BREXIT AND BRITISH VALUES

by Gunnar Eigener

Content warning: mentions racism, violence, hate crimes

The Brexit negotiations have long ceased to be about deal making and more about the imposition of values and principles. From the start, British values have been about finding someone to blame, a bogeyman. Islamists, immigrants, bankers, the EU; it really no longer matters who just as long as someone can be put against the wall and publicly and figuratively shot. The problem is that this has become such an intricately entwined aspect of British society that the ability to dispatch from the blame game and actually go about resolving an issue is fast disappearing from the national psyche. It is much better to pile up the bodies and stare admiringly at the perceived resolution of society’s ills. Just below the surface however, simmers a violent and angry determination to enforce British values at all cost, threatening to overtake all sense of decency.

It is much better to pile up the bodies and stare admiringly at the perceived resolution of society’s ills.

The United Nations ‘Special Rapporteur’, Tendayi Achiume, stirred up a backlash in May by claiming that the Brexit referendum had left minorities “more vulnerable to racial discrimination and intolerance”. This claim received the usual tabloid response, denouncing her as a foreigner knowing nothing about this country. Despite this being a claim and one  based on only a short visit to the UK, it doesn’t take a lot to see that anti-migrant rhetoric has become ‘normalised’ in the UK; an aspect of British society that now seems to be accepted and, more depressingly, expected. Take Boris Johnson’s comments in an article he wrote for the Telegraph. While he isn’t attacking Islam directly, his comments pandered to the right and far-right in an effort to further his own political agenda, and naturally, the right came to his defence. This stands as an indication that cultural attacks have become deemed acceptable by leading political figures. Even those who considered his comments as nothing but laughable are still failing to see the problem. Criticism may be due where wrongdoing has occurred, but Johnson’s offensive criticisms that he claims to be entertainment and jest must actually be recognised as holding a degree of seriousness, as they serve to ennoble the toxic views of those who are prepared to take their views to a violent level. But just where is this level?  

Photo credit: Alisdare Hickson, Flickr.

Right-wing tabloids and journalists have taken to discrediting the increase in crime figures against non-British people as nothing more that massaging of statistics or incorrect readings of polls. Although crime does tend to spike around July every year due to longer days and drinking in warmer weather, there was a demonstrable increase in hate crimes specifically. And why would it stop? Latest figures show that there are indeed less people moving to the UK as Brexit  has left people with a feeling of uncertainty as to whether there is actually much point in uprooting to the UK.  Anti-immigration was a driving factor behind Brexit, supposedly to keep out the bogeyman who was taking jobs, driving up prices and diluting the national identity. But how can the UK shake off its  image as a racist and xenophobic country? The problem is that is doesn’t have to. Many other countries around Europe, like Italy, Austria and Hungary are returning to nationalist populist ideologies which in turn influence national policy. The idea of a global community is slowly being replaced by individual, cultural and national identities that define trade and national interests.

 

Photo credit: Gideon, Flickr.

 

Yet in the end, it is the people who will lose out. Brexit and other nationalist notions are designed to keep the people in the mood for attacking outsiders and isolating themselves from perceived harm. All the while, those in power continue to make money, exploiting both immigrants and citizens. Many continue to believe that everything is rigged in favour of the rich and powerful. Austerity was imposed on the UK population after banks and other institutions had allowed the financial crash to happen, making money for themselves while subsequently being bailed out by the government at the expense of society’s well being But banker-bashing has long been replaced with anti-immigration, something that existed previously but has been ramped up over the years by politicians keen to see their friends in the banking business left alone to carry on as they were before.

 

Blame is still being placed upon everyone else but ourselves.

 

Instead of people mobilising and acting in a positive manner to resolve national problems, they are being pushed towards more radical alternatives. The threat of a no-deal for Brexit would leave many households worse off, yet this seems to be considered as an acceptable compromise in order to keep immigrants out. Blame is still being placed upon everyone else but ourselves. So when the time comes to leave the EU, there will be difficult times ahead and still the blame will go to others. So much time has been spent on trying to keep the bogeyman out that the paranoia and hatred has ended up being kept in.

Is it possible to change the outcome? Polls suggest that most of those who voted in the Brexit referendum wouldn’t change their vote. Could more people be encouraged to vote in a second vote? Unlikely; if they didn’t understand the significance the first time round, they are not likely to change now. Facts have become tangled up with indifference and falsehoods. Brexit will happen and British values will have to take on a new perspective. What those values will be can still be decided by society instead of by those who tell us how to feel.

Featured image credit: Sarah McGiven, Pexels


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