Featured Stories

The Truth About Brexit and Xenophobia

The push to leave the European Union was never about anything but immigration

Tobias Stone
Dec 4, 2018 · 6 min read
Photo: Cole Patrick on Unsplash

Despite the government’s statements, it is clear now that everyone who has any knowledge or expertise about pretty well anything agrees that Brexit will make the U.K. worse off. Even the government’s own research reaches this conclusion. The tech sector, the music industry, the games industry, the car industry—all of them, and more, are expressing serious concerns about the economic impact of Brexit.

“Control over borders” is just a euphemism for controlling immigration. And “controlling immigration” is just a euphemism for xenophobia and racism.

Theresa May has fallen back on claiming that her deal will give the U.K. control over its borders, which is “what the British people voted for,” she says. The rest of what she says is waffle, empty verbiage, or just untrue. We have now finally reached the truth about Brexit: It is about our borders, nothing else. “Control over borders” is just a euphemism for controlling immigration. And “controlling immigration” is just a euphemism for xenophobia and racism.

Brexit is about stopping foreigners from coming here. It is a populist agenda that has no place in the U.K., and May is responsible for fanning its flames. This should come as no surprise. As home secretary, she implemented the hostile environment that led to the Windrush Scandal. She made promises about reducing immigration to a level that was totally unrealistic and reached out to the xenophobic right of the electorate because they were migrating from her party to the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP). Her policies as home secretary already set the tone, trying to drive down immigration despite the fact that it is positive for the economy. The only argument for that is xenophobia.

Immigration has of course been challenging culturally. Large numbers of Eastern Europeans, especially from Poland, came to the U.K. after 2007. The British had expected other European countries to open their borders at the same time, but they did not. This left the U.K. as the main destination for a wave of migration that was expected to have been distributed across Germany, France, and other Western European nations.

These migrants tended to split into two groups. The more educated white-collar workers settled mainly in London and the South East, and the blue-collar workers for the most part moved out to the regions—which, nine years later, were predominantly in favor of Brexit.

A responsible government could have challenged the backlash against this large wave of immigration with policies to help improve integration, to support local communities, and to address responsibly the genuine anger felt by many people. Instead, the populist politicians behind Brexit and May as prime minister took advantage of the situation for personal political gain. Just as Trump preyed on the scared, diminishing white middle classes in America, May played on the fears of British people who felt threatened by a wave of “foreigners.” She exploited an unhealthy, and un-British, xenophobia and its underlying racism. She and her Brexiteering colleagues claimed Brexit was about sovereignty, fed lies about how the U.K. would be wealthier outside the EU, and rode a wave funded by dark foreign money and supported by Russian military propaganda. But it was always about immigration, borders, and a raw fear of foreigners.

The U.K. is a global nation. It is a country built on immigration, built by immigrants.

Now, here we are, a country consciously choosing to become poorer in order to stop foreigners from coming and stealing jobs—which we probably won’t have anymore after Brexit anyway.

The U.K. is a global nation. It is a country built on immigration, built by immigrants. It has always benefitted from migrants and refugees. Every wave left the country richer both culturally and economically. For the incumbents, even though they are often descendants of immigrants themselves, the new wave of people has often been unsettling, but it has always worked out. Politicians and leaders have widely supported that and helped it along. When Mosely marched through the East End with his absurd Black Shirts, aping the Nazis and Fascists, they were chased out of town. Laws were passed to stop that from happening again, including banning the wearing of political uniforms. And when other countries tried to spread xenophobia, racism, and hatred, the U.K. went to war against them, defending liberty, freedom, and pluralism. Reflecting that set of beliefs, the Allied soldiers hailed from around the world, every race and religion. The U.K. was home for the Polish Free Forces, for the French government in exile, and many more. We welcomed refugees, and many of them, like Lord Dubs, rose to the top of society. They made this a better country, a richer country.

May has chosen to sell out, to abandon that British tolerance and magnanimity. She was willing to sell out on her own stated belief in the EU in order to obtain and retain the position of prime minister. She and those of her government who still support this are pushing a lie on the British people, giving a veil of decency to a base xenophobia. It was never about the economy or sovereignty. It was a knee-jerk reaction against the rise of UKIP and a quick trick to win over the populist right who had abandoned the Tories. What started as a dog whistle turned into a howl and then a shameless baying.

Now all that pretense has fallen away, and May admits this is just about the borders. She wants to push parliament into voting for a policy that will make the country poorer economically and poorer culturally and socially. History will not forget this. In this mad melee of politicking, people can miss what is obvious. But when historians look back, they will see it for what it was, and May, Gove, Johnson, Mogg, Fox, and others will be shrouded in ignominy for selling out to populism.

And before you write in to complain, you who voted Brexit but are genuinely not racist or xenophobic, I know. You had good reasons, other reasons, about the economy, laws, sovereignty. So, yes, you are not a racist. But you were misled. It was never about those things. In the end, the U.K. would always have been better off in the EU. It contributed to those laws and always had sovereignty. It was only about the borders, and it was about stopping Conservatives from switching to UKIP.

People in the U.K. live in a parliamentary democracy. To her great shame, May has tried to subvert that, even now holding back crucial information from MPs and trying to coerce them into voting against their conscience. But, in this democracy, the citizens elect MPs to represent them, to act in their best interest. Now the MPs are faced with a situation where they widely believe May’s Brexit deal is not in the country’s best interests.

May continues to claim the nonsense that this is the “will of the people.” A second referendum may overturn the first one, but it will not overturn “the will of the British people” because that vote will also be the will of the British people. J.K. Rowling brilliantly pointed this out and showed just what utter nonsense May is saying most of the time—clumsily crafted phrases devoid of meaning or sense, like her absurd “Strong and Stable” or “Brexit means Brexit.” Her bastardization of the English language alone is enough to mark her as unfit for her job.

J.K. Rowling points out the bleeding obvious

The country is now facing a choice: be poorer and have fewer foreigners or remain open and prosperous. Our elected representatives will look at their consciences and, I hope, not be swayed by this ugly little outbreak of populist xenophobia.

Tobias Stone

Written by

Writing about politics, history, and society. An outsider's view on the USA, insider's view on the UK, and cautious optimist. www.tswriting.co @ts_writing

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade