‘Our Own’ and the EU Referendum

‘Our Own’ and the EU Referendum

Brexit has won...but at what cost? It is important to question the close-mindedness of xenophobes who want to protect 'their own' people over others

Now that the outcome of the EU Referendum has resulted in a majority wanting to leave, the country is clearly divided. Some are proud of putting ‘our own’ first whilst others are embarrassed by the closed-off and backwards attitude this result seems to give our country. I have previously written about nationalism and the worrying consequences of thinking one life is worth more than another (for example, Syrian refugees). As a disclaimer not all people who voted Brexit are racist; there are many reasons other than a xenophobic concern over immigration. However, those who are racist and xenophobic seem to feel validated by the Brexit win as can be seen by recent events noted on social media (#PostRefRacism). There is certainly (a largely misguided) ethnocentrism with the British racists, many draped in the English flag, who seem to think all foreigners are stupider than them. The great irony is that they expect freedom of movement in our cheap holidays, whilst denying anyone to come to our great land. A pack mentality can emerge which creates a very dangerous climate and explains the spike in racist events in the direct Referendum aftermath. The lack of decisive leadership does not help the situation. David Cameron has only now spoken out against the spike of hate crimes. But where does this anger and racism come from?

A major selling point of the Brexit campaign was for the British to ‘take back control’.

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But what does this mean? Control of the economy, control over social policies, control over government legislation? Though this is attractive to someone who has felt betrayed by what the government has pinned on the EU: Immigration, economic bail outs and restrictions. However, a lot of the causes for unhappiness come from the austerity created by our own government. There are some historical parallels to be noted:

1939-1945 saw war throughout Europe but ultimately was an example of Britain defending others who were being oppressed by a tyrannical force. At the end of the war however, Britain was facing debt and had lost many of its imperial colonies with the creation of the Commonwealth in 1949. The only security Britain had was in the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951 with the aim to reunite Europe in the aftermath of the greatest war it ever faced. This was the basis the European Union grew from. However, many were unhappy in the post-war austerity that had been imposed through rationing. A 1951 Survey stated there was the ‘end of poverty’ in Britain but the reality was that it was a dilapidated and exhausted country with many cities still full of bomb wreckage. The end of the ‘job-for-life’ culture for working classes due to privatisations and the globalisation of industry, saw a rise in scapegoating the classic suspect: the immigrant.

The 1948 British Nationality Act was an attempt by the government to welcome members of the Commonwealth (primarily from India and the West Indies) to be cheap migrant labour to improve the poor economy. However, shortly after being encouraged to come to the ‘motherland’, they soon faced a backlash from those believing they were taking their jobs, houses and even their women. A 1950’s article titled ‘Would you let your daughter marry a negro?‘ showed the resentment of the ‘others’. The government responded to this by closing their borders and limiting immigration through the 1962 and 1968 Commonwealth Immigration Acts. In a different context, the scapegoats are still immigrants. A bad economy and social inequality lead to resentment towards those who seem to be doing better.

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This article is completely my own opinion but it is important to question the close-mindedness of xenophobes who want to protect ‘their own’ people over others. Nationalism can be poisonous; no one chooses where they are born. The world is more globalised than ever now- it is not a place to close ourselves away economically and socially. The majority of young voters wanting to stay in the EU were wanting to keep the cultural links we have being united with Europeans through Erasmus, EHIC health insurance abroad and the value of our passports. Looking at the past scapegoating has always been there for the far-right xenophobe. However, the most promising sign to come from Brexit is the involvement of the younger generations and the general outrage at these racist events by the minority of the British population.

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Elena Rees
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