Brexit Triggers Economic Fears, Racist Attacks On Asians In UK On The Rise

On the evening of 23rd June, while standing in front of Old Trafford stadium, home of famous football club Manchester United, in Greater Manchester, Rahul Mishra, a second generation immigrant from India said “There is a question mark hanging over all our necks” when asked about the uncertainty that the United Kingdom’s referendum on staying in the European Union would bring in.

By the next morning though, the result was clear, with public service broadcaster BBC announcing it at 4.40 AM, local time; the UK had voted to leave the European Union.

“I have woken up in a different country. It is very sad” Mishra said in a follow up phone call. He had stayed back for a year in England after completing his program in Business Administration to apply for British citizenship while also simultaneously working. The citizenship would have enabled him to work and settle throughout Europe, just like any other European Union citizen.

By 7 AM local time (BST) on the 24th, the reality had started to set in. World markets, across Europe and Asia were seeing red with massive selling being triggered by the result. The UK Pound Sterling had collapsed to levels not seen since 1985, a fall measuring more than 10% against the US dollar. British banks were the hardest hit, with institutions such as Barclays and The Royal Bank of Scotland losing upto 30% on the trade floor.

Later, by close to 9 AM local time, English Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he would be stepping down. “I will do everything I can as Prime Minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination. This is not a decision I’ve taken lightly but I do believe it’s in the national interest” he said in a quivering voice in a statement delivered to the press in front of his official residence, 10 Downing Street.

ABOVE: Posters depicting a torn up portrait of outgoing British PM David Cameron are seen on a graffiti wall on Oxford Street, London to protest Britain’s exit from the European Union. 26 June 2016. Image- Achal Mishra
ABOVE: Posters depicting a torn up portrait of outgoing British PM David Cameron are seen on a graffiti wall on Oxford Street, London to protest Britain’s exit from the European Union. 26 June 2016. Image- Achal Mishra

Cameron’s resignation came in as a surprise, as he had always maintained throughout the campaign process, that he would continue on as PM, whatever the result may be. His resignation furthered the uncertainty surrounding the country, as no clear leader appeared to take on the reins.

The referendum is said to bring in far reaching economic, political, social and geographical consequences for the United Kingdom, which would spill over through Europe and ultimately, the global stage.

Economically, the “Brexit” (British-Exit) as it is being termed is set to bring in massive changes to the European and Asian Economies.

“This is going to be like a messy divorce,” Rajiv Joshi, Professor of Economics at Delhi’s South Asian University told Benar News. “The constituting countries of the United Kingdom do not agree on what is in the best interest from them. They first need to figure it out internally before putting it in front of the European Union. The final result may not be in anybody’s interest. I don’t see a winner in any scenario and that will affect all economies, across the globe” he continued on further.

The European Union was set up after the 2nd world war as a politico-economic union and a means of keeping the continent together. The union functions as a common trading market whereby institutions are free to trade with each other, through out the continent and not requiring special permission every step of the way. Moreover, the union ensures free mobility and settlement citizens from one EU country to the other, thereby solving problems of labour for commerce and industry.

Over the years, many countries such as England were able to prop themselves up financially by utilizing these benefits and building a financial services sector in cities such as London where by dealings of the entire European continent took place. Moreover, the continent as whole played an important part in building trade and commerce the world over. Companies entering the English market saw it as a gateway to trade with the rest of Europe. Workers and students migrating to the UK saw it as a chance to build their “European Dream.” The United Kingdom’s decision to quit this market is set to disrupt this fine balance.

Presently, the United Kingdom, composed of 4 countries, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland commonly, are part of the EU. However, in the referendum, Wales’s and English citizens voted to move out of the EU whereas Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in thus further complicating the matter. “ A fragmented UK and a smaller EU would force all economies and institutions to change their trading and export patterns. Lets not forget that the UK is the biggest net contributor to the EU.” Professor Joshi added in later to Benar News

India’s TATA group, a big financial powerhouse and owner of upto 19 companies including Jaguar-Landrover in the UK has already announced that it be relooking at investment in the UK.

Speaking to Benar News Dr. Naushad Forbes, President of the Confederation of Indian Industry said “Indian companies continue to play a major part in the vibrancy of the UK economy. According to 2015 figures, India is the third largest investor in the UK and invests more in UK than in the rest of Europe combined. Indian economy would have to slightly re-engineer its European strategy and that is true for the rest of South East Asia also. But this is all short term, in the long run, it should be fine.”

Politically, the referendum has triggered a leadership crisis within England. The ruling conservative party does not yet have a clear name as to who would take over from outgoing PM David Cameron in October. In the opposition’s Labour Party, Members of Parliament moved a motion of no confidence against their leader Jeremy Corbyn citing his handling of the referendum campaign. In the labour party too, no clear name appears to take on the mantle if Corbyn does indeed leave.

Geographically, the referendum could see the United Kingdom not united anymore with Scotland and Northern Ireland’s vehemently expressing their will to stay in the EU. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressly mentioned that a move to become independent from the UK was not out of question. While speaking to Scottish parliament on 28th of June she said that the Scottish people had willed to stay in and use the benefits of the EU and that if they are left, it would be “democratically incorrect.”

Socially, the referendum has triggered a series of race-based crimes across the UK. Areas such as Manchester and Birmingham in England that have a significant Asian population have seen the most of it. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon noted in the same speech given to parliament on the 28th of June that there had been close to 40 reported incidents and that the referendum was ultimately a threat to the UK’s diversity.

For political parties such as the UK Independence Party and the UK Conservative Party, both of whom who campaigned to leaves the EU, the free flow of migrants to work in the country has been a long cause of concern. Both the parties believe that the workers coming in form outside cut into jobs that could otherwise be meant for British nationals. Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independents and widely regarded as the mastermind behind the referendum fought the campaign on the anti-immigration platform, vying to “win back Britain for Britain” citing “parts of Britain that had become “unrecognizable and like “parts of a foreign land.”

Gulshan Sachdeva, Professor for European Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, explained it as the following “Despite the rhetoric, it was clear to most observers that economically it makes sense for the UK to be in the EU. However, rise of nationalist parties and anti-immigration sentiment influenced results.  Rise of these political forces will always will increase tensions and affect immigrant communities including South Asians.”

In a statement given to Benar News, Farrukh Jaffary, Indian playwright and author living in the UK accused the right wing parties of running a xenophobic campaign “They have fought this campaign on the basis of fear. They have misrepresented facts to stir up emotions and tried to block out anybody else from coming into this wonderful country. The fact is immigrants put in 27 Billion pounds more into the UK economy than they take out of it. They have made so many racist public statements and no body does anything. Unfortunately, they have also won.”

The opinion is also mirrored in the testimonies of victims.

Speaking to Benar News, Nazrul Mohommad Alam, an Indonesian National living in Birmingham said “Yesterday, my sister went out to fetch groceries where she was cornered by a few English men. They said that we should leave the country as they had voted out of the EU. They made fun of her for wearing a headscarf and even threatened her with violence. She ran back home and now refuses to go anywhere.”

The threats seemed to cut across national identities and religions with Gurmeet, an Indian Sikh national who only wanted his first name to be published said that “Go Back Paki” had been spray painted on the back of his car on the night of the 27th,along with a few expletives. “This is a dark side to the city that I live in. It is now coming out sadly,” he added further.

For now the exact timeline for Britain’s exit from the EU is not clear, however, European representatives are said to begin laying down a course in a series of meetings being conducted backstage, the exact course however would be set by Britain’s new Prime Minister in October, who ever it may be.

Text- Kshitij Nagar for Benar News

Image- Achal Mishra