EU Referendum : Emboldening Unsavoury Attitude

It’s probably wrong to say that the dust is settling on the Brexit result of last week.  I think, though, that in some aspects Britain has reached a certain state of acceptance.  The attitude of the decent Remainers has moved from anger to wanting to make the best of a bad job.  A brave new future still excites the Leavers.

Britain is waking up in the mornings to see that the sky hasn’t fallen in and that life goes on.  Of course, invoking Article 50 is probably still some way off.  However, we are already seeing some effects of the Brexit vote.

The post-referendum economy is still down on what it was.  The pound is weaker and the FTSE indexes that matter are lower but recovering.  What will happen is far too moot for a layman such as I to comment.

However, what is real and what is happening is the division in society.  I have never before seen such strength of feeling on either side of a political debate.  These feelings seem to be manifesting in people’s attitude to both race and age.  The fear is that the referendum was simply the trigger that brought these feelings to the surface.  They were there and waiting, and now they have become tangible.

Wikipedia lists 11 contributory factors of the 2011 riots in England.  This list includes poverty, social exclusion, poor police relations and failure of the penal system.  The shooting of Mark Duggan by police was just the trigger to make idiots believe that their actions are reasonable.  Similarly, the referendum result has given reason to a less than savoury attitude towards difference.

A card distributed to homes and schools in Huntington following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

The news has been full of stories of racism since 23rd June.  The Independent tell the story of Agata Brzezniak.

[Agata] came to the UK on a scholarship from Poland when she was 17. She is now studying for a PhD in chemistry.

She has lived in the UK for eight years and said: “I have made the UK my home, it is where I have felt safe and appreciated.

“[Like] many Polish people in the country I feared the EU referendum result would cause an increase in intolerance, discrimination and racism, but I didn’t think it would become so aggressive and be so immediate.”

A woman approached Ms Brzezniak after the election to ask her if she was Polish.  The woman received confirmation from Ms Brzezniak that she was indeed from Poland.  This caused the woman to tell Ms Brzezniak to be “scared” and that she must get a visa if she wanted to stay in “her” country.

“The vicious smile and the way she looked at me brought me to tears,” said Ms Brzezniak.

Racist graffiti was daubed on a Polish cultural centre in Hammersmith.  In Birmingham, angry demonstrators shouted slogans outside a mosque.  In Newcastle, a placard was placed urging the country to “start repatriation”. Unfortunately, these episodes are only the tip of this hateful iceberg.

 Over to  in The Guardian:

Why this sudden explosion? Paul Bagguley, a sociologist based at the University of Leeds, points to the gleeful tone of the racism: “There is a kind of celebration going on; it’s a celebratory racism.” With immigration cited in polls as the second most common reason in voting for Brexit, “people are expressing a sense of power and success, that they have won,” he says.

“People haven’t changed. I would argue the country splits into two-thirds to three-quarters of people being tolerant and a quarter to a third being intolerant. And a section of that third have become emboldened. At other times, people are polite and rub along.”

In other words, the attitude has always been there.  Now people feel like it’s OK to show it.

Eleanor Parks at Do Not Annoy The Writer tells of her uncle in the comments to her post “Nigel Farage – A Dangerous Mind“.

I find the anti-Polish sentiment, which seems to be rising unchecked for some inexplicable reason, particularly hurtful. My uncle Laddie was a Polish airman. He fought alongside Britain in WWII as a rear gunner. He was shot down and badly injured, but survived. After WWII, he suffered racist abuse from those he had fought for, telling him to go back to where he came from.

This story of Laddie perfectly links the racism to an attitude about our elders that is becoming more apparent.

As children we are taught to respect our elders.  This respect is deserved, borne out of the older generations greater life experience.  I was also taught about my grandparents’ generation’s sacrifice made during two World Wars.  Victory in these wars afforded us the democracy to have a referendum at all.

Yet the young are now holding the older demographics accountable for damaging their future.  The young see people voting for consequences that they will never see.  They suggest that people over 60 years of age should not have been allowed to vote.  Their decision was #notinmyname.

Younger generations and Remainers have apportioned blame.  I have found myself doing the same thing, and I generally consider myself far too tolerant.  I think less of the elderly woman describing the leaving of the EU as “lovely”.  I think less of people who based their vote on anti-establishment protest, rather than facts.  I think less of the people for whom immigration may have been a genuine consideration because they are tarred with the same brush as the man fooled into thinking that Syria and Iraq are in the EU.  I think less of myself for thinking all those things.  Every person’s vote is equal.


The racism and the ageism displayed as a direct result of a leave vote has shown an emboldened attitude that it is OK to not respect difference.  Perhaps it’s a fairytale, but when I think of the better world that the majority fight for, I think of tolerance on the basis of acceptance of difference.  I did not think of a world where we think that we do not have to tolerate; that if there is something we don’t like, we just remove it.

That is not how society works.  Difference at every single level drives progress.  It allows exposure to different methodologies and it allows those different methodologies to work together for the greater good of the whole.

Back to Eleanor:

I thought about the fact that WWI was supposed to be “the war to end all wars”, and yet, a century on, we are still fighting, still killing each other, still hating on the basis of creed, colour, race or religion. We haven’t learned a thing!


Image Credit: Eleanor Parks

This referendum (not even its result) was supposed to unite a country by giving it responsibility for its own future.  All I see is division.  I see it as a result of politics that seek to blame and scare and belittle in the race for power, rather than working together for the best result.  Given the power to define his own politics by putting a cross in a box on a piece of paper, the man on the street then also seeks to blame and scare and belittle those who show difference.

My hope is that it is a short term knee jerk reaction.  The referendum has left me fearing that a negative attitude of intolerance now has credibility.

Patience, test my patience.
If I made it too hard for you maybe you should’ve changed it.

Say it, you should say it,
‘Cause I’d say I was wrong just to make it fill all the spaces.

Waiting, always waiting.
If I gave you control would you say that we could’ve saved it?

I hope you find a way to be yourself someday,
In weakness or in strength,
Change can be amazing.
So I pray for the best, I pray for the best for you.

I wish you could be honest, I wish you could be honest with me.

Chasing, always chasing dreams.
Why’d you stick around, why’d you stay with me?
Why’d you fake it?

Hesitation is killing me too.
But I couldn’t save it, I couldn’t save it.

I hope you find a way to be yourself someday,
In weakness or in strength,
Change can be amazing.
So I pray for the best, I pray for the best for you.

I wish you could be honest, I wish you could be honest with me.

Honest by The Neighbourhood

Comments 2

  1. Eleanor Parks

    Brilliant, well written piece, Michael! My own parents voted Leave, and to think that they are being classed as racists really hurts. They voted to leave the EU. They did not vote for “us” and “them”. They did not vote for anyone who does not hold a British passport to be kicked out or abused with impunity. They voted leave because they felt that there was a lot that is unknown about the EU (how it works, the benefits and disadvantages, the money to and from etc) and they felt that to vote leave was a vote for “better the devil you know”.
    Thank you for the credits and links too, by the way! If you want to take a look at any more of my photos, you can do so on my photography page

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