Among the many breeds of Brexiter, perhaps none is odder than the “liberal” Brexiter. This subtype insists that Brexit, far from being an atavistic vote by reactionary xenophobes, is actually the fulfillment of the British liberal tradition. Though a relatively rare type, they allow the cause of so much xenophobia to have a respectable patina. Their views constrain the horizons of young British and would-be British people like myself, tilting the country towards dimmer horizons rather than the sunlit uplands for which these Brexiters campaigned.
One of the most prominent supporters of liberal Brexit is Michael Gove. Throughout the campaign, he said that the end of free movement with Europe would lead to more immigration from the rest of the Commonwealth. At one point he even resorted to calling the current system of the free movement of people from Europe racist, because it privileges Europeans who, on the whole, are white.
Of course, this ignores the fact that allowing in EU migrants does not preclude the possibility of allowing in non-EU migrants, or the fact that there are many whites outside Europe and BAME people within it. Yet, sadly, it seems that Gove’s argument resonated with some minority voters, given that such diverse towns as Bradford, Slough, and Luton all voted to leave, partially due to the promises of easier immigration from the Commonwealth if fewer immigrants came from the EU.
Given the prominence of liberal Brexiters in the cabinet, you would have expected there to be a shift of immigration policy towards easing restrictions against non-EU immigrants. In addition to Gove, “liberal” Brexiters in the cabinet include Dominic Raab, Nadhim Zahawi, and James Cleverly.
I should know that these liberal Brexiters have done nothing to make life easier for people from outside the EU wanting to immigrate to this country, or for those who are already here, given that I am myself a non-EU immigrant. I am a United States citizen, studying biology at the University of Oxford. Although I was raised in the USA and am a Colombian citizen, I have been an Anglophile for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, coming to study in Oxford seemed like a golden ticket. I would like to stay in the UK after I graduate, to add to the UK economy, and to perhaps, one day, raise a family in the UK. Yet, the Home Office seems determined to prevent me, and many others like me, from doing this.
This seems to fly in the face of not just the liberal Brexiters’ purported ideology, but also the national interest of the United Kingdom. Yet, the xenophobic environment fostered by Brexit ensures that this attitude towards immigration remains entrenched in British policy. I dearly hope that this status quo will not endure, and I encourage young people living in Great Britain to support the Independent’s campaign for a Final Say on the Brexit deal.
I do not know whether liberal Brexiters who propose a more global Britain are deluded or hypocritical, but I do know that they cannot be right. Brexit has and will continue to make the UK smaller. It has made the already toxic debate around immigration more toxic, and has created an artificial rivalry between EU and non-EU migrants.