You have probably read in the news somewhere that last week the U.K. voted to leave the EU by a slim majority. It’s a big deal, not just affecting us Brits but the rest of the EU member states and even the world. I won’t go into the details of why I think the leave decision is a terrible idea (I voted remain, and I’m both gutted and terrified for my nation’s future). It’s been hotly debated for months now, but here we are with a decision that has left many feeling the same as me.
What I am going to rant about is what on earth has been going on since the result came through. Safe to say, nobody really knows. To sum it up quickly: the value of the pound has plummeted, our Prime Minister has resigned, nobody wants to take his job because it’ll be political suicide apparently, the shadow cabinet are blaming their leader Jeremy Corbyn for the Brexit result and want him to step down, and people are angry that the promises from the Leave campaigners are already broken. There’s a petition for a second referendum because some leave voters didn’t expect voting leave would cause us to actually leave the EU. Oh and Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Gibraltar are threatening various levels of independence.
In other words, British politics is a mess. It makes you wish we could just pretend this referendum never happened. But sadly is has happened, and although it’s not legally binding on parliament it’s safe to say it will probably have to be seen through. Britain has to negotiate a leaving deal with the EU (fyi the leave supporters basically want the same access to the single market and all the other benefits of the EU but without paying into the EU and accepting immigrants, so wish us luck). The next two years look messy and uncertain, and in the meantime we have to wait and see what the lasting impact will be on the economy and our welfare.
So that is how British politics has reacted to the referendum result, but what about the people?
This perhaps scares me even more than the politics. A lot of the British public are horrified, and are desperately clinging to any notion that we can reject the result and stay in the EU. Others are calling for unity after the country has been divided over this issue, and ensuring the fairest leaving deal possible. But there has been a worrying growth in reports of racist and xenophobic attacks against not just EU immigrants in the UK, but immigrants and ethnic minorities in general. I cannot deny there has always been a far right presence in the UK that has been hostile and even viscous towards anyone who isn’t white and British. Although it has been loud and often gets the media attention it wants, it has never represented a vast majority of the population. However this referendum has seemingly made it acceptable in some people’s eyes to become open about their xenophobia, and everyone from working adults to schoolchildren are being told to “go back to where they came from”.
This has to stop.
I used to have a feeling of pride towards being British (albeit always wary of the far right xenophobic attitudes some disguise as “British pride”). We are a socially awkward nation who obsess too much over tea and the weather, spend our lives queuing, and our literature boasts some of the greatest and most popular from Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling. We would go out of our way to avoid seeing someone forever rather than just admit to their face we don’t like them – just one example of how we overly complicate our lives to avoid turning any social situation from mild to intense. Mild is a good word to describe us: mild mannered, mild weather, even our nation’s dishes are mild in flavour (but delicious, I assure you).
Until now of course, now we’ve completely lost the plot.My pride has gone, but I’m hoping it will come back again. Those who boast of British pride, who think this Brexit will make Britain “Great Britain” again, are the ones who make me ashamed. No, not every one of them is a xenophobe, but it cannot be denied it’s the xenophobes who are using “British pride” to justify their racist abuse. How someone can be proud of a nation that turns its back on those who come here for opportunities, or worse attack them, who believes that being born British is a right not a privilege, who would rather a narrow minded, backwards looking nation than one that is beautifully diverse and multi-cultural is beyond me. The Britain I am proud of is the one that embraces all cultures to live safely and freely within our tiny island, who voted for a Muslim to be mayor of our cosmopolitan capital after he faced an Islamophobic campaign against him, where schoolchildren do not just learn about Christianity but all religions, and is a nation that people aspire to live in not just because of the opportunities their home country perhaps does not give them, but because they can come here, live here, and feel safe and part of our community. But I fear that this Britain is disappearing. It’s not been a week since the result, so everything happening at the moment is reactionary and not necessarily long lasting. But it’s worrying that it’s happening.
Like I said, our politics is currently a mess. The people we elected need to sort themselves out, and sort our nation’s political and economic stability out. (I think that sentence best explains why I am not, nor will I ever be, a political adviser). But I am not writing this about what I think Britain’s politicians should do, because I don’t have an answer to that. I am writing this with my thoughts on what the British public should do. We need to stand strong against the xenophobia that is erupting within the nation, and to counteract it and ultimately stamp it out. If you’re reading this, and you’re not a British citizen, I can assure you most of us want to welcome you with open arms whether you’re a tourist or an immigrant. I can only apologise for what impression you may have of the U.K. at the moment. Us British folk, we cannot let any incidents of xenophobia slide. We need to protect those in danger, and make them feel safe. I’m currently looking at a Britain I am not sure if I want to be a part of, but I’ll be ashamed to let my nation fall victim to the far right idiots, and turn my back and pretend there isn’t a British coat of arms on my passport. Instead of ignoring a problem, people need to unite to stare it in the face. It won’t go away unless people remain active and refuse to accept these attacks. To me, British pride should come from what the nation achieves in the modern day, the empire is for the history books.