Part 2 – A Country Divided – How The Leave Campaigns Lies About Immigration And Sovereignty Were Able To Take Hold
By Teni Shahiean OTS Solicitors
In my last blog I discussed the demographics of the EU Referendum vote and three of the key points the leave campaign used to win votes. Those key arguments were that EU nationals:
- Coming to work in the UK has the effect of driving down wages and makes it harder for British people to get jobs
- Are to blame for the UK’s shortage of social housing
- Come to the UK to claim benefits
These arguments were easily dismissed once the evidence for them was examined; evidence that is available to anyone who cared enough to run a search through Google. So why were these claims so quickly believed? Was there a deeper reason for the majority of British people outside the large metropolitan areas and Scotland to vote for Brexit?
The disenfranchised North
The North of England, along with Wales and east Anglia voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. These areas were hit hardest by the Thatcher Government’s reforms during the 1980s and the austerity measures put in place following the economic crash of 2008.
For example, some of the most Eurosceptic areas in the North have been hit hardest by George Osborne’s austerity measures; Hartlepool lost £28.9m by 2015 as a result of public spending cuts; Blackpool has seen £400m worth of cuts since 2011; North East Lincolnshire needs to save a total of £76m by 2017.
In many small towns and cities, high streets are dead and filled with charity shops, libraries have closed, Sure Start centres have gone, jobs are hard to come by and benefits are constantly being cut.
But problems began well before 2008. Although it neither began nor ended with her, Margaret Thatcher oversaw the collapse of the manufacturing and mining sectors in the North and in Wales. The bitterness surrounding the effects of her policies has never left many people, who saw their old jobs disappear and no new ones that fitted their skills created. During this time, the South aggressively moved to a services-based economy, concentrated in the banking and financial sectors, which created an economic boom for London and the South-East.
Not one economic paper or think-tank has suggested that the North of England or Wales will benefit from Brexit, in fact, most say that at least in the short term, these areas will bear the brunt of the economic fallout and possible recession as the country tries to negotiate its trading relationships from scratch.
Blaming immigrants – nothing new
The sad fact is that throughout history immigrants have always been blamed for a country’s social and financial woes. And this occurs in every nation, not just the UK. To illustrate, here are a few examples from all corners of the world:
- In America, immigrants were often accused of bringing diseases with them; The Irish were charged with bringing cholera to the United States in 1832. Later the Italians were stigmatized for polio. Tuberculosis was called the ‘Jewish disease. In 1891, the US Congress, revised the 1882 Immigration Act to exclude “persons suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease” from entry into the United States.
- Saudi Arabia came under fire from Human Rights groups in 2013 for its treatment of foreign domestic workers. Foreign-born maids have been accused of practicing witchcraft, stealing and murder, and are subject to abuse and exploitation by employers.
- Adolf Hitler blamed all of Germany’s financial meltdown following World War One on the Jews, including the hyper-inflation of 1923 which he claimed was an international conspiracy by Jews to destroy Germany.
Fear and blame of immigrants in the UK has a long and shameful history. In 1290, King Edward I expelled all Jews from the kingdom after making them a scapegoat for his treasury’s lack of funds. Various Alien Acts have been passed, the first in 1705 which stated that Scots where considered ‘foreign nationals’ and putting an embargo on Scottish imports. In 1904, the Tories passed the Aliens Bill to make political capital out of fears about Irish and Jewish immigrants. Statements leading up to the passing of the legislation included, “Britain should not become the dumping ground for the scum of Europe" and an editorial in the Manchester Evening Chronicle which declared "that the dirty, destitute, diseased, verminous and criminal foreigner who dumps himself on our soil and rates simultaneously, shall be forbidden to land”.
Is it natural for humans to fear and blame foreigners in times of stress?
It is impossible to ignore that throughout history, immigrants have been used as scapegoats by politicians and the commercial elite. By placing the blame on minorities, the spotlight is taken of them and their contribution to the problem. For example, it is estimated that tax avoidance costs the treasury anywhere from £16 – £69.9 billion every year – a staggering amount. But rather than focus on collecting this revenue that could be used to bolster struggling communities who voted for Brexit, the Leave campaign was let loose to use the fear of EU nationals working and living in the UK to gain support from those who felt they had nothing to lose.
Unfortunately, in times of stress, xenophobia (derived from the Greek word for stranger) can be ignited in a population with frightening ease and worse, seems hardwired into our collective psyche, despite our best intentions. An example of this was illustrated in a famous experiment by a teacher in an Iowa school. The class was divided into two groups—those with blue eyes and those with brown or green eyes. The brown-eyed group received privileges and treats, while the blue-eyed students were denied rewards and told they were inferior. Within hours, the once-harmonious classroom became two camps, full of mutual fear and resentment. Yet, what is especially shocking is that the students were only 8-9 years old.
Humans seem to have a deep-seated desire to quickly divide the world into ‘them and us’. Many reasons have been given for this, ranging from evolutionary (in the distant past, people who shared cultural similarities were found to be more genetically related than those who did not) to the ‘social identity theory’ (people lift their own self-esteem by aligning themselves to a particular group).
As we examine some of the issues that caused so many people from deprived areas to vote leave, and see that in times of stress, a ‘them vs us’ attitude naturally seems to develop, it becomes easier to understand how and why, on the 24th June 2016, we found ourselves in our current position.
In many ways it was a bloodless revolution.
And this is the point I will be examining in the final part of this series of blogs.
OTS Solicitors is a fully regulated, highly regarded law firm, based in the centre of London. Our solicitors are considered to be some of the best Immigration experts in the UK. We are regularly called on by the media to make comments on developments in Immigration law. To make an appointment with one of our Immigration solicitors in relation to obtaining a UK permanent residence Card or British Citizenship, please phone us on 0203 959 9123.