The Blog

Maybe We Aren't All Suddenly Racist And Maybe EU Free Movement Is Racist

Brexit has become a byword for racism and chauvinism. A gross generalisation has been born out of the admittedly undeniable fact that some extreme-right groups advocated an exit from the EU. This unfair generalisation that those who supported Brexit are closet racists has passed into the norm of social thought and may take a while to reverse.
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Brexit has become a byword for racism and chauvinism. A gross generalisation has been born out of the admittedly undeniable fact that some extreme-right groups advocated an exit from the EU.

This unfair generalisation that those who supported Brexit are closet racists has passed into the norm of social thought and may take a while to reverse.

On the EU-infatuated left, which has done much to proliferate this snobbishness, there are two main ideas at play. The first is the notion that post-Brexit Britain, compared to chic, cosmopolitan Europe, is descending into a racist state as a direct consequence of the vote. The second is that all things related to the EU - including the single market and free movement of people - need to be fought for at all costs, even if that means subverting democracy and overturning the result.

While the EU's freedom of movement disguises itself behind a smokescreen of respectability, its cheerleaders in Britain fail to mention some of its more reactionary traits and unsavoury advocates.

For instance, one of free movement's most vocal backers in Eastern Europe is Robert Fico, the Slovakian president and current EU Council President. During Theresa May's July bilateral meeting with Fico, the Slovakian leader vociferously defended freedom of movement, stating that British voters view immigration 'differently to how we perceive migration on the continent'.

Yet Fico, who once said that free movement was one of the 'greatest accomplishments of the European Union', should not be seen as a defender of a great progressive cause, but as a racist who has said that 'Islam has no place in Slovakia'. Tellingly, Theresa May did not challenge Fico on his attitudes towards Islam which, although relatively mainstream in his native Slovakia, would be intolerable for the majority of the British population.

Elsewhere, the despotic prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban has talked of the need to build a wall to keep out the 'poison'. Orban insists that immigration, 'especially from areas where Europe and the western world are seen as the enemy...damages Europe's security'. Mr Orban - an albeit critical integrationist who has backed calls for a EU army - sees the European project as a bastion of white and ancient values against Muslim invaders, a discourse harking back to the crusades. As the BBC recently pointed out, 'Mr Orban and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico say Europe has to defend its "Christian" heritage.'

In Poland a similar story has developed. Racist sentiment has grown to such a worrying level that mass anti-'Islamisation' rallies have been held in Warsaw, while the Vatican even published a communiqué condemning this trend. This climate of hatred has been fostered and animated by Beata Szydlo, who not only suspended an agreement to take in 7000 asylum seekers from the Middle East in the wake of the Brussels attacks, but has even stated that she wants to 'keep Poland Polish'.

Over the course of her brief visit to Warsaw, Theresa May rightly condemned the post-Brexit spate of attacks against Poles, before proceeding to hear Szydlo's speech in defence of EU free movement. But while it might initially seem hypocritical to defend free movement and lead a hard-right party with fascistic tendencies, it actually makes perfect sense: EU free movement acts a convenient way of keeping Muslims out of Europe.

While these figures of arch-conservatism have in the past been critical of certain aspects of EU liberalism and present themselves as Eurosceptics, they are united in recognising the great role that the EU and its border agency Frontex play in enforcing national and ethnic purity, letting white people travel throughout while keeping migrants of colour out.

In Britain, the commonplace narrative goes that racism and Islamophobia will undoubtedly increase after leaving the EU. But whilst we need to remain extremely vigilant of such tendencies, they should not be explicitly linked to Brexit, as if prior to June 23rd the EU ploughed resources into an anti-racism police force.

Of course, recent reports of attacks on Poles throughout the country are extremely worrying and need to be investigated urgently, but that is not to say that the Left should defend the EU or accept freedom of movement, much less call for a reversal of Brexit.

To be clear, problems of racism are not addressed by overturning a popular decision to leave an imperialist organisation. And looking at the wider picture, defence of an organisation that enforces a barrier against North African and Middle Eastern Muslims that are victims of imperial wars could arguably be seen as more Islamophobic than anything produced by the EU referendum.

A recent Pew Survey revealed some interesting patterns about European attitudes to diversity and Islam. It found that Britain fared much better than Greece, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Holland in its acceptance of diversity, and roughly the same as Germany. As for views towards Islam, the UK had the most favourable view of Muslims in the whole continent, showing that while there may be lots of work to be done to improving race relations and inclusivity, the idea that Britain leaving the EU is symptomatic of our descent into a racist state is simply not true.

On the 24th of June many young people took to social media proclaiming that they would abandon racist Britain and claim European nationality. But these Pew statistics on diversity might throw a spanner in the works of those liberal young globetrotters wanting to move to escape the St George's flag-wielding mob. The idea that a young person living in largely tolerant London should go into self-imposed exile in a European country where race issues are far more prevalent is simply laughable. We need to learn to recognise that the term EU or European is not tantamount to tolerance and progress, and that our positive associations with the Continent (holidays, city breaks, etc.) are not representative of the real struggles of the peoples of Europe.

The widely promoted narrative that Europe is inherently more progressive than Britain is wrong, and portrays an elitist mistrust in the capacity of British people to think in a sophisticated manner.

Instead of demonising the working class people it ought to represent, the Left needs to respect the outcome of the largest democratic mandate in British history and do its best to shape the outcome of the negotiations. Part of that is debating immigration policy and making the case that EU freedom of movement is fundamentally anti-people, enforcing a wall round Europe that keeps people of colour outside, imposes wage deflation for working class people inside its parameters and unbridled freedom for white middle class people to explore the charms of the continent for months at a time.

The racist nature of our current EU migration system is succinctly highlighted by one fact. Over the last three years some 27,000 'illegal' migrants have been thrown into jail in the UK. And all the while there are over 2 million 'legal' EU migrants in work in Britain (the ONS was found to have massively underestimated this figure). So what marks the difference between a permanent place in Britain and a safe job, or an illegal status and a prison sentence? The colour of your skin and which side of the EU border you have happened to come from. That is plainly an injustice.

One only has to look at the recent news that Jamaicans with British roots and families are being deported in their hundreds to realise that something's not right with our immigration policy.

It's time for the Left to have a debate on the merits of leaving behind EU freedom of movement and the single market.

The terms of this debate need to be shifted away from the warped liberal media agenda which has divided one set of people against another; respectables against non-respectables, educated and against non-educated, liberals against illiberals, middle class against working class.

Above all we should applaud the decision of the sovereign electorate to leave the EU and put pressure on Theresa May to trigger Article 50 immediately, articulating our own vision of Brexit and immigration.