Did the EU referendum in Britain legitimise the voices of racism?

Published: July 1, 2016

It came as a seismic shock when the results revealed on Friday morning showed that the ‘leave EU’ campaign had actually succeeded by a very slim margin. PHOTO: AFP

No one ever thought it would happen. All the polls, predictions and pundit conversations pointed to Britain clearly remaining within the EU.  So, it came as a seismic shock when the results revealed on Friday morning showed that the ‘leave EU’ campaign had actually succeeded by a very slim margin. 

As dawn broke and the news spread throughout the country, the pound slipped to a 31-year low against the dollar, thus wiping off billions from banks and entrepreneurs’ balance sheets instantly. David Cameron proceeded to resign and Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition also faced a no-confidence vote from members of the Labour party, a vote he is still battling today. It seemed like chaos reigned supreme. Although the tumult has stabilised somewhat, a nasty side-effect of the Brexit vote seems to be an unprecedented rise in hate crimes against East Europeans and people of the Muslim faith.

Although spikes in Islamophobic attacks are always seen after a terrorist incident, it was particularly shocking to note that people from Eastern European countries also faced an insidious backlash.  Certain Polish families in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire received laminated cards which read ‘leave the EU, no more Polish vermin’ through their letterbox. A Polish community centre was vandalised and swastikas have been scratched into German-owned cars in London.

Eastern Europeans on the streets are being harassed and told to leave England immediately. A BBC presenter, Simi Kotecha, was also told that “Pakis should go home” by an irate member of the public when asked why they voted to ‘leave the EU’ in her home town of Basingstoke. It is a dangerous time to be out on the streets in England.

The area I live in voted 51 per cent in favour of ‘leaving the EU’ and in the run up to the referendum; I saw big ‘leave EU’ placards outside people’s gardens. Following the vote, I began to see more people displaying the Union Jack flag outside their home or on their car, something I have never witnessed before.

A friend reported that she saw a Muslim woman being harassed by a woman in a car post referendum.  Spates of attacks have taken place on members of the public and police have had to request people to report such crimes to them.

On Monday, a group of teenagers on a packed Manchester-bound train started loudly shouting at an American-accented man telling him to “get out of the country, you f****** immigrant” and to “go back to Africa”.  Schoolchildren have also faced abuse by having groups singing “so long, farewell” to them after the referendum itself.

A group on Twitter by the name of ‘Post Ref Racism’ has specifically been set up for people to tweet the attacks they have suffered in the aftermath of Brexit. Some of the tweets include,


These abhorrent attacks suggest that the EU referendum has legitimised the voices of the racists and bigots. It has given them a suitable excuse to carry out these attacks, whereas before they would stifle their hatred or mask it with sheer contempt.  However, what the population who voted ‘leave’ don’t realise is that the EU referendum is not technically legal binding and, even if the outcome is followed, a full Brexit will not take effect for another two years, so any hatred is oversubscribed and untimely, not to mention completely unwarranted.

Brexit had created a lot of uncertainty, both economically and politically, but it has also created a toxic and fractious community, which has never been so polarised before.  Add to this mix the fact that Scotland may be seeking another referendum to separate from England.  It is truly a tense time to be British.  It seems hate and fear has prevailed in the outcome of Brexit and this may very well be the undoing of Great Britain.

Faiza Iqbal

Faiza Iqbal

A law graduate from King's College, London Nottingham Law School. Having worked at Mandviwalla & Zafar as an Associate, she now writes freelance articles and is trying to qualify as a barrister in Canada.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.