The Leave Campaign Made This Mess, Now They Must Lie In It

30/06/2016 10:00

Ever since last Friday, there has been a palpable sense of division on our streets. I have felt it - even in London, a multicultural metropolis. In fact, even closer to home, a Portuguese friend of mine told me that he was scared to return to Leicester from his holiday, a city that is famed for its successful ethnic integration, in fear of what might happen to him - will people hurt him? Will they abuse him? Will they try to make him leave?

Since the vote last Thursday, hate crimes in the UK have risen by 200%, or in other words, they have trebled. There have been many high-profile incidents in the last few days up and down the length of the country. In Manchester, a BAME man was chastised with vitriol by a young white man, as he rode on the tram. In London, a hate group sang boastfully of "getting rid of the Poles and the gays". And in Huntingdon, leaflets have been posted telling 'Polish vermin to go home'.

There is no doubt that Brexit has sparked a revival in intolerance. There have been innumerable accounts of migrants, refugees and even British people detailing xenophobic abuse they have received in the streets. A campaign calling on members of the public to wear a safety pin if they're friendly to non-white British people is gaining popularity. Yet, whilst this is undoubtedly well-intentioned, it seems to do little else than sate the guilt of the majority.

What struck me most about this campaign was that it was started by an immigrant, one who freely admits herself that she faces no xenophobic abuse. And that's because she's a white immigrant who speaks English as her first language. Therefore, by rights, she is exempt from the work-shy job-stealing social leper stereotypes that most immigrants face. Her experiences are consistent with several opinion polls, which show the British public to have a fundamental disagreement with freedom of movement across the European Union, but no issue with the idea of the same agreement existing between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

It is clear that Leave voters are not to blame for this scourge of hatred simply because they chose to back the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union - however, it is an unfortunate side-effect of their democratic choice. The 51.1% have inadvertently mobilised a noisy minority of racists, who have been conditioned in to hating migrants after years of slanderous headlines in The Daily Express and The Daily Mail.

What is so disgraceful is that the politicians who led the Brexit cause are missing in action when addressing this social ugliness. The Vote Leave campaign stoked people's fears of immigration from Turkey for months, even intimating that them joining the EU would lead to ISIS militants being just a border away from Britain. On top of this, Leave.EU launched a poster demonising refugees in propaganda that shares a striking likeness to that of Nazi Germany's.

Nigel Farage has spent years making racist gaffe after racist gaffe about immigrants, telling us he's uncomfortable hearing foreign languages on trains, saying Romanians are unwanted neighbours and that any settlers with HIV ought to be turned away by doctors. Is there any wonder when the leaders of the victorious campaign are saying and condoning things like this that racists and xenophobes take it as an endorsement of their own views?

It is time for the decent senior figures who supported Brexit to tame this unwieldy filth before it becomes commonplace again. As so many have succinctly and correctly articulated before me, the problem is not that 17 million Leave voters are racist, it's that racists think that 17 million Leave voters agree with them. Without question, the nation has to unite together to defeat this grotesqueness. Remain voters and Leave voters owe it to wider society to challenge, document and report any incidents of xenophobic hatred. This simply cannot continue.

In truth, I agonised for weeks over which way I would cast my vote in the EU membership referendum last week. I wasn't convinced there would be long-term economic disaster, I wasn't sure of either side's pretence to invigorate our democracy. Ultimately, I made my decision based on the society I wanted; I wanted, and still want, to live in a Britain that is open, tolerant and welcoming of different creeds. I was scared that Brexit would put that under threat - and regretfully, I was right. We have passively ignored the flickering flame of xenophobia for years, and now it has burst in to flames and must be extinguished - if we fail, we will find ourselves unwittingly sleepwalking back to the 1930s.