Brexit has nurtured the existence of nationalism in the UK’s politics. While one side wishes to return to an imperial Britain ruling the waves, the other believes in a subtle image of a tolerant Britain that never really was. Both are wrong.

First published in October 2019.

“We want our country back!”

What country is that? There’s a mixture of opposing countries that people seem to emulate. None of these models are wholly truthful. None of them can ever be replicated by the society of 2019. And yet, people cling onto their nostalgic vision of a Britain they believe in.

The Brexiter vision establishes this patriotic ‘empire-porn’ where Britain stands alone, conquers lands, and defeats its enemies. This is a typical history. We know this timeline exists. But the subtler of these patriotic dioramas is that which some Remain-supporting liberals fervently defend. These Britains can never come back – because they never really existed.

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Throughout the crisis of the last four years, the concept of Britain’s ‘nation state’ has been inflated like a red white and blue balloon. Those symbols and stories, which were parallel to politics, are now fully integrated into the language of governance. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet trundle around the country, speaking to the beleaguered saying “We’re the best country, we can get through Brexit.” It’s oddly Americanised. They evoke Churchill and the spirit of the Blitz. Churchill being a man who refused aid to a famine-struck Bengal, and that ‘Blitz spirit’ equalling murder, rape, and crime.

The argument would be that there are two sides to every coin. But where the issue of nationality and race come in, surely there’s no argument other than deep shame? Shame that our apparently tolerant Britain has since 2010 expanded a hostile environment for anyone without an Anglo-Saxon surname. The evidence is clear that Britain is a racist state.

When the Home Office decides it will be cutting its support for essential refugee services, it’s hard not to think that we’re living under a wave of xenophobia. Moreover, Security Minister Brandon Lewis revealed that EU citizens should be expecting a visit from the immigration officers if their paperwork isn’t sorted post-Brexit. Fears of a clinical purge are in full swing.

And who would blame people for worrying? When you look across the Atlantic to the horrors of Trump’s border control, you’re inclined to believe that we have more humanity. But seeing Windrush, Yarl’s Wood, that Priti Patel smirk, and the spike in hate crime – can you truly say that the UK is better than this?

We should be under no illusion that a heavy cause for a hostile environment is the Conservatives and their precious Brexit. When one Tory talks about fairness, what they really mean is restriction. When they use that devilled phrase ‘living within one’s means’, it’s a signpost to lost jobs and lost dreams.

The imperial symbolism and Brexiters’ dinner-table rants about brown people are intrinsically linked. “Go back to your own country!” says one bigot, aimed at a young British-Bangladeshi woman who was born in Harrogate. They don’t belong here according to the racist aggrandiser. Both born on the same blob of green on a map, but different in level of entitlement due to their skin colour. These incidents happen every day, more so since 2016.

A ‘Pandora’s Box’ claimed Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council of Britain. And since the initial days of the referendum, these crimes have only increased – all for the right reasons Versi stipulates. Brexit has empowered bigotry and xenophobia. But in parallel is this continuous loyalty to Brexit Britain, a land we must reach and can grow old gracefully.

There’s no evidence that hate crime is going to suddenly plummet in any outcome. Though, can those who want their tolerant Britain back see a way where a drifting Britain suddenly loses its nationalism and racism? If we are to leave on October 31 (as spurious as a defence of a welcoming Britain), from the evidence we’ve seen, won’t November 1 be just as hateful, if not more so?

It is a genuine worry. “We want our country back!” is used to evoke images of better times. They weren’t better times. Regardless of your hopeful outcome on Brexit, the evidence is a dreadful showing of the worst human emotion: hate. And it must be countered in all corners of this green blob for it to truly be dealt with.

In 1948 the calypsonian and singer Lord Kitchener sang the song London is the Place for Me on the deck of the Empire Windrush. He sang of London as magnificent and beautiful, of the English people being ‘very much sociable’.

We cannot suffer the dialogue of nationalism and hate. We must protect all diversity, so that the Britain a young singer from Trinidad once dreamed of, is one we can say is true.🔷

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[This is an original piece, first published by the author in on 10 October 2019. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Dreamstime/Ruletkka.)