Since last Thursday’s result, it has become increasingly clear that Britain is no longer the country that many thought it to be.
A stronghold of tolerance and freedom of expression is often the way that many conceive of the UK, but since Brexit, the previously hidden divisions within our society have come to the foreground with hideous effect. We are now posed with the task of identifying the source and nature of these divisions and most crucially, coming up with possible solutions to escape from our current dystopian context.
One of the key binary divisions of the referendum and its aftermath is that between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Whilst this point may seem laboured by those who supported remain, it is important to emphasise the extent to which immigration has become a football, tossed around to achieve short term political gain.
This particular dichotomy emerged early on in the campaign for the 2015 general election, with Cameron’s electoral pledge to hold a referendum in order to appease the right wing of the Tory party. His aim was clear: provide the EU with a choice between allowing the UK to restrict freedom of movement or face the UK leaving the EU.
Whilst it was clear that Cameron’s posturing was a mere performance in order to appear statesmanlike, evidenced by the measly concessions he received from Europe, this precedent of legitimising a binary between ‘us’ as Britons and ‘them’ as Europeans became a poisonous trend which permeated the entire referendum campaign.
It is unsurprising that the ‘Leave’ camp focussed their campaign almost entirely on immigration, with Michael Gove, Gisela Stuart and Boris Johnson recently stating that “leaving the EU is a great opportunity for us to take back control of our borders, our economy and our democracy.” For those who paid attention to the more reasoned and educated arguments throughout the campaign, it was clear from the outset that Brexit would result in us having to accept freedom of movement as a precursor to access to the free market, whilst simultaneously losing our say at the top table of the EU.
For those who were dissatisfied with immigration, however, the narrative of “take back control” proved to be irresistible. Those that voted for remain on the grounds of the seemingly objective fact that a leave vote would inflict uncertainty, without any realistic change in immigration policy, were understandably stumped when the unthinkable became apparent on Friday morning.
The referendum proved to be a seismic shockwave, exposing hidden cracks in the liberal and tolerant Britain that we had convinced ourselves existed.
Do we just wait for the post-Brexit violence to subside so that in the near future we can once again convince ourselves that we live in an open and tolerant society?
The most objective way in which this idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’ translated into material and objective violence is in the rise of disgusting xenophobic acts of violence. Apparently committed indiscriminately against anyone who fails to fit with the non-existent yet normatively powerful ‘pure white Briton’, people who have lived in Britain all of their lives have received cries of ‘Paki’ and ‘get out of my country’ on the street in a way that seems alien to the country that we know and love. More indirect discrimination, such as racist graffiti, is on the rise, with the result being a cumulative total of hate crime rising five times since the referendum result.
Racist slurs on public transport and sporadic acts of violence, such as the firebombing of a Halal Butchers in Walsall, have come to typify the poisonous binary between ‘true Britons’ and ‘immigrants’, exposing the dangerous way in which any political campaign fundamentally premised upon immigration inevitably leads to objective violence with real, lived consequences.
So what do we do now? Do we just wait for the post-Brexit violence to subside so that in the near future we can once again convince ourselves that we live in an open and tolerant society?
The answer is a resounding no: we must not and cannot do this if we are to live in a country in which people feel as though they can go into public free from the fear of being ruthlessly bullied for any feature which makes them unique.
The response of the government to recent acts of violence is condemnation, with Cameron telling the House of Commons “we will not stand for hate crime or these kinds of attacks, they must be stamped out.” This was done without a hint of irony, given that it was his idea to hold the referendum in the first place, and to position it along an axis of ‘us’ and ‘the other’ through bowing to the Tory right’s obsession with freedom of movement.
It has become clear to me that whilst the referendum was a formal political decision, the immediate and direct consequences of it have come in the informal realm of every day life and that the disengaged (and increasingly chaotic) Westminster elite cannot provide a solution to the fault lines that have been exposed.
It is vital that we take it upon ourselves to act against this tide of hatred and perform such actions in everyday life. This must be done through non-violent means. For example, showing social solidarity through acts which demonstrate that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, but merely an ‘us’.
We should all do something, anything, to highlight that difference is beautiful
Does anyone really fit this deluded idea of ‘the normal Briton’? The answer is no and we should celebrate this in order to reclaim our true national identity; the celebration of difference as enrichment.
We should all do something, anything, to highlight that difference is beautiful. Express your religious, ethnic, gender or any other identity in a way that showcases who you are. We are not defined as Britons by subscribing to a cardboard cut-out of a narrowly conceived British identity, but are defined as Britons by our diversity, which is something to be championed and celebrated if we are to retain the Britain that we know and love in these troubled times.