In The News Let's Talk

Let’s Talk: Racism and Xenophobia in the Brexit Debate

Tomorrow is the day for the EU Referendum vote and before then I wanted to share some observations. Immigration has been one of the most discussed issues in this campaign and to say that I am disgusted and appalled by the rhetoric that has come out of the Leave campaign would be an understatement.  I’ve wanted to write this post since a few weeks ago when I read  Tola Jaiyeola’s and Imriel Morgan’s articles on the Guardian after the ITV EU Referendum Debate. A lot has happened since. During the ITV debate, Tola Jaiyeola and Imriel Morgan both asked Nigel Farage questions about the fear mongering and anti-immigration rhetoric that has permeated the Leave campaign. In response, Nigel Farage said and I quote:

“A very large number of young single males have settled in Germany and Sweden who come from cultures where attitudes towards women are different’. 

It was such a bewildering statement that I had to take a moment for it to sink in.

In his response, Farage was referencing the cologne attack that occurred on New Year’s Refugees were blamed for the sexual assaults. The part that I found peculiar about the response was ‘cultures where attitudes towards women are different.’ In other words, Nigel Farage implied on National TV that sexual assault was somehow a part of the cultural attitudes of refugees. This is  a disgusting generalisation to further the argument that allowing more immigrants/ refugees reduces the safety of British women. To be honest I also found his response extremely self righteous because if memory serves me well, the past few years have been filled with revelations and accusations of sexual abuse being levied against white MPs and public figures as well. People who live in glass houses should not be throwing stones. Sexual assaults and abuse should be condemned and it is insidious to imply that it is part of Middle Eastern or African cultures where a lot of refugees are from.

In answering Imriel Morgan’s question Nigel Farage also stated that it was false to argue that he was anti-immigration because he is pro-common wealth and in support of ‘Indians and Africans with skills and qualifications’. Let me briefly tell you about my educational experience from secondary school to University of having to observe black people who come from commonwealth countries serve as cleaners; not because they were not qualified – Majority of whom were graduates and professionals from their own countries- but because there is a system that discriminates (albeit covertly) against immigrants from commonwealth countries with qualifications that are not considered good enough in the UK. In his article today  John Barnes makes a very important point in citing that “over the years we’ve heard the same story about black people from Africa and the Caribbean coming to steal our jobs. Now we hear the same thing about Poles.” So I am not under any illusion with Nigel Farage’s response that anti-immigration rhetoric doesn’t apply to immigrants from common wealth countries.

It is absolutely appalling that Imriel Morgan had to face online abuse,  bullying and misogyny from white cyber revolutionaries, and yes their ethnicity has to be stated because their attacks was fueled by deeply racist views. I am still confused about how questioning xenophobic views from a white man meant being anti-white. I’m not sure what train of thought led people to that conclusion but I won’t be wasting my time trying to understand it.

More recently, Nigel Farage unveiled a poster  which he has refused to apologise for – and I’m lost for words here- but has been accurately described by public figures  as ‘reprehensible’ ‘immoral’ ‘disgusting’ ‘Nazi style Propaganda’ ‘vile’ and ‘revolting’. Using the plight of refugees who are fleeing war as a fear mongering tactic is unacceptable!

Let’s also talk about how anti-immigration rhetoric and fear mongering of refugees has contributed to the rise of the far right movement. The death of Jo Cox was deeply saddening and I pray that her soul rests in peace, but we have to acknowledge that it didn’t happen in a vacuum. For years politicians have been stoking anti-immigration fear without an oversight of the consequences of such rhetoric. In a Guardian article, her husband states that, “She was a politician and she had very strong political views and I believe she was killed because of those views.” Prior to her death she was working on a report that detailed the rise of Anti-Muslim attacks and the rise of Islamophobia in the UK. Politicians have to realise fear mongering affects the lives of innocent people who just want to get on with their lives and live in peace.

You also want to know what’s not surprising? That Baroness Warsi was subjected to Islamophobic abuse online  when she announced that she was defecting from the Leave campaign to the Remain camp  due to the ‘hate and xenophobia of the Leave campaign.’ Is she the first MP to have defected? Absolutely not! Other white MPs have defected and they did not receive a barrage of hateful messages for doing so. As in the case of Imriel Morgan, white cyber warriors have an issue with a Muslim Asian woman daring to call out hateful propaganda and xenophobia.

Be under no illusion, I have zero sympathy for the conservative side of the remain campaign either. With a few exceptions, majority of conservatives had no qualms joining Zac Goldsmith’s deeply Islamophobic campaign during the London mayoral election with David Cameron questioning Sadiq Khan’s judgement in the House of Commons by alleging that he continually shared a platform with extremists. This is the same person who also deemed it appropriate to say that Muslim women are ‘traditionally submissive’ . I also  didn’t hear outcry from the Conservative party when Boris Johnson made the racist comment that Obama’s “part-Kenyan” heritage had driven him towards anti-British sentiment.

Overall, I am so disappointed with the direction that far right parties and the conservative party is driving British politics towards. In our discourse it’s important to reflect on the impact and contribution of immigrants and refugees to British society, to reflect on the impact of Britain’s colonial history and British imperialism on some Middle Eastern countries and be empathetic towards the plight of others and most of all, it’s important for us to direct our criticisms and legitimate frustrations towards a government that has continually advocated for austerity measures and then turns around to blame immigrants and refugees for the pressure on public services.

“Leave says it doesn’t want to stop immigration entirely – it only wants people that can help us, that have the qualifications and skills that we need. But what about the other people who are displaced or disenfranchised? Don’t we have a responsibility to help them too, especially when they are fleeing countries whose problems we have helped to create, such as Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq? We cannot just wash our hands of the situation. We are the first on the front line to go into countries to liberate people in the name of freedom – that’s what we’ve claimed. And now, all of a sudden, they need our help and we turn them away. Yet the rest of Europe stands ready to help. Why are we the first to jump ship?”– John Barnes

Lastly we have to rally against the rhetoric that as a society we just need to be able to tolerate each other because that is what drives ignorance. I will never forget what Tariq Ramadan said in a recent lecture:

“To tolerate each other is not enough. Saying we have to live together is not enough for me. There’s no way to live together if we don’t do together, work together and be involved together. The real way of living is to be active together.”


“No one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark… no one puts their children in a boat / unless the water is safer than the land.” – Warsan Shire

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  1. I have no doubt that Brexit supporters are informed by their racist and xenophobic sentiments. But what I don’t understand is just how short-sighted they are. Do they not realize that once the U.K. leaves the E.U. the economy will no doubt struggle to survive? Or is their racism just that great that they can’t even foresee this?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hear about this on the news- the Brexit thing, and now I know the truth of these people.
    People are FLEEING FROM WAR. Death and injuries, and this is how humanity reacts?!
    A really engaging read. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I honestly wish I could say I’m surprised by the xenophobia and the blatant islamophobia that have dominated this whole Brexit debacle. Unfortunately I’m not. With the rise of populism, racist rhetoric is becoming a staple of European politics. The steady increase of adherents to what use to be known as fringe elements of the political scene is the direct result of a normalization of racism and Islamophobia as legitimate political arguments by the political establishment and the media alike. When the “other”is portrayed as the very source of all political and economic problems, it is not surprising that said other becomes the target of unbridled hatred. What disgusts me the most is how politicians like Farage have exploited the frustration, fears, and legitimate grievances of certain segment of the population in order to advance their own political agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Accurately said! A few years ago Farage’s politics was laughed at, now he is a focal component of British politics and that’s depressing. Predictably there have been incidents of abuse and harassment of immigrants and Muslims over the past days because to some extent the the result has legitimized racist views and actions.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Who would have thought that the same Farage relegated to political absurdity for the past 20 years would one day be held as some sort of liberator? Now, I have this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that Trump will eventually become president. God help us all!

        Liked by 1 person

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