Brexit or Remain: Which is best for black Britain?


A campaign poster by Operation Black Vote encouraging minority voter participation in the EU referendum

As voting day looms ever closer many of us are now sick and tired of hearing the same arguments and statistics bandied around by both the Leave and Remain campaigns and will frankly be relieved when the whole thing is over just so that we the headlines can return to other stories and subjects other than immigration and the economy can fill the media once again.

One of the main reasons why the entire debate has become so stale and generally uninspiring is that it has been almost entirely dominated by the same, non-diverse group which always lead matters of political importance: white, older, middle and upper class men. David Cameron, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn and the like have been the faces of the campaigns and therefore – whether they support Remain or Leave – the perspective that they can bring to the debate is limited by their belonging to a homogeneous socio-political group.

Where have the voices of BAME voters been in the debate? Where have the voices of LGBT people been in the debate? The voices of disabled people? The voices of students? They have been drowned out by Westminster and its spokespersons.

This one-dimensional approach to the EU debate deprives voters of a more comprehensive understanding of what exactly is at stake and how different communities will be specifically affected should Britain decide to either leave or remain. Women, disabled people, gay people, BAME people, students, farmers and others belonging to a sub-group in British society are all served by the EU in different ways and so remaining in or leaving will affect each group differently. Therefore, to ignore these voices makes for an ill-informed debate and referendum where people are ultimately voting with their hearts rather than their heads.

Take for example the matter of immigration, which has undoubtedly dominated the debate. BAME voters will have their own sets of reasons for being either pro or anti further immigration from within the EU. On the one hand, there are some black and Asian first and second generation immigrants who will take a more positive, sympathetic view towards immigration and greater diversity having themselves experienced life as an immigrant to Britain. On the other hand, there are BAME voters who will take the view that although they, their parents or grandparents came to the UK as immigrants, today the levels of immigration are simply too high and it cannot continue. Even those who are pro-immigration generally-speaking and have perhaps benefited as an immigrant to the UK themselves may find themselves voting Leave in relation to this matter because they think it is unfair that EU migrants are being given ‘privilege’ over non-EU migrants from places like Africa and the Caribbean. And so, when many different groups and perspectives are brought into the debate it suddenly becomes highly complex and much more engaging.

How are Britain’s BAME people planning to vote on June 23rd?

Statistics from the British Election Study indicate that ethnic minority voters are disproportionately in favour of remaining in the EU compared to the white population, with a significant majority of two-thirds preferring to remain.

What kind of things should BAME voters consider when deciding which way to vote?

Of course in large part minority voters will need to consider exactly the same points as white voters: the economy, health care, jobs, migration etc. However, there are also some areas specific to ethnic minority voters which should be factored in when deciding how to vote, including but not limited to:

  • EU racial equality and anti-discrimination laws and frameworks: How much do these currently do to protect BAME people? If we were to leave the EU are there sufficient national laws in place to protect the rights of BAME people in Britain?

  • Immigration: How would Brexit affect immigration from non-EU countries? Would it be the start of an anti-immigration movement where far less migrants (both from the EU and outside) are allowed into Britain or would it reduce EU migrants whilst opening the way for more immigrants from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean?

  • British culture: Will British culture and society change depending on if we stay or leave? Would Brexit usher in a more nationalist society? Would groups like the BNP grow more powerful in such a society? Would multiculturalism and diversity continue regardless of Brexit since it is the fabric of British society and since there will still be some migrants continuing to come?

For most, if not all, of these questions there is no definitive answer and that is very much the tone of the debate and referendum – the unknown results if Brexit occurs; would Britain, and black British people, be better or worse off?

On Thursday 23rd June you decide.

Further reading on this topic:

'Why do some ethnic minority voters want to leave the EU?' - The Guardian, 1st June 2016

'Ethnic Minorities Could Swing EU Ref Outcome' - Sky News, 29th May 2016

'The European Union and the protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities' - Anon.

'Tackling discrimination' - European Commission

'EU referendum: White 'thug' poster aimed at black voters' - BBC News, 25th May 2016

'Will ethnic minority voters decide EU vote?' - BBC News, 28th May 2016

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