Brexit: A Platform For Xenophobia?
On Friday morning, Britain woke up to the news that the public had voted to leave the European Union (EU). 52% of those who voted in the decisive referendum were elated, the remaining 48%; not so much. One key area that swung this whole debate was immigration.
It’s been a mere few days since the referendum results came in and incidents of xenophobia have already shot up. People are being told to ‘go home’, whatever that means, eastern European children are afraid of the future, and hard working EU migrants are scared for their homes and their jobs, and it all leaves a rather sour taste. Former Conservative Party chairwoman Baroness Warsi has reportedly been informed of immigrants being stopped in the street and being told to go home, and has accused the leave campaign of being “divisive and xenophobic”.
“I’ve spent most of the weekend talking to organisations, individuals and activists who work in the area of race hate crime, who monitor hate crime, and they have shown some really disturbing early results from people being stopped in the street and saying look, we voted Leave, it’s time for you to leave. And they are saying this to individuals and families who have been here for three, four, five generations. The atmosphere on the street is not good.”
“This is what I said before the campaign – that long after the political bus moves on we leave problems on our street. So it is important for politicians to come out right now, talk about the vision that they have for the country, a united country and then take that forward for a positive vision of this country which is both stable and secure.”
Before I go any further, let me just say, it’s absolutely absurd to make the claim that everyone who voted leave did so out of some racist impulse, but there’s no denying that this heightened level of tension and rise in xenophobia is an inevitable consequence of the fall out of this political mess we now have in the (soon to be not so) ‘United’ Kingdom. And it’s undeniably been given a platform and normalised by those who campaigned to leave, most notably the alternative campaign fronted by everyone’s least favourite politician Nigel Farage (who was ostracised by the official campaign for this very reason).
Confused at how this left us, I wanted to talk to an EU immigrant to find out how this new atmosphere is affecting them. I took to Facebook and spoke to 19 year-old Michelle Kocáková. Michelle moved to England from Slovakia in 2008 when we she was 11. I asked her if she felt less safe in this post-Brexit decision nation – she replied “Yeah definitely.” Before stressing her frustration with the notion that people emigrate solely to claim benefits.
“I personally haven’t experienced any of it but it’s annoying when people are like ‘Oh I didn’t vote leave because of foreigners like you, you work and stuff but I voted leave because of all the foreigners that come here and just sit at home on benefits’. If I say to them show me one foreign person that you know that doesn’t work everyone’s like ‘Oh I don’t know one personally but there’s loads of them.'”
Our neighbour is a deputy head and she said there were Polish kids crying because they were scared that they were going to be deported.
— Nihal Arthanayake (@TherealNihal) June 25, 2016
I asked Michelle if she and her family were worried about their right to live and work here in the future, her reply was equally gloomy: “Yeah we definitely are, considering my parents have a strong foreign accent. I feel like some people could be really horrible to them saying ‘We voted out go home’ or something. My parents work a lot and they work hard and if we had to go back to Slovakia I have no clue what would happen as we have sold our house and there are no jobs out there.”
When talking to Michelle the thing that upset me the most was that she expressed a strong sense of feeling unwelcome in the country she had adopted as her home, a country in which she and her family work hard to earn their keep, as well as contributing to our economy: “Seeing all this hate that Europeans are getting – if I wasn’t engaged to a British man I would go back to Slovakia because I don’t feel welcome here at all now.”
these cards have actually been put through letter boxes of Polish families in Huntingdon today. I could weep pic.twitter.com/P3maK1Vasf
— fencelt (@howgilb) June 25, 2016
Now, it is your democratic freedom to vote however you wish, and I will fight tooth and nail for your basic right to hold an opinion. What I won’t accept is stopping immigrants in the street and demanding they return home. Immigrants rear our animals, take care of our sick and elderly, pour our beer, stack our shelves, clean our streets and are an invaluable asset to both the public and the private sectors, not to mention the fact that they boost our economy. If you are of the opinion that being born in Britain makes you better than anyone else, just mull it over with a glass of Czech beer, look up the facts on your American computer, calm down by playing some video games on your Japanese console, clear your head with a drive in your German car, maybe you’re just hungry? Here have a Polish bagel, tell me how it tastes, perhaps some Italian ice-cream if you fancy something sweeter, maybe top it off with a Spanish grown cherry? We rely on foreigners, our most treasured foods and products are their inventions. Think of those contributions before you tell someone to go home.