When the British public voted to leave the EU on 23 June, the immediate impulse - on the part of pro-Remainers at least - was post-mortem analysis. Where did things go wrong? How did the 'in' camp lose the argument? Then came the blame game. Soon enough, Jeremy Corbyn found himself the victim of a post-referendum backlash, his perceived lack of commitment to the pro-EU cause ultimately leading to an attempted overthrow. Meanwhile, a Conservative Party eternally riven by internal divisions on the European issue were left alone to fight their next civil war: hard vs soft Brexit.
Theresa May has proven particularly slippery on this front. While dutifully backing David Cameron's stance during the campaign, she was notably absent from pro-Remain platforms. Indeed, her public engagement during the campaign was minimal. Her words and deeds since taking the keys to Number 10 have confirmed one obvious fact; our new Prime Minister is the not-so-secret hardcore Brexiteer.
On her arrival in Downing Street, May committed herself to respecting the result of the referendum, with the now notorious pronouncement that "Brexit means Brexit". True to her word, the PM has since gone about the business of making preparations for invoking Article 50. What's more, she has done so with the kind of enthusiasm that casts doubt on her initial position. May and co. have gone to great lengths to make sure that the message is received loud and clear that the UK is headed down the route of hard Brexit.
A worryingly isolationist vision of Britain's future is beginning to emerge and it isn't pretty. The government's persistent refusal to guarantee the security of EU nationals already living here has morphed into plans to force companies to identify their foreign workers and justify their employment. The foreign-born doctors and nurses that keep our NHS ticking over suddenly find the welcome extended to them only temporary. Every day brings whispers of new measures designed to pull up the drawbridge across the English Channel that little bit further.
Theresa May's motivations could not be more transparent. In making immigration the central focus of her Brexit narrative, she is cynically seeking to broaden the Conservative Party's appeal. The politics of xenophobic scapegoating are prime bait for UKIP supporters now unsure of their party's raison d'être and disillusioned by the endless chaos at the heart of the leadership. In this brave new world is May's attempts to exploit the reasons behind the referendum result to solidify her own position are so unsubtle, you can't help but admire her gumption.
It is no secret that June's referendum was largely lost in the post-industrial towns and villages of the North of England and Wales. It is here that a forgotten people, fuelled by rising inequality and a fair dollop of right-wing media manipulation, seized upon the vote as an opportunity to give the Establishment a good kicking. It is in these traditional Labour strongholds that UKIP have made significant inroads, creating electoral capital from a populace duped into believing that the 'other' is to blame for their misfortune. With UKIP in disarray and Labour arguably espousing a brand of cosmopolitan socialism at odds with the evolving mindsets of their customary support base, the Conservatives' claims to be 'the party of working people' could hold water among those for whom Brexit was a no-brainer. In obsessively perpetuating an anti-immigration agenda as the centrum of her blueprint for a post-Brexit utopia, one could argue that May is boxing clever.
The Conservatives are, however, playing a very dangerous game. With xenophobic and racist hate crime increasing exponentially since 23 June, our social cohesion as a country can ill-afford the kind of rhetoric emanating from Whitehall. All available evidence points to a progressively more parochial society, a people willing to barricade itself in on the basis of untruths, misperceptions and outright fear. This is no time to seek to gain political advancement from the dire circumstances we find ourselves in. To further inflame the rampant xenophobia tarnishing Britain's reputation is unbecoming of any socially responsible government. There may well be short-term gains for Theresa May (now a fully 'out and proud' hardcore Brexiteer) and her associates from their unabated denigration of those who have made a conscious decision to live and work here. Sadly, the long-term impact of such short-sighted opportunism will unquestionably scar our communities for years to come.
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