Our National Humiliation

The psychological and emotional impact of the Brexit vote has been devastating. A few simple-minded people are still treating it as a victory, but the majority now see it for what it is: an unwanted and undeserved catastrophe. It was not a referendum about the European Union at all. Despite 43 years of membership, few British people would be able to tell you what the European Union is or what it does. This turned into a referendum about immigration.

Demonstrators gesture outside the Houses of Parliament during a protest aimed at showing London's solidarity with the European Union following the recent EU referendum, in central London, Britain June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Most immigration into the United Kingdom has nothing to do with the European Union. What has made people so anti-immigration is the one and a half million Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who have transformed large areas of England. It is the former industrial centres of the northern half of the country that have been most changed, because in these areas the industries that used to sustain the local population have also disappeared, leaving them embittered, poor and powerless.
In London, where there is work for anyone who wants it, there are plenty of immigrants, but this infantile resentment is much less: and so London, more civilised, voted to Remain.
When the European Union accepted the new members from Eastern Europe, a fresh wave of migrants arrived, and for some reason these same white working class English people reacted with real hatred. The problem this time was that these Poles and Lithuanians were prepared to do the low-paid manual work they no longer wanted to do, demonstrating how pointless and immoral their lives had become. Also, they had no interest in integrating. They had satellite TV and mobile phones and stayed in touch with their home countries. They were only working in Britain so they could send money back home.
It is a bit different for people from the poorest Eastern European countries – Romania and Bulgaria. They are more likely to plan to stay forever if they can escape their collapsing countries. But even today the leading countries for immigration into Britain are China and India. Many of the first wave of Polish immigrants have gone home and government restrictions are already in place for the Romanians and Bulgarians.
There are a few cases of these people abusing the system. But the people who abuse the system on a massive scale are the former industrial working class themselves. In large cities like Manchester and Liverpool there are areas where drunken unemployment has become the normal way of life for the local population, and where the only ambitions young men have are to sell drugs or get a gun. Girls try and get pregnant as soon as possible so they can get a flat of their own from the state and start a lifetime of living on benefits like their friends. State education is freely available but most people don’t see the point of it.
It is these people who have taken us out of Europe.
It is not a case of ‘they are taking our jobs’. It is a case of ‘they might take our state benefits’.
In the days after the referendum, Google Trends showed an important question trending in Britain on the internet: ‘What is the EU?’ Millions of people suddenly wondered what it was they had done. What they have done is cataclysmic. They have destroyed the political balance in England with unforeseeable results. The United Kingdom will now probably cease to exist, as Scotland finds a way to stay inside the EU. But the EU itself is going to be deeply affected too: George Soros says that its break-up is now ‘inevitable.
If this decision had been taken on the basis of a logical political judgement – and of course there is an element of that among the better-educated – it would be different. But polls showed that the facts and figures about membership of the European Union made no difference to voters’ intentions. For the United Kingdom, so proud of its science and literature and culture, to have made this decision on the basis of ignorance and xenophobia is a humiliation that we will bear for generations.

Christopher Lord has lived in nine countries and speaks seven languages. His books include Politics and Parallel Cultures, and his journalism has been published world-wide.

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