“It’s not EU, it’s May.” That was a message that I saw written on a chalkboard outside of a pub as I walked back from class in London on March 29. The message was in reference to how on that same day, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, which effectively begins the formal process of Brexit. Brexit, the U.K.’s planned withdrawal from the European Union, has had a continued presence in international media coverage and daily presence on all U.K. media platforms. Despite the 2016 referendum vote occurring in June 2016, the formal process of leaving the EU will take up to two years, set to conclude in March 2019, according to BBC News.
The decision to vote Leave last June was reflected by several desires of those who voted for Brexit. The BBC News article further explained that those in favor of the U.K.’s departure stated that they felt the EU was repressing their economic, sovereign and democratic capabilities, and that they wanted to reclaim these powers. However, a significant factor that has received staunch criticism is the desire by Leave campaigners and voters to regain Britain’s full control of its borders, which would limit the number of people from other EU countries entering the U.K. to live or work. Brexit not only reveals how the U.K. views immigrants, but it also reflects our global culture’s perception of what immigration means for our job markets, as well as how immigrants affect our social climate and our notion of safety.
Following the 2016 referendum, more than one hundred instances of hate crimes and racial abuse were reported in the U.K., according to The Independent. Additionally, it was reported that the acts were EU-related by alleged perpetrators. In certain neighborhoods on the day of the referendum result, signs such as “Leave the EU, no more Polish vermin” were distributed in the respective mailboxes of Polish families, according to The Independent, prompting fear and the understanding that the socio-political context would be shifting now that the Leave campaign won the majority support of the people.
The spike in hate crimes in the U.K. following the 2016 referendum would then be mirrored months later when hate crimes spiked across almost all 50 U.S. states in the 10 days following the U.S. 2016 Presidential Election, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an American nonprofit legal advocacy organization. The anti-immigrant sentiment is not condensed to one area, but is evidently part of a much larger problem, which is exacerbated by our global leaders vilifying groups of people as “the other.” Immigrants are then painted with a broad brush as coming in to take our jobs and compromise our respective nations’ security, and through that rhetoric, the general public feels validated in expressing xenophobic remarks or on a separate level, “taking action” against particular groups of people.
Perhaps Niall Ferguson for The Boston Globe put it best when he said that Brexit should not be referred to as a divorce, but rather as a schism. A schism, by definition, is a division between parties caused by differences of opinions or beliefs. Ferguson explains that normally, both parties seeking a divorce have set goals: namely child custody and redistribution of property. Therefore, regardless of how acrimonious a divorce may become, the ultimate goals tend to be presented in a glass box. More so, it is impossible to view Brexit in the same way, because although we have seen other countries in the past, and currently our own, behave similarly toward immigrants, it is still largely uncertain where we will go from here. Schisms, much like hate, are deeply rooted and more so, are both generally long lasting and unable to be resolved in a set time frame. Therefore, while leaders, supported by their base, continue to capitalize on the fears of the people, the fears are not morally valid and they should not reflect how our different countries view people who may, by culture or appearance, be different from us.