If things get tough, we’ll just make our own food. That’s the British bulldog spirit for you – patriotism and pride in the red and blue Union Jack at its finest. If things get really shitty, we’ll set our own trade rules. We are Britain, and there’s not a damn thing we can’t do, except play football.
If the forces of globalisation, unmerciful as they are, refuse to spare us, we’ll be fine. Anyone who says otherwise is a cynic, a pessimist we could do without. This country is built on nerves of steel and that’s all we really need.
Really, truly, at times it does seem like Brexit is really a torturous exam just to see who is the most patriotic. It definitely can’t be Londoners: some of us actually wanted to break away from the rest of the country.
But talk of Brexit and it seems the Leavers are the only ones who are positive, wedded to a surreal level of ecstatic optimism. That’s of course because they’re “real people”, they alone represent the British people and they alone talk up the country.
The Remainers, those concerned with the potentially devastating effects of Brexit on the country, can’t be patriotic. We are a bunch of liberal sneering metropolitan elitist bastards who sit in coffee shops all day. What do we know about wanting the best for this country? Nothing. We think Brexit is going to be a disaster.
Here is where I diverge from a lot of the Remain camp. I don’t think it’s going to be a disaster. I already know it’s a disaster. A big one that we have unnecessarily taken on because the Tories decided that the country’s economic security and global standing was worth risking for their internal strife and power plays.
It’s already a disaster for the migrants who have been left feeling politically homeless by the sudden direction of the country. Those who wish to end Freedom of Movement are probably more in touch with the rest of the country than I am. But at the same time they’re not either.
They’re right just as they are wrong in wanting to end FoM. My experiences are shaped by the migrants around me, who fill out the gritty, unpleasant jobs whilst being admonished for coming over and just claiming benefits. I see it in those who work in our public services and perform heroics. The NHS has, since its creation, relied on a migrant labour force.
It’s a grim situation for all, and politically, one that has Labour Party mired in a potential electoral crisis. If we pledge to keep Single Market and FoM then we might as well be rejecting Brexit even if we are recognising the cultural, social and economic benefits that is created by maintaining the status quo.
We will lose votes if this happens. Yet if we end Freedom of Movement, which much of the party is uniting behind, then we might win a few seats, but we will lost the trust and respect of most migrants, who once regarded Labour as a safe space for their representation, and many other people. We would be offering an admission of defeat: we accept we cannot convince the country of immigration being a blessing, so we instead seek to mitigate the damage as best as possible.
Now we try to argue that migrant labour depresses wages. Maybe Ukip had a point. Contrary to the evidence pointing out that its effects are minute, confined to a few sectors (which surely as the Labour Party we would respond to by tackling corporate abuse of workers rather than eroding the rights of foreign workers?), we need to begin talking about it like it’s a nationwide crisis.
Remember how irritated we all became when the Tories tried to make benefit fraud seem bigger than it was? We used to march in solidarity back then. Nowadays, not so much. Now we try to argue that Freedom of Movement discriminates against non-European migrant workers. So, not only are we now dividing native workers and migrant workers, we’re even trying to split the migrant workers up.
It’s almost as if there aren’t low-skilled workers from the Global South here. It’s almost as if workers from the Indian subcontinent and Africa haven’t been migrating for the past several decades, unhindered by Freedom of Movement. And it’s almost as if we genuinely believe that this country, which has for years been caught up in migrant scapegoating, actually wants to get rid of poor European labourers because we have always preferred the darker skinned lot.
I would ask Labourites to drop this façade, this false attempt at solidarity when trying to justify ending Freedom of Movement. Watching a party made up largely of white members debate migration, without factoring in voices from EU migrant and BME backgrounds is sad. It’s a reflection of a deeper problem within the Labour Party. One that isn’t just disconnected from the working class, but the diversity of that class.
If the party had more voices, voices of people with actual lived experience and knowledge of immigration, then perhaps the party would understand how difficult it is, certainly emotionally, to watch Labour in near uniformity agree to calling migration a problem. As soon as you decide that the best way to tackle corporate exploitation of foreign workers is to make it harder for those workers to come here rather than punishing big businesses, you are abdicating your socialist principles.
Perhaps such abdication is understandable when power is so close. Brexit was not in our mess and the solutions for it should be laid out by the Tories. They created this. They wanted this. They should have a contingency plan for it. But in the immediate likelihood that they fail and fall, trust in them would have been so low, Labour could have tried at convincing people on immigration.
There were ways to tackle this. By increasing funds allocated to regions with highest density in migration. By ensuring strong workplace rights for migrant labourers to stop businesses from ruthlessly exploiting them. By reminding people that the NHS, our bedrock, would be wobbling without the flow of migrant nurses and doctors. But we didn’t. We want to end Freedom of Movement. We slipped into the rhetoric that everyone else did when describing immigration. In that moment, we can at least understand that strip away the angry layers of socialist rhetoric and Corbynites and Blairites are all really the same.
I hold my hands up and admit I’m a biased Remainer, a Londoner. I really am one of those metropolitan liberal elite, even if I’m a discriminated brown working-class one too. My city would not be what it is without immigrants. But I’m also pragmatic. We tried with the halfway measures on immigration under Ed Miliband. Remember the mugs? The outrage over the mugs? I miss the mugs.
But I also remember how the country didn’t genuinely believe us when we promised immigration controls. Do they suddenly expect Jeremy Corbyn of all people to be anti-immigration? Do they seriously expect the country will end Freedom of Movement yet accept an intensely relaxed immigration system?
The point here is really is simple. End FoM if you wish, but be prepared for the social backlash that comes for migrants when everyone realises even Labour are ditching them. Understand what it means to children of immigration that the party who court our votes, are sliding further away from us. Realise that this decision, whilst surely understandable for electoral senses because haven’t we all just had enough of the Tories, is an acceptance of defeat over a big talking point.
Of course, I’ll be accused of being a traitor. But I love this country, my city more so, and I don’t want anything to hurt it. Brexit will hurt it. I want a second referendum. I want the country to realise that we will come off from this poorer in every sense. Economically we will be hit hard, and culturally we will miss out on much. Brexit is already a fucking disaster, and I am supposed to go along with it because that is what it means to be a patriot?