One of the most overrated and overblown reasons for folk voting out of the European Union last summer was immigration. There existed within the Leave vote a substantial contingent that advocated retaining membership of the single market and pursuing what is called the ‘EEA option’. There was a large rural vote for Brexit based on the recovery of national sovereignty that came from areas not hugely impacted by mass immigration. There was also, believe it or not, a youth vote – much of it libertarian – that saw leaving the EU as an opportunity for profound democratisation. I am very much in the latter category.
I do not deny that immigration was a huge factor in the referendum. It was the most notorious and penetrable of each individual issue, and almost all polling placed it in the top one or two of concerns held by the British public (on both sides of the vote, no less). Nor do I deny that racists played their part in voting for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. No doubt almost every self-professed or blatantly racist individual was on our side – doubtless the most useful contribution they have made to our country.
What annoys me is not the very valid association between Brexit and immigration, but the immediacy of the implications made that Leave voters based their decision primarily, or even solely, on this issue. Especially when these hints are left by mainstream media outlets seeking to lash out at certain sections of the public for voting the way that they did or for thinking the thoughts that they think. A BBC video package and news story published two days ago left exactly this sour taste in my mouth. Please take a moment to view it, here, as you will need to check it out to grasp my analysis:
The headline ‘The Leaver reaching out to immigrants’ is extremely effective, it isn’t hard to see why the editor chose it. The trouble is that, once again, it inappropriately paints Brexit supporters with a particular brush. And there are two problems caused by this article.
The first is that, as the BBC is an extremely authoritative journalistic source (despite its many critics, I still have a lot of respect for the organisation), anybody who comes across this story will assume that ordinary Leave voters are not doing the same, or that they do not care about immigrants. The very running of this story highlights the very real disconnect that lingers between the mainstream media and ordinary Brexit voters. It falsely and presumptuously implies that Julian Thomson, the subject of the package, is an outstanding and unusual Leaver. In the video, he mentions the importance of integration and cohesion; an argument that has been perpetuated by countless commentators and politicians in Britain for the past decade. Even his reasoning for ‘reaching out’ isn’t new or interesting. He is merely offering common argumentation against large scale migratory influxes.
Secondly, where did this notion come from that those who support Brexit must be coerced into or encouraged to feel sorry for their actions? Why should Leavers be made to feel apologetic for their (very reasonable) political persuasion? There is no objective evidence that yet exists that June’s Brexit vote has made Britain a more divisive and racist society. This was an entirely media-driven agenda designed to demonise the 52% and help to construct a dialogue that will encourage dilution or a delaying of the Brexit process. In other words: make us feel bad about our choice and create an atmosphere in which we may have to reconsider. Of course, I do not deny the existence of racism in society, but I do reject continued reactionary associations between Brexit and xenophobia, even if immigration was the main issue for those who voted to leave.
The Labour Party, as was later admitted by Blair’s former speechwriter Andrew Neather, deliberately imposed on the country mass immigration from Europe without giving individuals a say or acknowledging the problems that the policy caused. Brexit, therefore, was the only viable avenue through which members of the public could express understandable dissatisfaction. And since limiting net migration could quite quickly suppress any anti-migrant sentiment across the country, a good argument can be made that Leave voters actually did immigrants living in the UK a favour. Any decrease in the frustration of British people will be welcome news for potential targets, and so by confronting the elephant in the room, Leavers may actually have helped to ease the concerns of foreign-born citizens living in Britain. I have discussed previously at this blog the ways in which limiting immigration will be of considerable benefit to migrants already here. Other examples, besides stemming the tide of resentment, could include easing the demands placed on housing and other public service systems that immigrants in Britain use and pay for. It is therefore worth looking at the bigger picture. Friday’s BBC package ignores the long-term advantages presented to Britain’s foreign-born by Brexit supporters.
The news story is also extremely condescending. Much of the UK’s post-referendum debate has been characterised by hyper-sensitivity. The BBC, in its awe-inspiring wisdom and care for the community, seems to think that migrants in Britain are either entirely unsupportive of an EU withdrawal – which they are not – or that they are incapable of dealing with upcoming political changes and continued integration into society. This proposition would seem to me to be mistaken. Immigrants are, if we remember, among the more brave and resilient members of any society, almost by definition. Certainly the BBC would do well to remember that.
This post was originally published by the author on his personal blog: https://norgroveblog.com/2017/02/19/some-thoughts-on-a-condescending-bbc-news-story-covering-brexit-and-immigrants/