Research by the British Election Study suggests the ethnic minority vote was crucial in the EU referendum.
Only a third voted Leave, but those voters could well have clinched it for Brexit.
Before that momentous June day, I went round the country to meet black, Asian, Arab, Chinese and various other non-indigenous Brits.
In October this year, I revisited some of those places. Gone was the euphoria. I found more confusion, fewer certainties and among some, pathetic optimism based on new deceits by Brexiteers.
So back to April and May, 2016, and my conversations in London suburbs and the east end, Coventry, Leicester, Leeds and Bradford. The 18-25 year old children of migrants were enthusiastically European. Rubina, for example, a British Pakistani business management student, was typical: ‘The EU is great. Imagine if Pakistan, India and Bangladesh could come together? Now they want to destroy it. It’s so stupid. They are destroying our future.’ Mo, whose parents were Somali refugees, wanted to learn French and go to university in Europe. Seema, a chemist in Leeds proclaimed: ‘I am Indian, Hindu, British, a Yorkshirewoman, a European.
‘All my cousins honeymooned in Paris or Rome. I go skiing in France, trekking in the Dolomites, shopping in Milan. My new best friend is Croatian. We are global citizens.’ All that was music to my ears.
Among older folk several were adamant Brexiteers. How do people who have moved across continents turn into small, introverted, scared, little islanders? Some even supported UKIP. One of the most chilling moments of the campaign was Nigel Farage unveiling of a poster of lines of Syrian refugees with the headline ‘Breaking Point’. Those people looked like my family and childhood friends, Ugandan Asians who, exactly 45 years ago this autumn, were sent into exile by the military dictator, Idi Amin. Yet two Ugandan Asians, both men, both retired, told me they agreed with Farage and the poster.
Some black and Asian Britons claimed the EU was ‘anti-Muslim’, or ‘punished businesses’, or was a ‘white club’ or a new form of colonialism. One Asian newsagent told me: ‘My taxes are too high because of the EU. Here we English and Indians understand each other. The Raj was for a long time. No history like that between England and Europe.’ The ignorance and anti-European prejudice I encountered were shocking.
Too many South Asians and Caribbean people I met were taken in by false Brexit promises: After we leave the EU, they were told, grannies from Pakistan, aunties and cousins from Trinidad and Bangladesh would finally be able to sail over. They believed Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Perry Barr, who had made such assertions publicly.
They quoted Amjar Bashir, son of a Pakistani immigrant, an MEP, who defected from UKIP to the Tories, for who Eastern European migration should be managed tightly.
Has anything changed since the referendum result was announced? Some interviewees are regretting their decisions. One Asian woman Brexiteer is now disabled and dependent on care staff, most of them Eastern European. They are leaving Britain. She now feels guilty and sorry. The Asian newsagent above has had his shop firebombed twice: ‘I did not know then this is about all of us too. Not only Polish people.’ His kids will not forgive him for being so gullible.
Personal trainer Rick, British-Nigerian, is still an energetic outer. He is a big fan of Steven Woolfe, MEP, mixed race, previously of UKIP. Both men want out, deal or no deal. In January 2016, The MEP opined that settled migrants are anti-EU because ‘they want prosperity, they want their culture protected, they want freedom and they want to be safe’. Rick has memorised these words. How does one argue against such lunacies?
The businessmen who were gung-ho are now manifestly nervous. The news on the economy from the Bank of England and others has shaken their overconfidence. Two have opened bank accounts in Switzerland.
Those who stick with Brexit have fallen for a new pack of lies. Brexiteers now big up the Commonwealth and wax lyrical about fond old links between the UK and the old colonies. Trade between them will flourish! All sides will get richer! All shall have fine pearls! Again this trick only works with the middle aged, who, after colonial subjugation, were never weaned off the breasts of the Motherland. The Commonwealth is an embarrassing, obsequious club, with Britannia at the centre still ruling the waves. Trade deals to come will be unequal swizzes.
MP Khalid Mahmood defected to the Remain side because the referendum campaigns legitimised racism. We haven’t seen anything yet. This divided kingdom will get more riven. The centre will not hold. We BAME people must take some of the blame as we suffer the consequences.