Did Trump-Style Islamophobia break up the European Union?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In a historic referendum, the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. The motivations were complex, including a lack of trust in Prime Minister David Cameron, but it seems undeniable that an irrational fear of Muslim immigrants played at least some part in the vote.

A recent ITV poll showed a surge in concern about immigration, with only 15% of respondents saying it was their number one concern in the Brexit issue in early April, which grew to 20% by late May. Arguably, that shift was the margin of victory for the Leave side.

The same surge was apparent in Northern Ireland, according to a poll reported by the Belfast Telegraph.

“Like our March and April Opinion Panel Tracker poll the No. 1 reason for voting ‘Leave’ is Immigration, and lack of border controls. However, again in this May poll (like our April poll) this reason was even further ahead of Reason No. (2), showing that Immigration/Border Controls and controlling immigration is increasingly now becoming the overwhelming reason for NI people voting ‘Leave’.”

While there are Britons who worry about too much immigration from eastern Europe via the EU, immigration discourse is often dominated by Islamophobia.

Far right nationalist leader Nigel Farage has accused British Muslims of disloyalty to their country and has asserted that the EU endangers the UK because of risk of terrorists posing as EU migrants.

Aljazeera points out,

“With net migration to the UK rising to 330,000 [per annum] – over half of which was from the EU countries in 2015 – this gave huge ammunition to the Leave campaign.”

The hysteria about Muslim immigrants is irrational in a number of ways. Some of it derives from a fear that Turkey will be let in by the EU and Britain would be flooded by Turks. But neither thing was likely to have happened.

Immigration to the UK is evenly divided between EU nationals and those from the rest of the world, including former British colonies. It is the second source of immigration that accounts for most of the Muslims coming in, not the EU. If Britain didn’t want Muslim and Hindu citizens, it shouldn’t have ravaged India for 200 years.

The hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees admitted to Continental Europe this year and last raised fears among the British pubic that many of them would gravitate to the strong British economy.

British Christians are the religious group most likely to favor leaving the EU, while Muslim were the most supportive among religious groups of staying.

Still, the more than three million British Muslims (in a population of 64 million for the UK) were themselves divided on whether to leave the European Union.

The UAE’s The National reports,

“Miqdaad Versi, an Oxford-educated management consultant, [believes] that the benefits of remaining far outweigh the bloc’s imperfections.

Mr Versi says Muslims, too, are swayed by “the impact on their wallets”. He cites data showing their importance to Britain’s economy – £34 billion (Dh182.5bn) of Islamic finance issued through the London Stock Exchange, £20.5bn of spending power, businesses creating 70,000 jobs in London alone and a £1bn halal industry.”

Versi also said that it only costs £350 per capita per year for Britain to stay in the EU, whereas each realizes £3,000 in economic benefit. Ooops.

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Related video:

USA Today: “Brexit passes: U.K. votes to leave the EU ”

27 Responses

  1. Unlikely. As you note, UK has a long history of concerns about influx from the east, dating back to Poland’s accession. What we’re seeing is a working class frustrated by the same sort of economic malaise that has affected most of the west post-2008 an heightened by a growing resentment of institutional politics. Immigration deals are part of that equation but not enough to have driven the result. (That’s the sort of logic that led to “African Americans were responsible for the defeat of Proposition 8” a few years ago.)
    When the masses revolt, everyone who disapproves has his own hobbyhorse; here it’s Islamophobia.
    Or perhaps we didn’t recognize Slavophobia when we looked right at it?

    • When these kind of movements march to power, it doesn’t matter if it’s one ethnic group or another that they’re scapegoating at the moment. Eventually they will attack everyone. First they came for the Communists…

      • On the other hand, if you agreed with the result, you’d no doubt argue that 50% plus 1 was the essence of pure democracy (which it is).

  2. It is a terrible shame that such a consequential decision, and one with implications far beyond Britain, was left to a trivial populist referendum. There should have been a higher bar set than 50%.

  3. Professor, there is another aspect to the success of the vote to Leave the EU campaign. Cameron is of course, a Conservative and is roundly detested and hated by the working class. There have been some savage Austerity measures put in place in the last year or so and as Cameron was such a prominent figure in the remain Campaign, a lot of the ire of the working class was directed at him in the form of a leave vote. By playing such an important role in the remain campaign, Cameron may have shot himself in the foot. People don’t always vote for whats on the ballot paper and quite often their vote is a protest vote against the government in general

  4. I still don’t understand why they asked the question in the first place. It’s one of the dumbest examples of irresponsible governance since their Parliament provoked the 13 colonies into revolution.

    • I believe it was a campaign promise. A lot of Tories wanted out of the EU, and a referendum was the deal Cameron made to run for PM.

  5. Islamophobia may have played a part, but probably not the most significant one. The right-wing press have been lying about the EU for years. One of the liars-in-chief is Boris Johnson, now a whisker away from being our Prime Minister, who was once a Brussels-based journalist notorious for making stuff up.

  6. Trumpish Islamophobia had very little to do with it. Most European countries have historical experience of being under the thumb of other European entities, England hasn’t since the Norman conquest. Somewhere in there lies a deep rooted distrust of the EU, particularly its German flavour. That has been present since the UK joined and has fluctuated ever upwards since. There has never been any affection for the EU, and that slips easily into disaffection; bits of legislation, reported out of context, attracting risible contempt. Overall, the EU is non-democratic and we have seen its vicious treatment of Southern European populations, particularly Greece, the font of democracy and pre-Christian culture. The initial emphasis on trade was sensible and attractive, but the push towards political significance has had the effect of putting it firmly in the US pocket while removing the flexibility England had relied on since the first Elizabeth. The idiotic stand-off with Russia is a prime example. Immigration doubtless played a part but less perhaps for the fact of it than the sense that it was out of UK control. Add to that obscene wealth distribution, the serious unpopularity of Cameron, and the impertinence of Obama threatening to put the UK at the end of any trade queue and you have a fertile bed for Brexit.

    • The solution to that is not to secede into deeper tribalism, it’s to join forces with the poor of other tribes and demand class justice. Small, self-imagined “homogeneous” nations like Germany and Japan are the vector for the fascist plague. The entire history of America capitalism is the success of its 350-year experiment in getting poor Whites to hate poor Blacks.

  7. Joe Bean

    @YourAnonGlobal At least PM Cameron had the balls to resign,that’s more than sleazy Corbyn of labour can do the bloody coward

  8. I am really glad that the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU. I have been listening to the English complain about the EU for more than 20 years. I was and am feed up with it. It was as if they thought that they were being taxed without representation. I hope that the people of Scotland now reconsider their independence question and vote to leave the UK.

    • Normally I would be more sympathetic to your view. However, having this happen at this moment is alarming for two reasons:

      1. it fits into a pattern of immigrant-bashing xenophobia that is sweeping the Caucasian world, and thus it emboldens Trump’s supporters to overlook the fantastic incompetence and financial corruption of his campaign (and his entire life) to imagine that they themselves are the ones seizing power over what matters in America.

      2. Kill the Kennedys – America moves to the right.
      Kill Rabin – Israel moves to the right.
      Kill Jo Cox – Britain moves to the right.
      Killing liberal politicians is fun and profitable and free of consequence. The people I described above will pretend not to advocate violence. That’s as bull**** as Operation Rescue claiming it wasn’t tied to anti-abortion terrorists. When they see they can get away with it, they run with it.

      • Certainly helped on Rabin, incorrect on “the Kennedys,” and Jo Cox … really? That’s what won the leave vote? Come on!

  9. If Britain didn’t want Muslim and Hindu citizens, it shouldn’t have ravaged India for 200 years.

    “The sins of the father shall be visited upon the children.” Who will pay in the United States for the sins of its current and future leaders?

  10. What about leftist idol Tariq Ali? He was pro-Brexit because the EU makes certain leftist goals impossible.

    I’d been thinking Brexit exclusively meant a win for racists, so it was instructive to see the far left case.

    Here’s Tariq’s 1-minute statement: link to youtube.com

    Here’s a 12-minute version: link to youtube.com

    maybe if you’re a “glass half full” person you heed Tariq Ali, and if you’re a “glass half empty” person you heed Nigel Farrange.

  11. I wonder if Hillary and Barack and the boys and girls in the State Dept realized, when they went in and weaponized and militarized the civil disturbances in Damascus and blew up Syria for their own purposes, that they would take down the EU?

  12. There might be a positive side to this. Yes, of course the UK will get poorer and may even break up about this, but who cares…

    Merkel has just lost her most reliabel allie for her disastrous politics of austerity that have been ruining Europe for a decade now.

    Unless she finds a way to weasel out of this, there is a real chance for change now.

  13. Immigration clearly was a factor in the Leave vote – though some of the concern had to do with immigrants from eastern Europe. A bigger concern was the – wrongheaded – belief that the UK was getting the short end of the stick by remaining a member of the EU. I can’t remember a more mendacious political campaign in the nation’s history. The Leave camp exaggerated and often lied through its teeth to promote its talking points. (And already Farage is backing off one of his big promises abound funding the NHS: link to independent.co.uk surprise, surprise.) Am waiting to see the voter breakdown but anecdotal evidence suggests that the Leave voters were more working class and lived in cities other than London – and so receptive to the phony argument that the EU was a scam bleeding the UK’s prosperity and run by pointy headed bureaucrats. Not a happy day in UK history. This will have big implications

  14. I agree with Curt and many other writers. Islamophobia? Maybe in part but the reasons are bigger than that I believe. Economic of course and also the idea that Curt mentioned a distrust of the EU. I remember DE Gaulle stating words to the effect that the UK was NOT Europe. Besides also lets not forget that the UK is ruled by the Pound and not the Euro. I think Scotland will probably leave the UK and N. Ireland might also or unite with The Republic of Ireland to stay in the EU.

  15. Will no-one point out that Britain is a “prosperous economy” because they stole everything in the world that was not nailed down…duh

  16. The university of Liverpool had the idea to have Prof. Michael Dougan give a short lecture on the whole subject (about twenty minutes). It is also freely available on youtube.
    link to youtube.com

    Had just ONE TV-station bothered to take something like this in their broadcast, there might never have been a BREXIT….

  17. Immigration played a part, but it really goes back to austerity. Especially in the UK, it was a choice to slash public services and cut, I think, 1 million jobs. This put a financial strain on the NHS, schools etc., but can’t blame government policy, so blame the immigrants.

  18. I suspect many Leave voters — like many Trump supporters in the USA — are old blue-collar workers who feel irretrievably screwed-over by globalization and are willing to do whatever it takes to bring it down even if it means that they personally end up even worse off.

    Kind of the economic equivalent of suicide bombers…

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