Brexit has unleashed an ugly wave of right-wing populism and bigotry. It a to be stopped to stem the tide, argues Lee Williscroft-Ferris
On Wednesday night, I experienced open, unashamed racism and homophobia on the streets of the city I love. Coming out of a restaurant, my partner and I were accosted by an inebriated middle-aged white man who ranted and raved about ‘black people taking white people’s jobs’ – seemingly referring to the Asian Deliveroo workers standing outside the venue – before proceeding to hurl homophobic abuse at us when we tried to ignore him and go on our way. 4 days earlier, someone sitting at the same table as me elsewhere made a homophobic remark to his friends about me. This is the first time in 22 years living in Newcastle that I have experienced this. The fact that I have been the focus of such hostility twice in a week is a reflection of the current socio-political climate.
Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, Brexit has brought the simmering bigotry in our country to boiling point, made views that were once deemed unacceptable (for good reason) ‘palatable’ and brought far-right rhetoric into the heart of our politics. We have seen the independent judiciary repeatedly come under attack from Brexiteers, a pro-Remain MP murdered in the street by a far-right extremist during the referendum campaign and a meteoric rise in hate crimes since the 2016 vote. When it comes to Brexit, it is no longer just about leaving the European Union; we are engaged in a fight for our rights, freedoms and our very soul as a nation.
Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, Brexit has brought the simmering bigotry in our country to boiling point.
If there were any lingering doubt that exiting the EU were a smokescreen for a far-right agenda, one need look no further than Leave.EU’s Twitter account since news broke that Angela Merkel sees no substantive basis for a deal in Boris Johnson’s most recent proposals. Having posted a meme with the caption ‘We didn’t win two world wars to pushed around by a kraut’ accompanied by a photo of the German chancellor, Twitter imploded with indignation. And rightly so. This is not who we are as a country and not who we should aspire to be.
We should be in no doubt that actually leaving the EU will embolden such people even further. The fear expressed by many that a failure to ‘respect the referendum result’ will radicalise Leave voters even further and that the only way to avoid this is to ‘get Brexit done’ is unfounded for two main reasons. First, all the evidence from the other side of the Atlantic is that when bigots and fascists receive any modicum of validation, in that case via the election of Donald Trump, they merely become more emboldened and increasingly determined to push their extreme right-wing policies to the very limit. Therefore, effectively rubber stamping the ugly monster the Brexit project has become will only empower such people further.
Second, it is a long-accepted truth that fascists are not to be tolerated or humoured, they are to be defeated. To those in the pro-Brexit camp who are of the ‘not in my name’ persuasion, I say this; you have allowed your side of the debate to be hijacked by extremists with a terrifying game plan aiming way beyond the confines of leaving the EU. You have sought to explain away Farage’s threats to get out his rifle and take the knife to the civil service. You have become bystanders to bigotry and that’s on you. But this doesn’t mean the rest of us are as lacking in moral fibre or courage. The pro-Remain camp must reframe the argument around the urgent need to reclaim our country and its values from the grip of bigotry and fascism because frankly, we are on the cusp of a horrifying head-first plunge into the abyss of far-right extremism; in fact, we have one foot in the chasm already.
All the evidence from the other side of the Atlantic is that when bigots and fascists receive any modicum of validation, in that case via the election of Donald Trump, they merely become more emboldened and increasingly determined to push their extreme right-wing policies to the very limit.
It’s not too late to extricate ourselves from the jaws of this festering fascistic project that Brexit has morphed into but to do so, we need to be brave enough to say ‘enough is enough’ and argue for revocation of Article 50 to stop this virus of unabashed extremism before it becomes an epidemic.
Follow Lee on Twitter (@xixianykus)