By Richa Gupta:
Probably the most talked about issue in the past couple of days is that of Brexit (expanded as British Exit from the EU). To summarise what happened, a referendum was conducted in the UK to decide whether the nation wanted to remain in the European Union or not. Long story short, Britain voted to ‘Leave’- 52% to 48%. Over 30 million people voted, giving it a highly significant turnout.
But before we delve into that, I think it is necessary that we remind ourselves of the basics of the European Union (EU), which is relevant to make my point
The EU is a politico- economic union of 28 European member states, with a combined population of approximately 508 million people. The EU was established to ease the movement of goods, services, and even people across the borders of the member states — thereby facilitating trade practices and avoiding constant currency exchanges. The European Union essentially operates as a single market. This powerful organisation arose from the Maastricht Treaty of 1993, which was designed to enrich the political and economic situation of Europe by bringing a common currency, the Euro, into force. It also improved cooperation with respect to immigration, judicial affairs, and the provision of asylum. In fact, the EU was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, due to its strong efforts to nurture peace and the principles of a democracy.
So why did the United Kingdom choose to exit the EU?
Certainly, there were economic issues that were behind the inception of Brexit, or British Exit. However, it is possible that the rationale is more inclined towards societal issues and grievances. As said by Heaven Crawley, a professor of International Migration on Twitter on June 25, 2016, “This evening my daughter left work in Birmingham and saw group of lads corner a Muslim girl shouting “Get out, we voted leave”. Awful times.” This is extremely disturbing, because it shows the xenophobia that stalks a portion of the UK population.
The EU has a firm asylum policy, which was made to ensure that the human rights of refugees and migrants are protected in the member states. So, as written in The Guardian, “Polling suggests, discontent with the scale of migration to the UK has been the biggest factor pushing Britons to vote out, with the contest turning into a referendum on whether people are happy to accept free movement in return for free trade.” Due to the vast number of migrants that were entering the UK (especially because it is an English-speaking nation), domestic residents were finding it more difficult to land jobs; migration was also associated with shortage of primary school seats for local residents and lowered wages. Hence, by exiting the European Union, the UK is now liberated from the asylum and migration policies that apply to the other member states. Indeed, it has been suggested by data that this nation was not suffering economically due to the entry of migrants. It was the fear and hatred of these foreigners (also known as xenophobia) that fuelled the formation of Brexit.
As was reported by the Independent, there have been hundreds of cases of racial abuse since the United Kingdom left the European Union. Incidents against people of Polish origin have been particularly vicious. In the words of Agata Brzezniak, a Polish student who came to the UK on a scholarship, “I have made the UK my home, it is where I have felt safe and appreciated. Like many Polish people in the country I feared the EU referendum result would cause an increase in intolerance, discrimination and racism, but I didn’t think it would become so aggressive and be so immediate.” Indeed, there has been a multitude of xenophobic comments and hate crimes circulating the nation, causing much grief and fear among migrants and foreigners — many of whom are already settled in Britain and call it their home. There was even a shocking sign that said: “Leave the EU. No more Polish Vermin,” to which the Polish Embassy in London responded by saying that is was “shocked and deeply concerned”. Moreover, on the morning of June 26, 2016, racist graffiti was seen splattered on the entrance of the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) in west London.
Furthermore, as tweeted by Dr. Ali Abbasi on June 26, 2016, “Last night a Sikh radiographer colleague of mine was told by a patient “Shouldn’t you be on a plane back to Pakistan? We voted you out.” This observation is a testament to the fact that xenophobia essentially leads to the expression of irrational behaviour — for the Sikh radiographer was evidently trying to help the patient, and was concerned about his/her health. That patient didn’t see the radiographer as a fellow human being; rather he/she conjured walls based on ethnic and cultural differences. The patient didn’t see migrants as people with families, hopes, and dreams.
Moreover, what else could be the cause of this persisting xenophobia — apart from increased competition in the job sector? Nigel Farage, a British politician and leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), was accused of adopting a number of xenophobic fear tactics. The UKIP is a Eurosceptic and right-wing political party. There was one poster that showed a long queue of non-white migrants on the border of the EU. Mr. Farage’s actions have been labelled as “small-minded fear tactics” by Conservatives and Green Party MPs. However, widely criticised as these xenophobic actions are, it is possible that they are partly responsible for the hatred manifesting itself among British locals.
However, there are definitely people who are working on mitigating this dreadful issue. In the words of Baroness Warsi, the former chairwoman of the Conservative party, “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.” Moreover, the huge number of comments and observations flying around social media show that the migrants living in the UK are definitely making an effort to have their voices heard — thereby raising awareness, and helping bring about social change.
But where will these innocent people go, and why should they go? People who’ve called the UK their home for years are now being cornered, insulted, and threatened. Migrants who saw this nation as an island of dreams, goals, and success are now confronted by the unfortunate fact that it isn’t the safe haven they had thought it was. Indeed, it is a sad actuality that the UK’s EU Referendum has brought a crucial and concerning aspect of British society to light —the xenophobia and hatred that shadows its local denizens. And if the British locals don’t open their eyes soon, it may be too late to salvage the remnants of xenophobic mentalities.