I know there are intellectuals opposed to Europe who argue that the 2016 vote had nothing to do with immigration, it was all about taking back control and not being a colony of Europe. But the reality is that the great majority of the 17.4 million who voted to leave did not like people supposedly flooding into this country…. writes Mihir Bose
Brexit we all know was decided by immigration. My worry is if Brexit does not produce the land of milk and honey which its supporters claim it will but lead to misery, as looks very likely, then immigrants in this country will have much to fear and not just Europeans who live amidst us but people like you and me, shall we say those of us with a permanent suntan.
I know there are intellectuals opposed to Europe who argue that the 2016 vote had nothing to do with immigration, it was all about taking back control and not being a colony of Europe. But the reality is that the great majority of the 17.4 million who voted to leave did not like people supposedly flooding into this country. As a Yorkshire farmer told me, and this was even before the date of the referendum was announced, he would vote to leave despite getting lots of EU money because he said there are too many people in this country. The country could not cope. And then for good measure, to emphasise my immigration status, he said I must be from Sri Lanka, a country I have never visited. The campaigners for Brexit played on the immigration fears of the majority building up bogus dangers of Turks sweeping into this country, something David Cameron in his memoirs has rightly labelled as a dreadful lie.
But while the Turks represent the great other, Muslim and not white, it is worth emphasising that this fear of immigration was different to the one I experienced when I arrived in this country nine months after Enoch Powell’s notorious rivers of blood speech in 1968. Then the immigrants who were not wanted were us “coloured” folks as we were called then. Enoch in his speech spoke enthusiastically about sending us “coloureds” home and this he argued was for our good as he was convinced we could not possibly fit in.
During the Brexit debate those arguing for us to leave were eager to say they were not racist, but then these days I find no one in this country admits to being a racist, and anyway the people they were talking about were whites who had come from Eastern Europe , the Poles, the Romanians, Estonians and Albanians.
But even as a fear campaign against this immigration wave was being launched, many of the same Brexiters were spinning a very different story to the Asian community. They were told that once free moment from Europe was stopped there would be scope for more migrants coming from the subcontinent. They were told that once eastern Europeans could not just walk in these Asians could being their relations and friends from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with great ease. In the run up to the election I spoke to many well-off Asians who told me that they were going to vote to leave for this reason.
One prominent Indian restaurant owner also expressed it in economic terms. As he put it his restaurant needs cooks and while you can employ Poles or Romanians they can hardly be expected to cook an authentic Indian meal. However, under the existing immigration laws to get a cook from the subcontinent you would have to offer him, and it is usually a him, a salary of £30,000. Take in the add-ons and the cost could easily run to £50,000. He told me how ministers arguing in favour of leaving had told him that once we leave these rules would be revised and he could bring in cooks for much less. So, while his children voted to remain he happily voted to leave.
A return to the dark days of the 60s and 70s when send them home meant sending people like us home
And this is where my fears of an exit from EU arise. Here is how it may play out. Free movement stops. However, that does not mean there is less immigration. There could be a lot more, this time people from the subcontinent. Yet this takes place against a background of an economic downturn. And remember most people have not seen their living standards rise for over a decade. I cannot recall a time when I have seen so many people homeless or supermarkets having big cartoons saying donate your surplus food.
Against this background for the majority white community to see lot more brown people in their midst may now go down well. And this could see a return to the dark days of the 60s and 70s when send them home meant sending people like us home.
I hope it does not happen. And I have always had great faith in the common sense and fairness of the British people. This is after all a society which says sorry all the time. However, Brexit is a revolution. It has so changed our politics that as I write the Supreme Court is deciding whether the Prime Minister acted like a dictator. The traditional party system is in melt down and such is the divide in the country that families are split over the issue. Indeed, I know from personal experience that at dinner parties you dare not raise the issue of Brexit lest you offend a friend who disagrees with you. It could mean the end of the friendship. In such a febrile atmosphere reason and fairness could fly out of the window. I hope not but if Brexit produces economic misery as it looks as it might then the dark days could be back. And people like us could well be in the firing line.
(Mihir Bose is former Sports Editor of BBC @mihirbose)