Sunday, 3 July 2016

We need to break the Brexit-equals-racism mantra, it could be self fulfilling

Hi - as you know I am deeply upset about Brexit. I hope we can persuade people to stay (unlikely) and failing that I know we need to work for the best possible outcome.

However, I think we also need to be honest that leaving the EU is not in itself the worst thing in the world. What matters more is how we leave it, why and what kind of place we will be afterwards.

With this in mind I think we need to stop the assumption that all those who voted out are inherently racist or xenophobic. I made this point before the referendum too. Sure, some people, perhaps quite a lot, did vote for those reasons. The Leave campaign was openly racist and must take responsibility for the upsurge in reported hate crime that has happened since the referendum, but of course that does not mean all those, or even the majority of those who voted to leave are. Many will have voted to curb immigration, but remain decent welcoming people. Others will have voted because they dream of the UK being a giant Singapore, sailing the high sees of the free market. A recent poll suggests only 16% of leave voters want foreigners to have to leave the country. That's quite a lot, but its a long long way from a majority.

Why does this matter?

First for my own sanity, but more importantly because assuming they did could become self fulfilling. If we tell ourselves and the world that this was all about isolation, it will become so. If people know longer wish to move here then we will be lonely. We need to let people know that the UK is still a place where they can be welcome, and valued. England in particular is a hugely dynamic and multicultural place (far more so than many of those places now calling it Little England). That will not change overnight, and indeed, will probably not change at all.

Of course we need to make this happen. We need to stand up to xenophobia and show our 'foreign' neighbours some love. We held a demonstration in Bristol last week to try and do just this. Our government must urgently do the same. Their silence on the rights of foreigners and EU citizens is unforgivable.

We need a progressive alliance of politics to maintain kindness in government. But there is everything still to hope for.

One of the curiosities of Brexit has been people from countries significantly less open and progressive than the UK (even post Brexit) offering their condolences. We need to remember that being in or out of the EU ultimately matters much less than the kind of society we build.

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