Depressingly, the British people have narrowly decided to leave the EU. If you seriously feel this campaign was fought on the cold hard facts and arguments of each side, you are mistaken. What Brexit represents is a shift to the right in Britain, namely in huge anti-immigrant sentiment. Britain has become another sad follower in a trend that has been sweeping Europe and the United States in the last couple of years. Ultra-nationalist elements have been growing in all these countries due to fear mongering and the normalisation of people’s prejudices.
One only has to look across the Atlantic to the campaign of Donald Trump. A campaign that has labelled most illegal immigrants from Mexico as ‘rapists’, promised to build a giant wall on its southern border, to ban all Muslims from entering the US and close down mosques. He is a man of little consistently or coherent policy, but the fact his campaign’s use of xenophobia has gained such a positive responses speaks volumes about the shift in America. Even in the wake of 9/11 the Republican President George Bush, urged the US people not to take any revenge on the Muslim communities of America. Now with the resurgence of the Tea Party movement, and the fact Donald Trump is the nominee, shows how much has changed. He has used the rise of ISIS and the refugee crisis to further his own political ambitions, and the most depressing part is that it’s working; in some polls he is even predicted to be the next president.
Now in Britain a large percentage of the population, mostly English, have become susceptible to this anti-immigration message, as evident by the victory of the Vote Leave campaign. To me personally this result is troubling. When I look at the Donald Trump supporters, I used to feel content knowing my country wasn’t like that; they wouldn’t buy into a xenophobic message that has no basis in reality. I’ve always felt Britain was the benchmark for tolerance and the success of an integrated society. Sure, we have had numerous racial divides and difficulties, especially with black and Irish communities, but I thought, by the 21st century, we had moved past that. The general electorate who voted Leave will say their vote is about the good of the country and not defined by immigration but I disagree. The incessant fear mongering about Turkey and the refugees was on nearly all Leave campaign leaflets and adverts. The fears over Turkey joining the EU is not based in any real facts and the campaign gave few reasons why its acceptance would have negative consequences on Britain. It implicitly suggested: vote leave or face the prospect of millions of Muslims accessing easier travel to the UK. It didn’t mention President Erdogan’s attack on free speech and the press, or the Turk links to Al-Nusra and ISIS because, of course, they know if people saw these facts they would probably question why Turkey would even be considered by EU nations.
The new phenomenon in western culture is the belief that all this immigration is detracting from the US and UK’s culture. It is commonly known as ‘white genocide’ and usually comes bagged with the absurd fear that the immigrants will eventually take over their host countries. One only has to look at the holy trinity of UKIP, the English Defence League and Britain First to get a good look at what Britain’s interpretation of this is- Britain should primarily be concerned about our white ‘native’ citizens and not about EU or global immigrants. They are often painted as scroungers and people who only come to the UK for benefits. The best evidence of this is that many right-wing groups labelled the refugees fleeing from Syria and Iraq as ‘economic migrants’. The irony of these ultra-nationalist from the US and UK claiming to be natives is that most of them aren’t. The only natives of the US are the Native Americans and Britain has become such a mix of different cultures throughout the millennia, that most probably are not descended from Britain’s real natives. Britain is a mix of Celt, Norman, Roman as well as many other groups, who are all themselves broadly diverse. Nearly everyone in the US and UK is descended from immigrants. It is not surprising that with great intolerance and ignorance, come great stupidity.
We are not alone in Europe in experiencing the rise of right wing nationalism. Just last month Austria nearly elected a far-right president, Norbert Hofer, who only lost the election by 50.3% to 49.7%. The country was a whisker away from electing a far right leader. He had previously re-written his party’s manifesto to focus on ‘the German people’ and ‘cultural community’, even going as far to include the phrase ‘Volksgemeinschaft’, which has strong Nazi connotations. He hasn’t shied away from national socialism and Hitler’s pan-Germanism. As late as 2013 he would attend gatherings wearing a blue cornflower in his lapel. The significance of this is that Hitler’s ‘spiritual father’, George Ritter von Schonerer, also wore one. His party, the FPO, beliefs that cultural identity and social peace in Austria requires a stop to immigration and they are against the ‘Islamification’ of Europe. It is startling how this ideology has now found a welcome home, not just in Austria but in the US and now the UK too and it all links into ‘white genocide’. All this combined with the rise of the National Front and Marine Le Pen in France (helped by the two Islamic terrorist attacks in 2015), as well as the rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Germany (spurred on by the hysteria around the Cologne attacks on women), Europe is looking just as divided as it has been in the past. Many hoped the 21st century would see an end to such divisions and the end to right wing groups that caused such hardship in the 20th century. But again history is destined to repeat itself and what’s more troubling is that the UK and US have also been swept up in it.
The speed at which these right-wing elements have grown is deeply concerning. Brexit marks another chapter in the steady shift to the right in the western world. What personally bugs me most about it, is the happy acceptance to consume any right-wing propaganda and accept it as fact, as long as it justifies your own prejudice. I believe this is what we have seen in the Brexit campaign and what we are seeing across Europe and America. This type of right-wing politics becoming mainstream has allowed the previously shunned groups like the EDL to come to the forefront. With every terrorist attack and every scandal about immigrants they grew stronger. It is up to those of us not consumed by bigotry and hatred to once again show these people and groups the facts of each issue and that their opinions are not acceptable in the 21st century. Voting for Brexit doesn’t make you a right-wing nationalist but based on the campaign Vote Leave has run, you have helped normalise and legitimise people’s prejudices.