgency, particularly as it appears to have become more and more entrenched since the referendum. Indeed, this is a major part of the reason why I directed so much criticism at Starmer for chasing Red Wall votes in my article three weeks ago given that much if not most Red Wall support for Brexit is based upon false and racist claims about EU immigrants and immigration. Like it or not, by chasing those Red Wall votes Starmer is effectively condoning the racism that lies behind those false claims.
As a movement we must continue to stand up and be counted on this issue no matter how uncomfortable for us or those that we challenge.
Racism is unacceptable. Racism is wrong.