We have heard a great deal from politicians and pundits over the last three years about how Leavers are bigots and that the Brexit vote marked a step backwards in race relations in the UK. Remain activists have repeatedly taken to social media and the airwaves to explain that leaving the EU risks turning Britain into a nation of nostalgic, imperialist, jingoists who threaten the security and wellbeing of ordinary ethnic minority Brits. When Channel 4 newsreader, Jon Snow, said of the Brexit protest march on 29 March, “I’ve never seen so many white people in one place”, he was signalling to his audience that there is an inherent racism in the Leave vote, and by implication, the direction that Britain is heading in. LSE Professor, Mary Kaldor, recently described Brexit as a “far-right project”.
These commentators have been strangely silent this week about the candidates unveiled by the new Brexit Party – among them, Christina Jordan (a former nurse and community leader from Malaysia), Dr. Alka Seghal Cuthbert (a British Indian academic), Elizabeth Babade (a Nigerian-born lawyer), and Louis Stedman-Bryce (a gay, black Scottish social entrepreneur). This is hardly the “gammon army” we have been led to expect. Indeed, the Brexit Party list looks remarkably ethnically diverse, especially when compared to that of the Remain-oriented, Change UK.
Whatever you think of Brexit as a policy decision for the country, surely the sight of so many articulate and committed BME Brexiteers is enough to shake the certainty that leaving the EU represents the rise of white supremacy in Britain. That so many otherwise sane people have become convinced that Britain is descending into fascism is evidence of the power of a concerted propaganda effort. There was in fact no sustained rise in hate crime after the Brexit vote in 2016. Richard Norrie’s analysis for Policy Exchange
pointed out that there was a slight increase in the number of hate incidents in the immediate aftermath of the vote (as often happens after high profile news events like terrorist attacks), but that the number returned to previous levels soon afterwards. Over the long term, recorded hate crime has been in steady decline in the UK. Racism certainly exists, but it has not been turbo-charged by Brexit, even if our fears have.
So, the Brexit Party’s launch ought to give some reassurance about the state of race relations in the UK. But more importantly, it underlines the fact that not all BME people think or feel the same way politically. Their views about democracy, sovereignty, taxes, health, and even immigration, are not determined by their skin colour or cultural background. Just like white people, BME people are perfectly capable of deciding matters based on values and ideas, and they can identify with other groupings, such as class, rather than just through the narrow prism of a “tribe”. As Rakib Ehsan has pointed out on Spiked, up to a third of ethnic minority voters in the referendum supported Leave. They certainly didn’t toe a party line. And as Manick Govinda has argued on this site, their reasons were often driven by principle – in his case, an instinctive support for democracy and resistance to “empires” of all kinds.
Stressing this diversity of opinion within BME groups is a founding principle of AllinBritain. Identity politics sticks people in a box and leaves them there, ignoring what they want, and taking them for granted. The old model of unelected community leaders and “ethnic votes” has – paradoxically – not served ethnic minority communities well. Perhaps the EU referendum debate, with its surprising twists and turns, might also start to shake the old rules governing race in politics and force politicians to treat their voters as individuals, rather than categories. That would be a welcome development.