Post Brexit Britain: Rising xenophobia challenges status quo

Richard Sudan
Richard Sudan is a London-based writer, political activist, and performance poet. His writing has been published in many prominent publications, including the Independent, the Guardian, Huffington Post and Washington Spectator. He has been a guest speaker at events for different organizations ranging from the University of East London to the People's Assembly covering various topics. His opinion is that the mainstream media has a duty to challenge power, rather than to serve power. Richard has taught writing poetry for performance at Brunel University.
© Stephen Hird
Britain has always been a right-wing country.  This year, however, the country veered even further right in the most bizarre circumstances.  The nation took part in an 'EU referendum' which was really a national poll on immigration.

Immigration in Britain is little more than a political football. Immigrants are used as a convenient scapegoat for society's perceived cultural, social, but very real economic problems.  

This manifested into tragedy for the Polish community a few days ago in Harlow, Essex, just outside of London.  A Polish national, Arkadiusz Jozwik, was brutally beaten and killed in an attack by a group of British youths.  Allegedly, he was murdered for no other reason than because he was Polish and, according to one witness, because he was speaking in his Polish accent in earshot of the thugs who attacked him. 

I'll get to that in a moment, but first a little background and very crucial context is needed, in order to fully understand the current conditions in Britain which is leading to such needless violence.

We are at a very important historical moment for Britain, as well as dangerous, and understanding the complexities is vital. The path that we choose to go down will define the country for many years to come.  

In the months and weeks leading up to the EU vote, the national dialogue around the referendum became characterized, by the worst kind of dogmatic rhetoric, marred with downright lies regarding immigration. And this is part of the problem in Britain which has laid the foundation for the deeply worrying situation in which we now find ourselves; immigration has never been explained and demystified and rationalized in the minds of the English working class. Indeed, Britain is built and run by immigrants and could not function without them.

Immigrants make up a vital part of the labor force, ranging from working in the NHS, to keeping vital services like transport moving. They clean our offices and deliver our goods.  In addition to this, there are the countless examples of contributions made by immigrant communities to the arts, politics popular culture and so on.

Britain does and has always relied on immigrants. And this much is fact. But the English working class, rather than identifying with immigrant communities, who are often in a similar economic situation as themselves, have opted instead to vote 'leave' largely on a tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. 17 million of them.

But it is the government, not immigrants, who are cutting services, implementing austerity, and doing nothing about high rents and living conditions. It's the government that is leaving elderly people cold in the winter while giving tax breaks to multinational corporations. Immigrants are being scapegoated by the ones responsible for the strain people are feeling.  

The right and far-right, by definition, has always been racist.  But the left has failed, decade after decade, to prioritize and show that immigrant communities are an essential part in keeping Britain functioning. New Labour failed in this task. Today, rather than meeting the challenge of confronting the Tories and far-right by opposing Brexit, Article 50 and deportations, the Labour movement, with all the excitement it has stirred up with Jeremy Corbyn at the helm (who I've always supported), is taking about evoking Article 50 and potentially mass deportations.  Ideologically this is the wrong position for the left to hold.   

The sad reality is that there is currently no political leadership which is fighting for immigrants' rights, while acknowledging them as an essential part of the labor movement and labor force.  Tory and Labour policy regarding immigration are at present indistinguishable.  I wish it were not the case, but it is. 

Misleading mythology as to what a post-Brexit Britain would look like was also peddled in the run up to the vote; Nigel Farage, the modern incarnation of Enoch Powell, warned how Turkey would join the EU if Britain didn't exit, leaving Britain vulnerable to an invasion of terrorists and rapists from North Africa and the ME. There would be an extra £350 million for the NHS if we leave, Farage told us (There wasn't).

Boris Johnson, who doesn't even take himself seriously, made grand empty statements about how Britain would restore her national pride and reclaim her sovereignty.  

Perhaps the only thing more dangerous than the propaganda which galvanized the right is the fact that now it is plain to see none of the grand visions of the Brexiteers are coming to pass.   

There is no socialist revolution around the corner.  There is no extra money for the NHS.  We won't be able to somehow get a 'better deal' after sticking two fingers up to the rest of Brussels.  Immigrants are not being deported (en-masse anyway) yet.  Article 50 is yet to be triggered.   

All of this will have further angered and incensed the right who will by now feel hoodwinked. The right have fed and grown and become emboldened by hate and have created more of it.  Labour has played to right-wing populism rather than opposed it, and has remained in a state of paralysis around the issue of immigration. 

At best, the left has made silly philosophical and abstract arguments around 'Lexit', ignoring any realities around racism and xenophobia experienced and lived by immigrant communities.  

The EU is no democratic institution to sing about for sure; but the English left has shown that they are in no position, and have no desire, to protect the communities most threatened by Brexit and Article 50, should Britain leave the EU. 

Immigrant communities have been scapegoated by the right and forgotten by the left.  Polish communities in particular have seen a sharp increase in attacks post Brexit. 

The Polish community, still reeling in shock, held a vigil and silent walk for Arkadiusz Jozwik on Saturday, which I attended and reported on for RT UK.  Hundreds of members of the Polish community took part in the march which culminated in a brief service in a local Church.

The Polish Ambassador also attended the procession.

Black and minority communities in Britain know how the Polish community is feeling right now and the fear they are experiencing.  Racism went underground (to an extent) in the 1990s, but was given a free pass to rear its ugly head in the run up and since the EU ref thanks to Brexit.  

And because of the nastiness stirred up, it is clear that racist abuse is no longer reserved for Black or minority communities.

Sadly, we are used to seeing Muslim women targeted on buses, or even in France by the state, on public beaches. We are sadly used to hearing about Black men dying at the hands of the police. 

But the toxic atmosphere in post-Brexit Britian is something new; now the xenophobic playing field is wide open and the pathway toward fascism is no longer some faraway abstract fear. 

Jo Cox, a British MP, was killed a few weeks back in all likelihood because she was sympathetic to refugees and immigrants.  

Is there a link between Brexit and these tragic deaths?

Given that there was a spike in racist and xenophobic attacks in the week before the EU ref, and which has continued in the weeks following the vote, it seems like a very worrying possibility.

Can the hate being directed and Polish communities and migrants be described as racism? Put simply, yes.  

All that is needed is a perceived difference in the eyes of the attacker towards the victim, which is often skin colour, language or some perceived cultural difference.

The Irish, for example, despite their fair skin, have been persecuted for hundreds of years as a people by the British state. Indeed, who can forget the famous signs which once adored the windows of many of England's hotels and establishments; 'No Blacks, no dogs, no Irish'. The only thing white about the Irish is their skin color. Their experience for all intents and purposes is Black.

Polish communities and migrants are now tragically starting experiencing this too. Whether we describe it as racism, nationalism, or xenophobia we are talking about the same thing; People being attacked because they are viewed as different.  The left must now start to seriously mobilize around this.

This pernicious monster is growing and also finding a comfortable home in mainstream politics.  It must be opposed at all costs.  Right now Britain is on a very dangerous trajectory.  The right is doing everything it can to accelerate this process, while the left remains in a state of complete denial pretending that there is no problem while sharing the same policy as the government on article 50.

Campaigners and organizers on the ground need to work together to prepare for the inevitable onslaught that society and immigrant communities will continue to face if we remain on this trajectory. No one is here to save us. Article 50 and Theresa May scrapping the human rights act are the most important issues we face right now. We need to fight the unelected government or kleptocracy and these disastrous polices at all costs.  

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.