Black and brown voices are not being heard on Brexit

Ethnic minorities were primed to see through the lies and false promises

With the latest extension to Article 50, the Brexit chaos will probably roll on for at least another six months. We are told that the delays are caused because MPs can’t make up their minds over what kind of Brexit they want.

But the truth is that they do not really want it at all. Our elected representatives voted overwhelming in favour of remaining in the EU in 2016 but now feel tied to the inevitable march out the EU. Even Theresa May, who campaigned for Remain, now feels obliged to “respect the result of the referendum” and frog march parliament out to her Brexit tune.

Because of the devolved governments, we have heard a lot from the Scottish National Party about the will of the Scottish to remain in the EU. Northern Ireland has been the main sticking point in trying to leave and the Democratic Unionist Party have an outsized voice in all government decisions because they are propping up the Tory minority government.

But missing from almost all the coverage and debate are those voices of ethnic minorities. It’s ironic given that we were one of the biggest dissenting voices against Brexit. In the 2016 referendum 73 percent of Black and 67 per cent of Asian voters opted to Remain.

Given that the 7.5 million people from ethnic minorities represent a larger population than Scotland and Northern Ireland combined, it is high time that these voices are no longer marginalised. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, it is the will of white English people that is being represented as that of the nation.

Considering that the age of the minority population is also significantly younger than that of the white majority, these voices will only get louder. Brexit is one of the most important decisions for the next generations and the future of Britain is increasingly diverse. By some estimates, by 2051 27 per cent of the population will be from an ethnic minority in England and Wales. If this had been the case in 2016, the strong vote for Remain would have tipped the referendum result and we would have avoided the last three years of the Brexit madness.

In the 2016 referendum 73 percent of Black and 67 per cent of Asian voters opted to Remain

The reasons behind ethnic minorities’ support for Remain are important. Immigration dominated the Leave campaign, and there is certainly a discussion to be had about the policy of freedom of movement. Welcoming white migrants from the EU, whilst at the same time making migration from the former colonies ever more restrictive is a continuation of racist immigration policy that has shaped Britain for the last 50 years.

The Windrush scandal was appalling but not surprising; it was the brutal logic of the system. But the rhetoric of the Leave campaign was so obviously an appeal to the historic campaigns to “keep Britain white”, that minority voters saw through the ruse.

When people like Boris Johnson spoke about post-Brexit Britain making links to the Commonwealth, we understood the kind of relationships they craved were “Empire 2.0”, returning to the glory days when Britannia ruled the waves. Rejecting Brexit was a call to abandon the Little England island mentality that no longer has a place in the world.

The vote for Remain was also down to the fact that when the economy takes a hit, the impact is most hardly felt on ethnic minority communities. Jacob Rees-Mogg and his ilk may be able to prosper from a no-deal Brexit, but such lunacy would be devastating for the country as a whole, let alone those who are already marginalised.

David Cameron thought that Remain was a certainty because of the belief among those advising him that people wouldn’t “vote themselves poorer because they don’t like the Poles living next door”. He badly miscalculated white voters’ motivations, but for ethnic minorities such hubris is not a luxury we can afford. Politicians voted to Remain because they understand that the best economic deal Britain can get from Brexit is to revoke Article 50 and enjoy the benefits of EU membership.

Black and brown voices are not just essential to the debate because of our presence in the nation, they are vital because it is for us that the stakes are highest. It is no coincidence that ethnic minorities for the most part saw through the lies and false promises, and were not persuaded by visions of romantic past in which we were colonised and enslaved.

Brexit has revealed both the power and fragility of Britain’s imperial delusions about itself. It’s appealing enough to take Britain out of the EU, but with utterly no foundation upon which to take the nation forward. It’s time to listen to the voices of all the people, so that when the house of cards comes tumbling down, ethnic minority voters have more to comfort ourselves with than the words “we told you so”.

Kehinde Andrews is professor of black studies at Birmingham City University