Brexit: What Remain camp failed to realise is many immigrants have no emotional ties to Europe and it can be far from welcoming – Ayesha Hazarika

We’re being very British about the latest agonising Brexit instalment. As we face a no-deal disasteroo, we’re busy doing what we do best. Finding the funny and sardonic on Twitter with endless fish puns. “Stop it or I’ll batter you…”

Pro-Brexit supporters wave Union Jack flags in London's Parliament Square ahead of the UK's depature from the EU on January 31 this year (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Pro-Brexit supporters wave Union Jack flags in London's Parliament Square ahead of the UK's depature from the EU on January 31 this year (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

There is no question that Brexit is owned entirely by Boris Johnson and the ambassador for Barnard Castle. Brexit is son of Boris. He won it. He used it to get rid of Theresa May to become Prime Minister.

But that doesn’t mean those on the Remain side shouldn’t do some soul-searching. I’ve been reflecting on some of the messages and signals in the run-up to the 2016 referendum.

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The critique against Remainers was that we were the London metropolitan elite. That argument should have been countered from the beginning, yet the launch of the campaign was led by Sir Stuart Rose in a trendy London location.

The optics and voices were wrong. We should have been using voices from manufacturing heartlands – workers not bosses. And more women would have been good.

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Lovely, lucky people

There was also a very emotional and romantic picture painted about our relationship with Europe – “what a gift to be able to study, live and love in 27 different countries…”

That sounds like something out of a sumptuous sexy art-house movie. Think Call Me by Your Name (minus the peach scene).

But let’s be honest – how many people were trotting across Europe having an intellectual feast and getting off with Timothée Chalamet? A small group of really no doubt lovely, but really lucky people. This romantic view of Europe just did not connect with lots of the public. Especially people from black and Asian communities.

I was struck by an event I chaired after the result about the ethnic minority vote. The panel was all Remainers and we were all surprised at how many black and Asian people in the audience had voted to leave. Not because they were monstrous racists but because they wanted immigration rules to be fairer to non-EU citizens (let’s see how that pans out) and also because they just didn’t have any real emotional connection with Europe.

Profound mistake

For many immigrants, the UK was their or their parents’ destination. They are deeply patriotic and have never really felt the need or desire to explore the Continent, with holidays used to see relatives.

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But there are other reasons. Something our white Remainer colleagues don’t realise was that for many black and Asian people, Europe is far from welcoming.

A black friend told me a vile story about suffering monkey chants in Barcelona. I have Muslim friends who are scared to travel to parts of Europe. I know many people of colour who just feel Europe is not for them. I think that probably applies to lots of other groups in society.

My point is that an intertwined European existence just doesn’t ring true for many people. Me included.

All of this is not to blame the Remain campaign of which I was proud to have been part. I still believe we’ve made a profound mistake in leaving the EU. Brexit is of Boris.

But let this be a gentle reminder of the need to have proper representation and genuinely diverse thoughts, voices and backgrounds round a table when fighting high-stakes political battles.

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