Thursday, June 23, 2016

Brexit motivated by xenophobia

Britain goes to the polls on Thursday 23 June 2016 to decide in a referendum whether the UK should remain in the European Union (EU) or leave. Like in most elections across Europe these days, immigration is a huge question and there are campaigners and voters who think that without immigration - or free movement of people as in case of EU membership - all a country's problems would somehow disappear. There can not be further away from the truth.

The referendum question, according to The New York Times will ask eligible voters - British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens 18 and older living in the UK, UK citizens living abroad who have been registered to vote in the UK in the past 15 years  - whether the UK should "remain a member of the European Union" or "leave the European Union." According to the BBC there are three million EU citizens (excluding Britons) living in the UK, and immigration is one of the most important issues for EU referendum voters. Three million foreign EU citizens seems to be too much for Britain, but nine member states of the EU reportedly have higher proportions of foreign EU citizens than the UK.

An intense four-month campaign centered around questions on immigration, the economy and national sovereignty reached its climax with the assassination of Jo Cox, a British MP who campaigned for Britain to remain a member of the EU. Ms. Cox, 41, was reportedly killed after getting out of her car in Birstall where she was scheduled to hold a meeting with constituents.

The New Times reports that immigration - including worries that Turkey will join the E.U and expose Britain to a new wave of Muslim immigrants - and national identity have been central to the "occasionally bitter clashes over the referendum. Those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU also evoke economic concerns to make their case - although more than 1,280 business executives, including directors from 51 FTSE 100 companies reportedly signed a letter in the Times newspaper supporting the Remain camp. Companies on the list reportedly employ 1.75 million people. It is fair to mention that some business leaders like Sir James Dyson and one of the UK´s oldest firms, Tate & Lyle Sugars, support the Leave camp. But most economist believe, according to The New York Times, that Brexit would among other things "create havoc with the pound." Even people in the Leave camp like economist Andrew Lilico, the Executive Director of consulting firm Europe Economics, agree that leaving the EU would be detrimental to Britain's economy until around 2030.

My view

A mere look at the names of those who support the Leave camp tells me that xenophobia is the driving force behind Brexit. Names that have become synonymous with racism and xenophobia in Europe; names like Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and supporting from abroad - polarizing figures like Marine Le Penn, leaders of the French National Front - a party known for "its vituperative denunciation of migrants, its uncontrolled hostility towards Muslims, its xenophobic 'France for the French' message" - among other things.

Supporters of the Vote Leave campaign are not in good company.

Brexit appeals to nationalists - some of whom are far right extremists like Thomas Mair - the man who assassinated MP Jo Cox because of her political views - according to her husband. After the cold-blooded killing Thomas Mair gave his name in court as "death to traitors, freedom for Britain". That is the rhetoric of Brexit. Blind (and possibly deadly) nationalism. Supporters of the movement claim that as part of the EU, Britain is not free and anyone who opposes their push to leave the bloc is a "traitor".

Of course not all EU exit propagandists are extreme and xenophobic. Justice Secretary Michael Gove for instance distanced himself from UKIP´s xenophobic "Breaking Point" poster - a poster reminiscent of Nazi-style propaganda. Other decent politicians who are in bad company with the Vote Leave campaign include Boris Johnson, former mayor of London.

Britain is stronger in the EU despite the bloc's shortcomings. Staying in a reformed EU would be a smarter choice. A vote to leave the union would weaken the influence of UK in Europe and jeopardize the lives of numerous Britons living and working abroad thanks to the free movement rule in the EU. It would adversely affect the movement of money, people and products thereby affecting big business negatively. There is a reason why 55% of members of the British Chamber of Commerce favor staying in a reformed EU. According to Yle, Britons living and working in Finland for example are worried about the possibility of Britain leaving the EU due to the impact it would have on their work and residency. Majority of them oppose leaving the EU.

The way I see it, Britons living and working abroad have a broader worldview and understanding of the global impact of Brexit. Those at home have little or no clue about what it means to be a citizen of the EU. All they see is immigrants coming into Britain. They are oblivious to the fact that should Britain decide to leave there would be a new breed of "immigrants" in the form of British returnees from other EU countries, and British livelihood across the EU would be destroyed. "Free movement", one of the main principles of EU membership, is not a one-way rule. There are British citizens living and working in other European countries. And as indicated by those living and working in Finland - they would like Britain to remain in the EU.

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