June 28, 2016

Brexit: A Legacy of Intolerance?

Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot, UK

As the seismic shock of the vote to leave the European Union settles, a picture of uncertainty has emerged as to what our next steps will be. How soon Article 50 will be triggered, how long negotiations with the EU will take and what the position of Britain will be is for the politicians to decide and we the people of Britain must wait and see what happens.

Timeline aside let’s look at what we are left with. After any election there are victors and losers and while those that lost may feel sadness and regret the knowledge of future elections allowing for change is always a consolation. The result of the EU referendum has had a different effect primarily because there is no going back, at least for the foreseeable future; we voted out so we’re out.

The arguments to remain in the EU had appeared to be stronger – the economy, security etc. while those of leave centred on sovereignty and halting immigration along with discredited financial claims. However 52% of the voting public chose to vote to leave for various reasons.

The voting breakdown was interesting as Scotland and the young, metropolitan voters chose overwhelmingly to remain while the older, rural voters of England and Wales chose to leave. This has left feelings of resentment among the Scots and the young who feel they will have to suffer for what they see as the selfish reasons of the leave voters. It is significant that turnout for older voters was significantly higher than that of the youth which has had a great effect on the outcome. Both camps have also been accused of not getting their correct messages across – Leave because they have done U-turns on several campaign promises and Remain for not properly conveying the benefits of the EU to the public.

Within the political system the fallout was immediate as Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would be stepping down triggering a leadership contest. As the blame for defeat is discussed the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing revolt from within his own party and calls for his resignation.

While the two major parties are left in turmoil there is one party who have declared themselves victorious and are demanding a role in a new “brexit” government and that is Ukip whose leader Nigel Farage has been gleefully proclaiming 23rd June as Independence Day. Independence from what? Britain has always been independent and has always had borders but the rhetoric of Farage and Boris Johnson is what appealed to voters so now it in their words Britain has gained independence. However despite winning Mr Johnson wishes to keep many of the same links with the EU and seems in no hurry to actually exit which only adds to the uncertainty.

While the political process of the exit is being handled by the politicians the referendum result has left us with the disturbing knowledge of the rise in popularity of the far right who now feel completely legitimised by the result. Ukip already had a base of support in local councils, Parliament and indeed the European Parliament but the scale of the Leave vote coupled with turmoil in the other parties has left Ukip feeling victorious.

This has added to the continued growth in support for the far right parties across Europe. It is telling that reaction from around Europe was of sadness then resignation except from the far right parties who were celebratory and have begun talking about referendums of their own. Donald Trump landed in Scotland the next day and added to the congratulations which, as Scotland had voted to remain, left Scots fuming. The UK referendum was initially called by the Prime Minister as an appeasement to Ukip and the far right in his own party. Did he ever imagine the result would be not only the exit of Britain but could also lead to the dismantling of the United Kingdom as well as unrest in the European Union.

In the days that have followed there have been report after report of intolerance – Poles, Romanians and (of course) Muslims being told to “leave because we voted for you to leave” as well as abuse on social media. In addition many non-white people say when they go out they are suspicious of everyone they encounter wondering if they voted to leave and are therefore intolerant.

After the shock of Jo Cox MP being killed for her tolerant beliefs it was sad that her constituency area voted leave despite all the outpouring of sympathy and grief at her death. After all the condemnation of intolerance at her murder the vote made it feel as though it meant nothing in the end.

So now while the politics and infighting continue in Westminster and our fate is decided politically, ordinary people are left with a quite different reality. Intolerance appears to be winning and the intolerant are now jubilant that they have a mandate to openly display their hatred. Verbal and physical abuse already appears to be on the rise and to fearful minds because the majority voted Leave it now makes it appears as if more people than we ever imagined may harbour feelings of intolerance.

Is this the future we have to look forward to, the future our children have been left with? As someone who has always thought the best of the British people the realisation of what my country may be becoming is devastating.

Brexit: A Legacy of Intolerance?