In Britain, Thursday’s referendum vote to leave the European Union has unleashed a toxic wave of attacks, some violent, on anyone who counts as the other — Muslims, people from elsewhere in Europe and British people with roots in south Asia.
A script keeps repeating itself: We had a vote on immigration and voted against you, so get out.
British police report a 57 per cent rise in hate crime since Thursday’s vote.
Birmingham Labour MP Jack Dromey wrote yesterday of “… seeing profoundly disturbing evidence of a wave of racial abuse and attacks because of how immigration was handled in the Referendum campaign.”
A list of incidents pile up relentlessly.
Warning: the rest of this story contains links to images of violence, and racially abusive language.
Early this morning, young men on a tram in Manchester shouted “Get back to Africa!” at another passenger, along with other terms of racial abuse. The resulting confrontation was shared on social media. Four teenagers were later arrested.
On Saturday, the far-right English Defence League protested at a mosque in Birmingham. The demonstration attracted a heavy police presence; there were two arrests.
This video captures something of the tension:
Britain’s referendum on leaving the European Union was seen by many as a referendum on immigration. Rules on movement within Europe meant that many people from other EU countries migrated to Britain in search of work, and the Leave campaign was in large part a backlash.
Here’s a UK Independence Party poster from last year:
Boris Johnson, a more mainstream pro-Brexit advocate in the Conservative Party, framed the case more carefully than UKIP.
“One of the reasons why you are seeing a rise in extremism and far right politics in Europe is because of people’s feeling that they are not being consulted about immigration and about the numbers, and the politicians who are meant to be in charge can’t control it,” he said last week, distancing himself from UKIP’s Nigel Farage.
As last Thursday’s vote approached, the Brexit referendum campaign took on a disturbing dark side.
On June 16, Farage attracted angry controversy when he unveiled a billboard showing a crowd of refugees in the Balkans in 2015 reading “Breaking point: the EU has failed us all. We must break free of the EU and take control of our borders.”
Almost immediately afterward, Labour MP Jo Cox, a mother of two young children, was murdered near her constituency office by a man associated with the far-right nationalist group Britain First. Britain First has a place on the same spectrum as UKIP, but is more extreme. Cox’s accused killer shouted “Death to traitors! Freedom for Britain!” when asked his name during a court appearance.
The Twitter hashtag #postrefracism has revealed dozens of disturbing incidents in the last few days. Some target Europeans living in Britain, including children:
(A “deputy head” would be a vice-principal in Canada.)
Non-white British people have also been targeted:
With white supremacists now so openly active, some ask what dangerous forces the referendum has unleashed, and where they could lead.
Writing in the Spectator columnist Nick Cohen argued that “… the Tory leaders of Vote Leave … are creating the conditions for a mass far-right movement in England.”
The Leave leaders actually can’t reverse the multicultural immigration that has changed Britain since 1945. When that becomes clear, Cohen predicts, their followers will become more bitter, extreme and violent:
“I fear that millions of voters and their leaders in the press and on the streets will say that the’ guilty men’ have ‘lied’, ‘betrayed’ and ‘stabbed us in the back’. The opportunities for the brutish leaders and financiers of UKIP, and the greater brutes of Britain First and the (far-right British National Party) appear dizzying.”