Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Brexit: Nationalism or Xenophobic Populism?
June 28, 2016
Opinion & Analysis

GOING IT ALONE . . . Britons last  Thursday voted to leave the European Union, citing sovereignty issues but a closer examination suggests the the exit vote was driven by anti-immigrant sentiments

Nick Mangwana View From the Diaspora
Zimbabwe Herald

No matter how it is dressed, Brexit was and is about immigration. Whether that translates to xenophobia is a subject to debate. If it’s xenophobia, the nearly 50 percent of the British people should be applauded for saying No.

In a few days, the African Union will issue its first passports. A few weeks ago Ghana allowed free movement of any African into its territory by removing visa barriers. But a strange turn of events took place a few days ago when Great Britain had a referendum in which it opted to erect walls around its already geographically marooned island. The publicly offered reason was that it was compromising its sovereignty by being part of the European Union (EU).

Underneath this wave of nationalism and a cry for sovereignty is a nostalgic desire for the once “Great” Britain being great again. Some have called it the UK Independence Day but in essence they mean that it is an England Independence Day. There has already been a push for members of the Scottish and Northern Ireland assemblies not to vote on English matters. Whether besides this xenophobia targeted specially against Eastern Europeans there is ethno-regional issues as well as can be seen by Scotland’s bid for independence.

This has raised a strong feeling that sometime devolution leads to regionalism and secessionist sentiment. There is a word of caution there for those that are pushing for the same in our own backyard.

Scotland is now refusing to be led by England’s sentiment of wanting to leave the European Union. Northern Ireland would want little to do with this decision. London as a region does not like this decision either. The younger people that appreciate the beauty of multilateralism and internationalism are surprised that in such a globalised world some are still romanticising with “Rule Britannia’s” yesteryear glory.

Were there really sovereignty issues with the EU? Not really. The major intrusion into British jurisprudence is the European Court of Human Rights which provides another tier of appeal after one has exhausted the British judicial system in human rights cases. A good number of the cases that have found themselves before this court have a thing or two to do with the human rights of immigrants. So the British are not happy with having an extra-territorial oversight. One wonders why they then have a problem when other countries refuse to have the same set-up this time through the International Criminal Court (ICC)?

One of the arguments used during the referendum was that there is an erosion of British values. This columnist as an immigrant who felt welcome onto that island thought inclusivity was one of those values and is still trying to learn the others. But clearly with the campaign run on a xenophobic emotionalism the question of inclusivity goes out of the window.

So what are those “British values”? If Britain is these four countries pulled together and half of those countries have a completely different vision to the other half doesn’t it mean that the so-called British values do not exist or they are incoherent enough not to be important?

How about the cosmopolitan City of London with so many multi-cultural groups who voted for globalisation?

While the referendum was lost and won on several issues in theory, in reality this was a single issue referendum. The issue was surely immigration. Those who have been watching the politics in Europe were not very surprised as there has been a rising wave of right-wing sentiment.

Anti-immigrant sentiment has always been masked in Britain except for some fringe right-wing parties such as Britain First (whose member allegedly shot MP Jo Cox). But this referendum somehow legitimised immigration and all its xenophobic connotations into a mainstream political issue.

Sentiments like immigrants changing the complexion of local communities could now be said in public. Foreigners started being accused of using their own mother tongues in public and that they were making locals uncomfortable. Their “many” children were alleged to be putting pressure on the local schools and social delivery system. Some were accused of being prepared to take lower wages therefore undercutting the locals on the job market and depressing wages.

To be fair, some of these things might be true but they don’t say the whole story. They don’t tell someone that the Eastern European or immigrant pays taxes on their wages. They don’t say that the immigrant is happy to take the job which the local will not consider taking. In fact, while Zimbabweans don’t ordinarily work on farms a lot of other immigrants are quite at peace with working long hours in such jobs.

Those advocating to leave the EU had an anti-immigrant rhetoric which was now bordering on hate speech. High- profile people left the camp in an effort to dissociate themselves from that poisonous narrative.

There now cannot be “Rule Britannia Rule” when the country is divided down in the middle. The Labour Party is imploding. The Tory Party is imploding. The grassroots are festering in a non-violent civil war. There are lessons for every nation including in Zimbabwe that politics of hate works but for a season.

This attempt to turn back the British clock can only have the effect of making Britain beef up its relationship with the Commonwealth. That is acceptable to the older British generation as it again is a reminder of the “good old days”. In the Commonwealth Britain will always have pre-eminence. After all, it managed to convert the blight of being a coloniser into the glory of being a “club founder”. In the EU Germany is indisputably the main player.

There are a lot of people who are very angry that in this referendum pragmatism lost to xenophobic populism. The world has become interdependent. But this does not contradict the independence of nations. This is the reason why despite trying to move from the United Kingdom and be an independent nation, Scotland still wants to remain part of the European Union. That position is not self-contradictory.

The point in England is not really about political systems. Its partially the nostalgia of the old empire as well as the hitherto unexpressed feeling of xenophobia. There is always some rhetoric of “national renewal” which again is an effort to historicise everything and look at it through the prism of old glory years. The truth of the matter is that Britain controlled 98,6 percent of its public expenditure. It only contributed 1,2 percent of its total public expenditure to Brussels. When you control your resources, you have full sovereignty. But they had no total control on immigration. This is why the argument is that the whole Brexit was about immigration and not the notion of sovereignty.

So the the question is whether economic considerations were made subservient to the vanity of yesteryear glory and assumed sentiment of greatness or the venom of xenophobia? There is a high probability of both being correct. The UK exports 47 percent of its products to the EU so the economic arguments are irrefutable. While China’s vibrant economy and large population makes it a possible avenue for the British products, Germany already exports three times what Britain exports there. Being out of Europe will not entitle the UK to preferential treatment. It will now have to compete against a vindictive and hostile Europe. It should never be forgotten that behind the United States, the EU remains the largest single market on earth. Why a country would choose to leave such a regional grouping is beyond a lot of people.

No matter how it is dressed, Brexit was and is about immigration. Whether that translates to xenophobia is a subject to debate. If it’s xenophobia, the nearly 50 percent of the British people should be applauded for saying No. But the one lesson for Zimbabwe is that the United Kingdom came to this position because of the factionalism in the Conservative Party which is the governing party. It is a lesson to be learned by Zimbabwe that factionalism in the party of government can lead a nation to the brink. Let those with ears hear.

Research has shown that the anti-immigrant sentiment is a pastime of a white working class which has experienced a diminishment in social status. It is unfortunate that this group has been passed by a high improvement in educational attainment in the UK population. They therefore are the group that do the low-paying jobs whose reward is depressed by the presence of the workers from Eastern Europe.

This is the same group that relies on social housing and tend to be deprived when there is pressure on it like there is now. They then see the presence of Britain in the European Union as the genesis of their problems. This places pressures on limited resources and jobs. It is this type of rhetoric that saw the rise of xenophobia in South Africa. Foreigners were accused of spreading disease, stealing jobs and sponging off basic government services like electricity and healthcare. It is this same rhetoric that has seen Britain going for the exit door from Europe. It has little to do with patriotism and a desire to control own destiny.

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