When Prime Minister David Cameron announced the infamous referendum in 2016, it is safe to say that he, along with the rest of the UK, severely underestimated the implications. Even before the referendum was decided, the campaigning alone led to divisions and hostility bubbling over amongst politicians and the general public. Ever since the shock verdict of Brexit became a reality, things have become more out of control than anyone could have anticipated. The culture surrounding Brexit has bred a lot of hate and toxicity, but what exactly are the problems that Brexit has uncovered?
Simply, voting to leave the EU was a popular choice due to more money being freed up for the NHS and for the UK to gain its “independence”. No longer would we be subject to the checks and balances of Europe, we’d regain our status as a utopian, omnipotent island who play by our own rules. As a staunch Remainer, perhaps I am a bit biased in thinking that this sounds a bit absurd, but what makes it worse is that for some Leavers, these reasons for exiting the EU were merely excuses for a much more troubling idea: their perception of immigration.
It would be wrong to say that everybody against immigration is a racist. With the issues surrounding national security and overpopulation, it is reasonable to want some limitations in place. But at the same time, there is a minority who oppose EU migrants coming to Britain and calling it their home for more superficial reasons. Their main concern is not so much keeping the UK out of the EU, but keeping the EU and its inhabitants out of the UK. They have a skewed notion of freedom of movement which, to them, means that fewer Europeans will come to Britain and take their precious jobs, and they will not have to deal with those of different cultures, beliefs and skin colours. As one narrow-minded Leaver originally put to me, the end of free movement meant that we could ‘make Britain great again‘.
There have always been groups who are against immigration and the integration of “foreigners” into Britain, but one unfortunate thing Brexit has achieved is giving them a somewhat legitimate platform. Far-right extremists like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson), for example, are able to twist and manipulate Brexiteer rhetoric to suit their own bigotry and hostility towards immigrants.
With this in mind, it’s surely no coincidence that according to the Home Office, reported hate crimes rose by 17% in 2017-2018 compared to the previous year. In terms of numbers, this translates to 94,098 reported hate crimes in total during this period, compared to the 78,101 last year. It’s hard to not see the correlation between this dramatic surge in hate crimes and the rising anti-immigration rhetoric that has come from Brexit, and this doesn’t even cover the vast number of micro-aggressions and attacks that go unreported. Therefore, it’s essential that we question whether Brexit is a breeding ground for discrimination.
In addition to the public facing racial abuse, politicians have also found themselves on the receiving end of abuse from the media, protest groups and countless individuals on social media. Whether or not it’s warranted, the anger that has stirred up as a result of Brexit is, for many, a matter of life and death. The tragic murder of MP Jo Cox in 2016, for instance, is cited as an example of how extreme and dangerous a politically divisive situation can be.
Also, if James Goddard’s “yellow vest” group is anything to go by, the public aren’t learning from the mistakes of the past. Consider, for instance, their abuse of Anna Soubry MP . There is some disturbing footage online of her being hounded and heckled on the way to Westminster as she is called names such as ‘fascist‘ and ‘Nazi‘. Although it can be argued that as a public figure Soubry should expect such abuse, she equally has a right to feel safe at work. The problem is that when it comes to politics, one’s humanity and rights are often overlooked.
This disease in attitudes has spread beyond certain ideologies and infected a wider range of people. For example, when statistics following the referendum showed that older generations mostly voted to Leave, this led to a public outcry about whether older people should be allowed to vote at all. To me, this debate was blatantly ageist, and the fact that it came mostly from the left doesn’t make it any less discriminatory.
It is due to the far right’s distortion of the average Brexiteer’s ideas and reasons for voting that Remainers have also become angry and unwilling to associate with anyone who disagrees with them. The minority like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon and James Goddard have seemed to convince each other as well as Remainers that all Brexiteers are racist maniacs, which in turn leads to the Remainers slapping harmful labels like “racist” on Brexiteers without giving them a chance to give their reasons. If they do turn out to be racists, then fair enough, but most of them aren’t. They just disagree with you, and maybe assuming they are the enemy is easier than engaging in debate with them.
So, what is “the Brexit effect”? To me, it signifies a rise in hatred and crime and a fall in valuable discussion and debate with your dissenters. It has led people to stop respecting one another in various forms, ranging from discrimination to hate-fuelled violence. The one thing Brexit has exposed is the ignorance of the British public which, ironically, is something that people from both sides of the war have in common. We need to stop, listen and learn, since ignorance is by far the biggest crime in politics.