The Brexit campaign hit chaos when the British government lost its majority. This allows the chance to discuss some of the anti-EU movement’s lesser known policies. These include the effects on the end of freedom of movement on United Kingdom citizens. Argument focuses on restricting the rights of EU citizens, but the rights of UK citizens are largely ignored.
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the crowds at the Glastonbury festival on 24 June included a call to ‘build bridges not walls’.
His words specifically evoked the launch of a charity single of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over troubled water”, a few days earlier, to raise money for the victims of the terrible Grenfell House fire.
They were also a rebuke to the twin aspirations of Donald Trump and Theresa May to restrict freedoms which have been increasingly taken for granted in recent years,
Walls are usually seen as keeping people out. This is how it was with the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans to protect their lands in Britain from incursions from the north, or the city walls which used to surround great cities from Beijing to Babylon to Rome. And it is the same with Donald Trump and the extreme ideologues of Brexit in the UK.
Trump proposed two initiatives: the much-delayed Muslim travel ban, and a wall designed to keep out the Mexicans, which is looking increasingly doubtful.
The Brexitists, as I have called them, want to keep out all foreigners. Or, in the version proposed by UKIP, one EU citizen should only be allowed into the UK if one British citizen leaves.
Brexit and control of borders
It would be a simplification to denounce such plans as racist: many British Asians voted for Brexit in order to protect their position as relatively recent immigrants by preventing new arrivals.
Yet, the Brexit campaign was driven by some extremely crude racism, including the notorious ‘Breaking Point’ poster depicting hundreds of mainly Middle Eastern and African men supposedly queuing to enter the county.
The arrival in the UK of this flood of aliens could only be prevented, argued the ultra-Brexitists, by leaving the EU. Not to do so would result in a tide of alien black and brown people who don’t understand British culture and are out to sabotage its values.
The leadership of the Brexit campaign in the Tory party colluded in racist elements of the campaign, by failing to denounce it, even though they tried to change the terms of the debate.
It is well understood that high pro-Brexit votes were recorded in white working class areas where identities and interests are threatened by high levels of immigration. Insecurity resulting from the loss of old industries and problems caused by government austerity was blamed on outsiders: Brussels bureaucrats, East Europeans and refugees are all held responsible for national decline.
Such issues are not new. Oscar Newman’s 1972 book “Defensible space: crime prevention through urban design” had tackled the problem of working class deprivation in the new housing estates and tower blocks of the 1960s USA. Newman argued that the poor should be accorded the same respect, sense of security and access to civic amenities as the wealthy.
Had the British government followed Newman instead of leaving the poor to their deprivation, UKIP’s racist propaganda might never have generated such a large anti-EU vote.
Communist parallels with Brexit
However, while the Brexit debate continues to focus on the need to bar the entry of foreigners into the UK, the second purpose of walls is to keep people in – to stop them leaving.
The Berlin Wall, erected in 1961 to prevent the citizens of communist East Germany fleeing to the West, was the highest profile symbol of the entire communist world’s refusal to allow its citizens to travel.
Those inhabitants of communist countries who were not either murdered or incarcerated, were held in vast open prisons. They were free to study, work and marry, but only if they did not leave the country.
Extreme Brexitism resembles communism in two ways.
First is its Leninist invocation of ‘The People’ as a force which cannot be opposed. Once The People had spoken in the Brexit referendum, any slight criticism of the decision to leave was treated as treasonous.
When the courts ruled that Parliament, not the government, had the right to decide whether to invoke Article 50, they were denounced as ‘enemies of the people’. Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, recently declared that journalists should be more patriotic and avoid asking the government difficult questions.
Second is the desire, little commented on, to keep UK citizens at home. In fact this point has been completely ignored by the media and politicians of almost every stripe, colluding in the government’s intention to curb opportunity for the British.
UK citizens in Europe have organised but are marginalised, their concerns rejected. Every shade of the argument that immigration from the EU should be controlled has as its corollary the belief that migration from the UK to the EU should be similarly restricted. UKIP policy is that only one UK citizen should be allowed to live or work in the EU for every EU citizen allowed into the UK. The government’s stance is more liberal but still restrictive.
There will most likely be a settlement which preserves the rights of Britons living in the EU now, but today’s teenagers, and children not yet born, or who will come into the world in coming decades, must be denied the right to live and work anywhere in the 27 countries of the EU from Greece to Finland and Cyprus to Spain. It is difficult to imagine a more systematic denial of opportunity to future generations.
There are reputedly EU plans to allow individual UK citizens to retain EU citizenship. But such proposals come from the European side, not the British. The target now for pro-European networks in the UK must be to work both with sympathetic members of parliament and EU negotiators to counter the more ideological extremes in the Brexit camp.
Solutions: Building Bridges
Oscar Newman wrote that defensible space programmes have a common purpose: “They restructure the physical layout of communities to allow residents to control the areas around their homes” and “help people preserve those areas in which they can realize their commonly held values and lifestyles”.
This is precisely part of Brexit’s appeal – control of who enters the UK. But the exact corollary is restriction of who leaves: UK citizens travelling to the UK must be subject to exactly the same barriers as incomers.
For eight hundred years the story of individual rights in Britain has been one of steady, if sometimes faltering advance, and the occasional backward move. By undermining Britons’ right to live and work in Europe, Brexit represents a complete and unacceptable assault on the rights of the inhabitants of the UK, denying them the opportunities taken for granted across the rest of the continent. The clear intention is to make them second-class citizens.
We must build bridges, not walls. And that also means with the alienated pro-Brexit voters in the UK who just need to feel they live in a defensible space.
*Nicholas Campion: Author of “The New Age in the modern West: counter-culture, utopia and prophecy from the late eighteenth century to the present day”, (London: Bloomsbury 2015). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)