British Muslims regret Brexit choice

Rosie Carter - 11 02 19

HOPE not hate polling shows Muslims who voted Leave were the most likely to have changed their minds in the face of rising Islamophobia and broken promises.

The stereotype of a white, uneducated, racist North being responsible for the 2016 decision to leave the EU hides much of the complexity behind the vote. There has been little discussion of how Britain’s ethnic minorities voted, despite an estimated 30% of British Muslim voters backing Leave in the referendum.

The Leave campaign’s xenophobic tone and focus on immigration may, at first, make this difficult to understand. Especially the Muslim Leave vote, when the Leave campaign deliberately played on Islamophobia: conflating free movement with flows of refugees from the Middle East and sparking fears of Turkey joining the EU. As the Leave campaign put it:

“Murderers, terrorists and kidnappers from countries like Turkey could flock to Britain if it remains in the European Union”.

Over the last year, we have polled over 30,000 people and carried out focus groups across the country to better understand the Brexit vote, and to understand what people want now. We have frequently heard views conflating controls over immigration with anti-Muslim prejudice.

But immigration was also a motivator for some British Muslims to vote Leave, with many concerned about the rate of EEA (European Economic Area: EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) migration. Others felt that restricting free movement by leaving the EU might ‘even out’ the immigration system for those from the Indian subcontinent. However, anti-Muslim prejudice throughout the campaign has had the strongest impact on Muslims in Britain. The rise in hate crimes since the referendum, which have disproportionately impacted Muslims, has been well documented, but we know that there is much more everyday prejudice that goes unreported.

The results were clear from the door-to-door canvassing of 739 Muslims we carried out in Bradford East during August and September last year. Over 85% now considered themselves Remainers, 87% viewed Theresa May’s deal as bad and 84% felt that “the decision to leave the EU had been accompanied by an increase in division and racism in society.”

Our polling suggests that BAME (minority community) Leave voters are among the most likely to have changed their minds on Brexit,especially Muslims. In our July 2018 poll of 10,383 people, only 27% of those of Pakistani heritage who voted to leave the EU said they would vote the same way if there was a referendum today.

We also held a focus group in Manningham, Bradford comprised of a mixed aged group of men of Kashmiri origin. While 65% of the district’s residents identified as white British, Bradford has the largest population of people of Pakistani ethnicity (20% of the population) of any local authority in the UK. Bradford voted 54% to Leave the EU in the 2016 referendum – this included a high proportion of British Asians.

The Bradford group showed how Asian Leave voters have moved far more than those we spoke to anywhere else, because they felt the reasons they voted for Brexit were betrayed almost immediately, and that the referendum had unleashed prejudice.

Those who had voted Leave said they had made the decision based on proposals for more money available for the NHS, but also because of immigration. They wanted better control over immigration from the EU, seen to put pressure on public services. Some felt that controls on EU immigration would also make it easier to obtain non-EU spousal visas. However, they now felt that their expectations would not be met:

“Immigration is still a big problem, but Brexit isn’t going to solve it”.

Moreover, the group felt that the divisive immigration debate around the EU referendum had now gotten out of hand. The group spoke about a racist upsurge, with many saying they had experienced greater racial prejudice since the vote. A taxi driver spoke about young people coming back from nights out in the back of his taxi saying that they voted Leave as they thought this would mean all the Eastern European and Asians would ‘go home’, but that these people were even angrier now they realised this wasn’t a reality.

The feeling that the Brexit vote was feeding racism was experienced first-hand by HOPE not hate activists when they canvassed a white working class estate on the other side of the city. In what many of our activists, some with 15 years of history with HOPE not hate, claimed was their worst experiences of anti-fascist lives, many residents vocalised their racist anger at Muslims. In two instances on the same street, residents singled out their Muslim neighbours: “We voted Leave, but why are they still here?” shouted one woman, literally pointing at the Muslim family across the street.

With the police predicting a rise in hate crime as Brexit approaches, Muslims are once again likely to take the brunt.


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