PC 126 Brexit* and …… Racism

My personal view ……. picking and choosing the bits I understand ……. from an ever-changing scenario!!

After a number of false starts (note 1) the people of Britain joined the European Union in 1973; a 1975 referendum confirmed the nation’s wish to remain a member by 67%. Wind the clock forward 41 years to 2016, when the then Prime Minster, David Cameron, honoured his manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on Britain’s continuing membership. It seemed they walked into a disaster of their own making; confident of the result, the Government’s campaign to stay in was negative, rather than positive, and I reflected at the time the language of the postal campaign was of a sixth form debating society, not worthy of an organisation with the collective intellectual weight of the nation!! So on 23rd June we voted on whether to stay in or leave.

‘Take back control of our institutions; immigration and our future!’ was the message that screamed from the billboards across the country. The bogeyman was the potential, at some stage in the distant future, for Europe to develop into some socialist utopia, a Federal States of Europe, which I guess is a real anathema to most Brits; wave that flag and everyone will vote ‘out’. But today there are other issues. For those of you who live outside of Europe in other parts of the world, you may not know that EU citizens have freedom to work and live wherever they want to within its borders. For instance the Polish population in Britain, historically around 200,000 since the Second World War, has grown by just under a million since Poland joined the EU as its workers flooded in, armed with a great work ethic. Look for a plumber or builder, chances are they are Polish. More recently the Romanians, who joined the EU in 2007 but who had unrestricted access in 2014, have become the second-biggest non-British nationality living and working here. A section of society complains that these people ‘take our jobs’ – so voted ‘out’.

For those of us who believe it was better to stay in, ‘better the devil you know that the devil you don’t’, and for all its many faults (see note 2) believe it has been good for Britain, the result was like awakening in a nightmare – except this was real. I simply could not believe it – 52% voted to leave, although I was pleased Brighton & Hove was in the Remain camp. Sadly 69% of people over 65 voted to leave and whilst I fit into that category it’s only by age, not by either head or heart. Hoist with his own petard, Cameron resigned, ushering in the uncertain rule of Theresa May who had the unenviable task of implementing a policy she didn’t vote for. ‘Brexit is Brexit’. A headline oft repeated but never fully explained, because one senses that no one knows!!

‘Bring back control of our borders’. There was some very odd voting during the referendum. In Sunderland, in the North East of the country, they voted to leave despite the whole local economy being rescued from its past ship building days by Japanese car manufacturers, giving them an entry into other European countries tariff-free. Made in post-Brexit Britain cars will probably be subject to an import tax if sold into the EU. So it’s possible that manufacturing plants will move to mainland Europe. Cornwall, which as a deprived region was eligible for grants to improve its local economy, has been allocated £2.5bn between 2000 and 2020, yet voted to leave!! Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!

There is, in my view, another more odious aspect to those who voted ‘no’. They imagined that, in addition to the repatriation of millions of European citizens who live and work here, other ‘migrants’ would be forced out too. The other day someone said to me: ‘you know, lots of the Muslims will have to go too.’ I was too shocked to respond properly given the individual was educated and worldly. Britain has been subjected to immigration for ever. As a member of the Commonwealth we have accepted thousands of immigrants. For instance, when India and Pakistan were established in 1947, Anglo-Indians were expelled and settled here, just as Asian Indians did when expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin; the Commonwealth mother country opened its doors.

Recent newspaper reports have highlighted a common problem with immigrants. Despite living here for decades, thousands of immigrants don’t speak English, content to settle within their own established communities. Gradually that area becomes more like the country where the people came from, where they were born. ‘Good grief! They even allow Mosques to be built!’ But when we British expanded our empire, we built churches …… and if the ‘natives’ didn’t speak English we simply spoke louder. Ah! The circle of hypocrisy! Whilst every reasonable individual would, I suspect, like everyone to assimilate and learn English, the fact is we have large sections of some of our cities inhabited by those of Indian and Pakistani descent, and also little enclaves of Portuguese, areas of north London predominately Jewish, our French friends in ‘Petty France’. You can’t force people to be tolerant, but we do have a very multicultural society in Britain and you can’t put that particular genie back in the bottle, Brexit or no Brexit.

The comment about Muslims could equally have been made about Hindus or other religions but the visibility of head-scarfed or burka-clad female Muslims singles them out as being different. It’s not helped that Islam has been hijacked by extremists and the very wrong sort of PR specialists. Could it be that Islam is probably where Christianity was 600 years ago? But this issue has nothing to do with Brexit!!

Richard 15th June 2018

 *Brexit is horrible shorthand for ‘Britain exiting the EU’.

Note 1.        Our entry was opposed by France’s President Charles de Gaulle, but he resigned in 1969, making our application more likely to be accepted.

Note 2.        I have two real hates about the EU. One is the historic fact it has two geographic locations where its Parliament sits, one in Brussels and one in Strasbourg. Every six months or so the MEPs and their staff decamp from Brussels to Strasbourg. The reason for this doubling of the cost was France’s insistence that the ‘European’ Parliament be in French soil. So a costly fudge was made. The second one, which people seem to accept, is that the audit of the EU’s finances is never completed, giving reign to wastage, potential corruption, misappropriate use of funds …… and no one is accountable!

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