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Ask Tito Mike by Michael Scott  

Anti-immigrant sentiments

and the Brexit result

by Michael Scott

The UK has voted to leave the European Union and the international markets are reeling. On one day the markets lost in excess of two trillion dollars. Prime Minister David Cameron resigned and the government in the UK is in disarray. The wisdom of holding the vote will be debated for years to come, but what about the motivation behind it? Why did the population vote by a slim margin to leave the European Union? Since Friday last week, a number of articles have been written to explain the reasons behind the vote. Are they, as some explained, economically motivated, anti-immigrant or a combination of the two?

In his article “Brexit isn’t about economics. It’s about xenophobia,” Vox writer Zack Beauchamp explains that anti-immigration is the real driving force behind the leave vote. Before the creation of the European Union in 1993 the net migration to the UK was less than 100,000 annually. But this number has changed drastically with the foreign-born population of the country changing from 3.8 million in 1993 to 8.3 million by 2014. The European Union played a major part in this increase, because its rules “restrict the ability of member states to bar migration from other EU member states.” Immigration from other European countries, such as Poland, Spain, Italy, and Portugal started to supplant traditional source countries such as India and Pakistan. Poland, is now the second-largest source of immigrants to the UK, behind only India.

One consequence of the change in immigration was a very public backlash led by the far right wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) led by a Donald Trump-like populist named Nigel Farage to “leave” the EU. The party started as a fringe party in the early 1990s but in the past 10 years its poll numbers have soared: it got four million votes in the 2015 general elections. Their platform leading up to the referendum was “Believe in Britain” and they have focused primarily on the threat presented by all immigrants, inside and out of the EU. Muslims are targeted for their religious beliefs. “There is an especial problem with some of the people who’ve come here and who are of the Muslim religion who don’t want to become part of our culture,” Farage said in 2015. “People do see a fifth column living within our country, who hate us and want to kill us.” But the UKIP has also vilified immigrants particularly those from Eastern Europe in the same way Trump has been treating Mexicans, as rapists and criminals and the always-familiar accusation, “they are taking our jobs.” The leaders Nigel Farage and former London Mayor Boris Johnson want to create a wall around the UK similar to Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the Mexican border. They promote UK interests to the exclusion of all others. Xenophobia has won the day, or at least the vote. “The political leverage generated by UKIP and its successful construction of a narrative that blames deteriorating living standards on an ‘open door’ immigration policy — which, it asserts, is a condition of continuing EU membership — motivated Cameron to call the referendum,” Ed Rooksby, a researcher at Oxford, writes in Jacobin.

‘They have … transformed the referendum into a proxy plebiscite on immigration.’”

Before readers dismiss the Brexit vote as a UK issue or Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican rhetoric as American, they should take a long look at our Canadian past and present. In the late 1930s, Prime Minister MacKenzie-King opposed the admission of European Jews because they were somehow different. Following the 1995 defeat of the Quebec provincial referendum Parti Quebecois leader Jacques Parizeau put the blame on “money and ethnic votes.” He distinguished between the “nous” (“us,” the good guys) and “them” newcomers to Canada (the bad guys). This is not so far removed from Farage or Trump of today. How many times have radio listeners to CJOB heard “they are taking our jobs away.” The “they” are newcomers, immigrants, Jews in the 1990s, Muslims of today, Syrian refugees etc. Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” should read “Make America White Again.”

In the UK many voters are now waking up to the new reality. They are expressing voter remorse and over three million have already signed a petition to quash the vote but it may be too late. The reality is that the hate of persons perceived as different is not new or unique to the UK, the US or even Canada. Xenophobia exists in differing degrees in all countries and increases or decreases based on other pressures. At least the Philippine can look with pride on President Manuel Quezon who accepted 100 Jewish families when the countries of the world closed their doors or newly elected President Rudy Duterte, who said he is not like Donald Trump, “I am not a racist.” The message for the reader is to be attentive and open-minded when issues of immigration come up. Rather than condemning Canadian efforts to bring in Syrian refugees, for example, we should understand that charity and consideration should be shown to all. They are not different from us.

Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail: mscott.ici@gmail.com.

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