Social commentary

Labelling ‘Leave’ voters as racist is wrong – by Danny Kuhrt

My grandparents, who have lived in London almost their entire lives, voted to leave the European Union last year. They have also been accepting and open-minded towards people of all cultures, beliefs and ethnicities.

These two facts seem to clash with many people today.

Stereotyping

It has become ingrained in many people that a vote against the EU was a vote against immigration and foreigners and a vote for UKIP and xenophobia.

If I could vote I would certainly have voted to Remain, but even so, I think this kind of stereotyping is ridiculous.

‘The dark side’

All too often, I hear people say things like “The Brexit vote really showed the dark side of our country” or “The Brexit vote shows that Britain is more divided and racist than ever.” Many Remainers want to blame their loss on evil motives – they can’t accept that many people had very intelligent and informed reasons for wanting to leave the EU.

And yes, some people did vote leave for very bad reasons and, yes, racism exists.  But I believe that the majority of the 52% who voted leave did so because of restrictive EU laws, EU taxes, the non-democratic nature of the EU and British Sovereignty.

In fact, a poll of over 12,000 leave voters showed that for 49% of them, the number 1 reason for voting leave was that “Decisions affecting the UK should be made in the UK”.

Legitimate beliefs

And even though many people voted to leave because of immigration, it is wrong to assume this was just blind bigotry – it was often about housing, jobs and the NHS. The Leave vote was a reasonable political movement and it should not be simply branded as extremist and offensive.

Just as I would have voted Remain, I would (if I was old enough) certainly vote Labour at the general election. But I think that a weakness of the left is that it assumes anyone with concerns about immigration is racist, or anyone who questions the free movement of people has offensive views. This attitude makes voting for Brexit seem automatically hateful, rather than a legitimate, informed belief.

Respect in disagreement

So Leave voters should not be shamed. Its fine to disagree – I do with my grandparents – but the Leave vote was no stain on our society and nothing to be ashamed of.

Let’s stop treating Brexit as a hate-fuelled movement, and start respecting those who went out and voted for what they believe in.

6 thoughts on “Labelling ‘Leave’ voters as racist is wrong – by Danny Kuhrt”

  1. You make a good point against lazy stereotyping but …
    * Nigel Farage was given a lot air time for the Leave campaign and his appeal is blatantly racist. See this in the rabid lefty Daily Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/nigel-farage/11467713/No-dogs.-No-blacks.-No-Irish-is-now-Ukip-policy.html).
    * it is a fact that the racist “hostile environment” policy is flowing with Brexit and is unlikely to be set aside by Sajid Javid (and if Alan Johnson in Brown’s government said it first it doesn’t make it any better). See https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/windrush-scandal-british-citizens-commonwealth-racism-home-office-immigration-a8310481.html – it is about “some people seeing members of the Windrush generation as not quite British”.
    * Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are neither reassuring on racism. See Gove’s recent defence of British attitudes to immigration (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-43821484) that is a pretty thin apology for racist policy.
    … so despite the example of your grandparents (and there will have been many like them) I suggest the Leave campaign was carried by the racist currents within it.
    In the same way I think it was your Dad who helped me to understand how many good people had voted for Trump …

    1. PS That key reason for voting “Leave”, “Decisions affecting the UK should be made in the UK”, apart from misrepresenting our place in an interconnected world, also plays on colonial and arguably racist sentiment …

      1. Isn’t allowing a country to make its own laws the opposite of colonial interference?

  2. Hi Danny, first a fantastic post and well done. You have made some brilliant points and I agree to differing degrees with everything you have written with one exception. You wrote “The Leave vote was a reasonable political movement and it should not be simply branded as extremist and offensive.” Sadly whilst there were some reasonable strands to Vote Leave and Vote Remain, they were very much in the minority. Both campaigns were deeply flawed in my view and any future referendums (and indeed any future elections) deserve some form of honesty and accuracy and I would personally make such an appalling outcome a disqualification.

  3. An excellent article, Danny. I think that the fact you have stirred people to respond says something about the sincerity of your response and your attempts to be even handed in a very limited number of words.

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