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Don't Let the Spite of the Far-Right Define Britain

28/06/2016 11:24 | Updated 28 June 2016

In the lead up to the EU Referendum we were subjected to endless TV news vox pops, in which citizens told the nation they would be voting to Leave the EU because of immigration.

The apparent loathing of immigration was reinforced by reporters and editors, who linked the loss of Labour votes in poorer areas to concerns about immigrants 'taking jobs'. Despite the fact that the areas filmed routinely were places of low immigration.

Sound bites from Ukip prior to the Referendum - and since it was established - have been centred on immigration. Ukip and groups like the English Defence League (EDL), Britain First and the British National Party have been highly effective at drumming their sound bites into voters' heads, which then get parroted incessantly.

'WE WANT OUR COUNTRY BACK' is a cry that has been heard a lot at EDL and Britain First marches over the years, along with rants about Muslims and immigrants. Ukip's Nigel Farage had no qualms about using this divisive phrase endlessly bleated out by the far-right, or emblazoning the Referendum 'battle bus' with it.

Given the message of such slogans and the whipping up of deluded beliefs that getting rid of immigrants would give prosperity to the disenfranchised, immigrants woke up last Friday to a sickening notion that over half of the voting population doesn't want them here.

I don't think it is true that most people in the UK are simply anti-immigration, as though we were banged on the head and found ourselves in some far-right dominated backwards dystopia. There were different reasons why people voted Leave, often triggered by lies peddled by people who should know better. But I'm not an immigrant trying to protect and nurture a young family in unstable conditions. For many in that predicament, Friday morning would have been shattering.

For immigrants working long hours on low pay, often sustaining the UK in vital sectors like agriculture, care and manufacturing, the discourses prior to the Referendum, and the result, must be like a kick in the guts. Out there day after day working your heart out, often in undervalued roles that keep the UK going, and then to be told you are a threat to society and the reason for other people's misery.

Just when immigrants were recoiling from this incredibly unfair blow, the more overt attacks started. Perhaps not understanding that negotiations to leave the EU will take years, that immigrants will not immediately be dragged from the county and that there are still ways in which we could remain, xenophobia and racism reared their ugly faces in actions politicians have condemned as hate crimes.

Within hours of the Referendum result being declared, Eastern Europeans in the UK received leaflets calling them vermin and telling them to, confusingly, 'Leave the EU' and graffiti with a similar message was daubed on a Polish centre. Asian people too have been subjected to racist abuse and told to leave the UK, suggesting a degree of confusion about which countries the EU comprises of. To tell an Asian schoolgirl to leave a country she and her parents were likely to have been born in, on the back of a marginal EU Referendum result, is up there with the many bizarre and damaging things that had happened in the last few days.

I am extremely concerned that the Referendum has made it seem acceptable to devalue and dehumanise those who are deemed 'other'. To put it another way, it seems to have become acceptable to be racist and wilfully ignorant. This shift has not only been encouraged by overtly racist far-right groups and Ukip but also by well-educated established politicians who have enjoyed all the educational, social and economic benefits of globalisation. Asked to condemn post-Referendum victimisation of minorities, Nigel Farage, on Channel 4 News, claimed that those pushing for Brexit have been "the real victims".

It seems unlikely that resilient EU immigrants are going to take flight from the UK just because the far-right and some frothing bigots want them to. In fact, if I was an immigrant in the UK already I would be maximising my hours in order to make the most of my time here. And if I was from another EU country and struggling, and I thought the UK could be closing its borders in two or three years, I would be planning to move here, earn as much as possible and perhaps establish myself in the UK before the door closes. So the anti-immigration campaign could easily backfire.

Nevertheless, Nazi-era style propaganda and threatening material DOES promote an 'us and them' narrative. But I would hope our European friends both here and abroad realise that this spite is not shared by the majority of Brits. It is more likely that the political narratives around the Referendum and result has encouraged xenophobia to break cover, and flawed ideas get parroted by a larger group of people.

Brits fighting alongside Poles and other Europeans defeated the Nazis in the 1940s. Now, several decades later, we all have to work together to ensure that the ignorant vindictiveness of the far-right does not define us as a nation.

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