Sunday, 4 February 2018

I voted leave but I am not racist …

*This article contains links to the Brexit Press  which may be bad for your blood pressure.

 Voters who voted leave have the right to discuss immigration and not be called racist. But they have to back their assertions up with facts. 
The vote for Brexit unveiled a worrying legacy – a casual racism simmering below the multi-culti shiny exterior of the UK. While the UK which presented itself in the Olympic Games of 2012 remains, it was never the whole truth. And Brexit has given a voice to the nativists, the haters and the fearful.

Brexit was driven in part by racism dressed-up in the clothes of a rational debate about immigration. In the painful-to-read-if-you-are-a-remainer book  by Arron Banks (or possibly his ghost writer) “Bad Boys of Brexit” stated it was the immigration argument that would win the referendum. Even if people voted for reasons not related to racism, their vote condoned it. Because of this, it has become as much a reflex action of remainers to call leavers racists as it has become a reflex action of many leavers to defend their right to discuss immigration and not be called racist for it.

And they are right; they do have the right to discuss immigration and not get called racist – but only if they can back up their arguments with facts and figures. One of the main gripes are job agencies set up specifically to help one nationality access jobs within the UK. However; discrimminating against Brits is illegal (as indeed it would be to discriminate against any group). Stories on this topic are common fodder for The Express, the Sun, the Mirror.  The issue is covered in Independent and Guardian. The difference lies in the quoting of uncontextualised statistics of the Brexit Press (and the Mirror) and the presentation of studies in which statistics can be found (The Independent and Guardian). Reasons and impacts depend on which paper you read. This is a clash of the narratives par excellence .. and if you read only the one or the other your view of the situation will be very biased indeed. What is true is that this discrimminatory practice is not legal  based on EU law or the UK 2010 Discrimmination Act. 

The majority of"problems" with immigration raised by leavers do not have a basis in fact. Prior to the referendum immigration to the UK from the EU had hit an all time high. But so had employment generally; and immigration is the sign of a healthy economy. Net migration from the EU does more to fill the treasury’s coffers than to empty them (If you follow that link beware; Migration watch is a right wing pressure group masquerading as an intellectual think tank.) EU immigrants are essential for the NHS.  The argument that they keep wages down is missing the point; in certain sectors they increase wages, in lower paid sectors they have caused a 0.5% drop in wages. A drop that mainly impacts on second generation immigrants. But we have a government who have the possibility to regulate the market to protect the rights of the workforce – why are they not doing that? Immigration policy for EU citizens is based on the four freedoms but it does have restrictions. Immigration from the EU depended on the UK’s choice of implementing the controls available to it. As it was, the economy was king, we needed the workers and they wanted contribute. At some point it would be nice if a few of those playing the “don’t call me racist” card would revisit their opinions armed with facts and not the Daily Mail. 

The “Breaking Point Poster” took the debate to a deeper, darker dimension and managed to harness Islamophobia to the issue of Brexit. The refugee crisis served to link this fear and hatred of Muslims with the EU. And before we start to debate the fact that the refugee crisis should never have been mixed up with Brexit and the EU, some basic points have to be made first; 

1. It is never excusable to watch desperate people drown - be they children or be they young men of working age. 
2. Not all refugees are economic migrants and they are most definitely not all terrorists. (The statistics given here are from Channel 4 and the German Agency for Asylum Seekers - as the analysis for 2016 was not complete when Channel 4 did its analysis)
3. The vast majority of the refugees are being looked after by the neighbouring countries. 
4. Many factors have come together to destabilise the region; the policy of the West, the actions of neighbouring countries, extremist religious groups .... In Syria the conflict started with the arrest, torture and murder of thirteen teenage boys, the youngest of whom was 13, who sprayed graffitti in support of the Arab Spring, where the region errupted with hope for democratic representation.
5. Many of the young men who fled could choose a side to fight and die on. If all sides in the conflict are equally bad, which side would you chose to die for? Would you want your son to be forced to fight for a conflict he did not believe in on a side that he does not support? (P.S. If you follow no other link on this side, this link is well worth a read.)

It was implied that EU states dish out citizenship like McDonalds gives toys with Happy Meals. This is wrong. In Germany for instance, it requires a minimum eight year residency. There are real issues connected with the influx of refugees, not least of which is the destabilising of the balance between genders and the problems that accompany that. However, states are acting to protect their populations through selection procedures and education. This will not happen overnight. Voting to leave the EU on the basis of a temporary crisis, based on a fear of Muslims when the majority of the EU27 are more white Christian than the UK, is ironic to say the least. But fear does not make for rational arguments.

And because the EU and Brexit is all things to all people, there is a further argument that states that the EU is racist. This claims that the EU reduces the UK‘s ability to open up to migration to other parts of the world, particularly the commonwealth; This was also Johnson’s argument in his speech on the 19th of May 2016. This falls down when you look at the statistics; although the highest levels of migration come from our neighbours, people from India and Pakistan do not seem to have problems settling in the UK. And if you look at the EU policies you will find that this is a function of both the EU and the individual member state's own rules and regulations.

Clearly there is an issue here; but it is more one of perception, integration, expediency and intentional misinformation. It is also worrying, because this fear of outsiders makes us weaker as a nation and poorer as people.

Firstly, people who have come the UK in good faith, who have set up their homes and their families here, have as much right to reside as any native born. They should not have to justify their existence in the UK based on their contribution to society. There are enough British born individuals who would not qualify for citizenship if it were to be based on whether they were a drain on the state or how much they contribute to society.

Those arguing against immigration have the right to make their point. But it is a duty to challenge misconceptions and prejudice. The tactic of claiming the right to make racist statements because political correctness has gone mad holds water only up to the point where opinions move from facts to fiction. But it behoves the challenger to remember that by challenging these beliefs you are challenging core identities of the individual; you will not make any headway if you insult them. If your aim is to alienate them but gain personal satisfaction from an encounter, you may leave the conversation feeling good about yourself, but you are then part of the problem and not the solution.

There is a perception that immigration is higher than it is. Areas (apart from Boston, Peterborough) where the vote to leave was high had very low levels of immigration: the lived reality of cosmopolitanism is much different to the depiction of it in the Daily Mail, or the videos of Britain First. People who live in areas where immigration is low don’t see the day to day interactions between people, they hear about bombings, stabbings, shootings and no-go areas. People are poled to pay more attention to that which is a threat; it is a survival instinct. We do not report on the fact that Achmed held the door open for Janet or Magda gave Stewart directions to the nearest train station – this is not news. But it happens more often than an extremist trying to blow up a train or a better qualified Romanian “stealing your job" (while being on benefits, of course). 

People are angry and they are frightened. Integration has been a big failing in the UK – in Boston for instance Matt Warman sights failings in the NHS and integrating young men into the locality as causing frictions between locals and newcomers. However, these are problems whose solutions could benefit the whole community; use the increase in local immigration as a reason to improve the NHS coverage; organise more local events to bring the community closer together. The government is making the choice to underfund the NHS; do not let them use an underfunded NHS as an excuse to divide and weaken the population.

The vote for Brexit was too narrow to justify constitutional change. It took the anger of a population punished by austerity, where the gap between rich and poor is better than it was in 1989, but is still set at the richest earning five times as much as the poorest (on average). Somewhere hidden deep within it was a plea for a greater sense of community; it is time to bring this community back together. It is time to close the offshore tax-havens. It is  time to regard tax as a means of participating in the community rather than a burden to be wriggled out from under. It is time to look at ways that we can capture all our potential; whether we were born in Wakefield or Warsaw and harness it to be a better country. 

The starting point for this is by challenging Brexit, and challenging ourselves.

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