Brexit is taking an incredibly dark turn.
Oh my, I don’t even know how to begin. When I set up this blog I was hoping to make my posts at least fairly witty and fun, but I really don’t feel like joking anymore. The news this week has been incredibly bleak and ‘no deal’ still hasn’t been ruled out.
We learned that Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin has been intimidating workers into distributing pro-Brexit propaganda, while not being able to name a single EU law he disagrees with. We learned that many Brexiters who are running around shouting that we can simply trade on WTO rules have no idea what that actually means. In addition, it seems that a transition to WTO rules following a ‘no deal’ Brexit will by no means be straightforward. Speaking to The Guardian, a specialist in EU law has said that agreeing and ratifying trade deals with other countries could take up to 7 years. This would not only double food prices and send Britain into a recession that could last up to 30 years, but would mean we would not be able to import vital goods, such as medication, medical equipment, fuel and certain foods. Today, a number of leading British food retailers signed a letter that warned that a ‘no deal’ Brexit could cause serious food shortages. You will also have heard about companies moving their operations elsewhere – jobs are already being lost due to Brexit and this is likely only the tip of the iceberg.
If that wasn’t enough, we have learned that martial law could be used in the case of civil unrest following a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which gives Parliament the power to ‘impose curfews, travel bans, confiscate property and deploy the armed forces‘. No, I honestly don’t feel like joking anymore, this is really serious.
Most of all I am terrified at how a nationalist ideology is taking priority over very the very real dangers and measurable disadvantages of leaving the EU (be that under no deal or Theresa May’s deal). The possibility of violence returning to Ireland doesn’t seem matter, food and medicine shortages don’t seem to matter, a recession and massive job losses don’t seem to matter to those selling the idea of ‘no deal’ Brexit as a quick and painless way out of the EU. I sympathise with those who voted for Brexit due to economic hardship and a belief that leaving the EU would address these issues. However, those pushing for ‘no deal’ whilst the dangers of this course of action are becoming clearer by the day are simply irresponsible.
I struggle to see how arguments for a ‘no deal’ Brexit are not underpinned by an agenda that seeks to keep migrants out at any cost. In the past week, the owner of a London restaurant who included the anti-Brexit message ‘Brexit is Bad. Immigrants are good for Britain‘ on their bills received death threats. A Polish newspaper editor was targeted with a xenophobic message, emblazoned ‘Migrants – Our country needs you to stay away’ and instances of abuse against EU nationals are on the rise. One of the nastiest side-effects of Brexit has been that it has given anti-migrant ideologies a much wider platform in this country, best illustrated by the airtime backbench MPs with xenophobic views such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson have been afforded by major broadcasters.
Aufstand der Anständigen
I think it is time to counter these sentiments peacefully, but vocally. Germany has coined the term “Aufstand der Anständigen” – the protest of decent people against racism and the far-right, and I think this is needed in Britain too. As rational reasons for leaving the EU are now few and far between, I believe we have to stop making apologies for those who are pushing a ‘no deal’ Brexit under the guise of wanting to help ordinary people. Brexit will exacerbate every single problem it promised to fix.
Our public conversation has shifted noticeably to the right since the referendum and we can’t stand by and let this happen. Let’s say it as it is, the current discussion around Brexit is making EU migrants feel unwelcome in this country and hate crimes spiked after the referendum and have stayed on a high level ever since – this is deeply problematic.
As a society we have to stop being complacent and we have to stop excusing the scapegoating of migrants as a legitimate response to economic hardship. Instead we have to counter this narrative at every turn – it was not the EU and certainly not EU workers who created the division within Britain. This divide was manufactured by the Conservative party by needlessly calling a referendum on EU membership, while the Leave vote was fuelled by almost a decade of austerity and often dehumanising social policies. These culminated in the Universal Credit benefit system, which was condemned by the United Nations as ‘punitive, mean-spirited and often callous’, alongside the warning that leaving the European Union ‘poses a particular risks for people in poverty, but the government appears to be treating this as an afterthought’. Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to hold true as there were only 14 MPs present to discuss the UN report on poverty in Britain this January. Urgent social needs are not being addressed and I have no confidence that they will be following a chaotic Brexit. We have to vocally counter misinformation that lays the blame for British decline and social inequality with migrants or the EU and discuss in detail how these issues have been created domestically.
As you know, I support a People’s Vote, though this decision has not come easy to me. However, I do feel that it would give many people the opportunity to revaluate whether leaving the EU will remedy the issues they face, now that the facts are clear. For me, seeking a second referendum is by no means an attempt to prove Leave voters wrong, but to prevent an economic catastrophe that would further deepen the divides in our country.
I hate that I am publishing my political views online and I feel vulnerable, but the thought of staying quiet terrifies me even more. I don’t trust that the government is doing enough to stop a ‘no deal’ Brexit and I’m worried of the implications that even Theresa May’s deal would have. Starting this blog and talking to others who feel similarly has given me some hope and as a group we’ve already reached a lot of people. We can’t just stand by and enable a Tory Brexit that will make us poorer and more divided, take away rights that we’ve already been granted and make food insecurity a real issue for the whole country. Our right to express our concerns did not end in 2016, our voices on this still matter, let’s make them heard.
See my speech at the People’s Vote Rally in Manchester on Saturday below.