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Is Europe Good for Race Equality in Britain?

24/03/2016 12:09 GMT | Updated 24/03/2017 09:12 GMT

As a campaigner for greater racial and social justice I'm keen for this question to be debated, because it could have a strong impact on the way many of our six million black and minority British citizens cast their vote.

When I wrote an opinion piece on the website of my organisation, Operation Black Vote, I set out why I believe, overall, the EU can be a positive institution. For example, if the UK leaves the EU how can we effectively lobby the other European Union States to treat people who look like us and or share the same religion fairly? It is only together with other minority communities and the millions of good people across Europe that we can effectively tackle racism across the continent.

Truth is dismantling discriminatory practices in areas such as employment, housing and education ultimately benefits everyone.

Writing the piece for our website I instinctively felt many in BME communities would have some negative views towards Europe, and I was prepared for some pushback - we've all seen the growth of the political far right, and the inhumanity of a continent which for a long time turned its back on African and middle eastern migrants dying at sea. But the backlash I received was far stronger than I'd expected.

Many respondents believed that Europe and its institutions were profoundly racist and would never serve Black people well. One, Jerina Teshome, wrote: "The EU is a hell hole for black and minority people where there is a growing far right movement taking place. We need to leave it ASAP." Another stated the, 'EU has no time for race. It is basically a white male club'.

Another respondent, Timothy Bell, said the 'negative effect of mass immigration from Eastern Europe on the hopes and aspirations of the BME community in the UK has been substantial to say the least".

In my view, the latter point misses the uncomfortable truth that BME individuals where discriminated against in jobs, housing and the criminal justice system long before the doors were open to East European countries.

But these and other negative comments chimed with research from the Runnymede Trust which said many minorities see the EU as ''Fortress Europe", a way of "keeping out non¬-white immigrants while allowing significant levels of European migration."

These fears that many hold must be acknowledged and taken seriously. But I would strongly argue, if we just walk away do we expect these institutions to get better at dealing with race inequality?

And closer to home isn't it a fact that a driver for leaving the EU is to have lighter touch equality legislation, which as we know too often impacts the most vulnerable in society.

As for the idea, floated by Ukip, that the UK would be more accommodating to migrants from the Commonwealth if white Europeans return home, well, don't hold your breath.

I'm convinced that, despite all the challenges we face within the EU, the cause for equality and prosperity are best served by being leading player within it. Our own MEP's such as Glyn Ford-now former MEP, Claude Moraes and Jean Lambert for example have led the charge to embed race equality legislation within EU. These relatively new laws help transform many other countries whilst also holding our own national Government to account.

For me this debate also raises question about who we are. Some leading players seeking to leave the EU have sought to evoke the language of the 'empire', when Britain 'ruled the waves'. Thankfully, in reality those day have long gone. Instead we have a potentially powerful vehicle which can drive prosperity for many whilst demanding that decency and equality for all are writ large.

Even in the aftermath of another atrocious terrorist attack, this time in Brussels, we know that part of the solution to tackle radicalisation is to cut off the oxygen of hatred and extremism by ensuring that all our citizens have both a sense of belonging and have greater equality of opportunity.

In the run-up to the June 23rd vote BME voters will view the argument not only through a general lens, but also a particular race equality lens.

They will have their own relevant questions and in a race that looks tight and unpredictable, both the Leave and Remain campaigns would be hugely mistaken to ignore these millions of potential votes.

www.obv.org.uk

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