Denis MacShane / May 2022
The 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s arrival on the throne of Britain is being celebrated widely across Britain. She has enjoyed silver (1977), golden (2002), diamond (2012) and now her platinum jubilee.
Britain seems to be enjoying the event with street parties and shop windows full of pictures of the Queen and London already filling with tourists as well as soldiers in all the different uniforms of Commonwealth military forces as well as British Army units.
Londoners are taking it all in their stride as main streets are closed off and marching bands of the Guards in red jackets and bearskins go up and down rehearsing for the parades and spectacles being organised.
The growing number of republicans in Britain and those worried that the hard ideological Brexit inflicted on the country by Boris Johnson will lead to Scotland and even now the six north eastern counties of Ireland which are still part of the United Kingdom going their own way are all keeping their heads down.
More perhaps than at any other moment of the Queen’s reign this Platinum Jubilee has a valedictory feel, both a celebration of this very ordinary but at the same this very unusual woman who wore the uniform of the British Army in World War 2, presided over the peaceful loss of empire and nominal greatness (a lesson Vladimir Putin might learn from), saw Britain become a multi-coloured, multi-racial, multi-faith network of communities, join in partnership with European nations for 50 years and then leave in a fit of bad tempered national identity politics and who knows may reforge a partnership with Europe before the Queen’s reign ends?
Brexit has seen Britain become smaller, more shrill, less certain but in a new report published to coincide with the Queen’s Platinum jubilee there is clear evidence that while the political authors of Brexit are stuck in 2016 still reliving what they see as a glorious moment of Englishness, the British people in 2022 are moving on fast. It is published by British Future, the think tank set up by Sunder Katwala, the former general secretary of the Fabian Society, to examine problems of integration, race, immigration that were part of the Brexit matrix.
A key finding for example is that in 2012, as the Brexit campaign’s against Europeans living and working in Britain were gathering force only 32% saw immigration as having a positive effect on the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Today, 53% see immigrants working in the NHS as positive.
In the general election of 2015 when xenophobic anti-Europeans in UKIP, the British National Party, and some high profile Conservatives with powerful backing from the offshore owned press condemned the presence of EU workers in Britain Brexit there was a clear majority hostile to the presence of immigrants in Britain. Yet by the time of the 2019 general election 46% thought immigration had a positive impact compared to 29% who did not.
In 2012, under the influence of Brexit demagogy 55% said “Immigration to Britain will damage economic recovery by taking away jobs from people already living in the UK.” A decade later that Brexit induced xenophobia had reduced by more than half with 53% saying “Immigrants’ skills and labour are necessary to help Britain’s economic recovery” and only 23% still believing the old anti-immigrants Brexit lies.
One of the warmest facts to emerge from the detailed polling is that British people want to welcome non Brits whether as refugees or migrants. 50% of those polled said they “would be interesting in taking part in some welcoming activity.”
It seems that the xenophobic populism against Europeans living and working in Britain that was whipped up in the first 15 years of the 21st century may be fading. No other EU member state had such a sustained year-on-year political-media campaign against other Europeans coming to their countries as the UK faced.
Ireland adopted the same freedom of movement provisions as the UK in 2004 but Irish politicians and opinion formers or influencers did not adopt the rabid Europeanphobic line we saw in Britain. In 2008, the Federation of Poles of Great Britain, published a report on 50 hate headlines aimed at increasing hostility to Polish workers in Britain published by just one paper – the Daily Mail.
Germany and France initially adopted a 7-year transition programme before full freedom of movement but quickly dropped efforts to stop French and German firms hiring Europeans to grow their business.
Non-EU Switzerland voted in 2019 to move to full freedom of movement. 27% of the Swiss population is foreign born and the presence of immigrant workers has only helped the Alpine federal state to become the richest per capita nation in Europe.
It is hard for the supporters of Brexit to find a single positive benefit they can proclaim other than blue UK passports with a darker blue than the light blue of Croatian passports with EU on their front cover. It was always a myth that something called Europe could decide every last details down to the colour of passport covers!
By contrast, the Financial Times every week publishes a new area of concern for British business as losing automatic Single Market access just adds costs and discourages trade.
The latest row with the United States and 27 governments in Europe over Boris Johnson’s obsession with pandering to his pro-Brexit allies in the Democratic Unionist Party is just another example of how Brexit is costing London friends and influence at a global level.
For the time being the Tory Party has to focus on its problems with the Prime Minister. The Labour Party is scared at its leadership level to mention Europe. Business in the UK adopts an omertà policy towards Europe and refuses to challenge the political head-in-the-sand approach of the two main parties.
But as this report shows, the British people are moving on from the propaganda against Europe of a decade ago. Nonetheless there is one stark and worrying fact to emerge from the British Future report. 46% of respondents feel that Britain is now more divided than it was ten years ago.
The constant denigration of anyone who opposes Brexit as a “Remoaner” or a “Remainiac” helps to sustain the sense of division in Britain even as the nation briefly unites to celebrate the 70 years of the Queen’s reign.
And this division will remain until the British once again are allowed again, one way or another, to be partners and friends with their close neighbours across the Channel.
“Jubilee Britain” is published by British Future and written by Steve Ballinger, Sunder Katwala, and Heather Rolfe. www.britishfuture.org