There is an undercurrent of hostility towards Britain in much of Europe today among people at large as a result of the fallout of the British referendum that resulted in the country’s exit from the European Union. It is not that it has suddenly emerged. Resentment over Britain’s big-brother attitude was always there but it is more manifest today in what many see as a betrayal of Europe.
In Britain and Germany, which this writer visited over the last couple of weeks, there are differing emotions but apprehensions are aplenty. The threat of a slowdown in the economies hangs like a Democles’ sword. The fall in the value of the British pound has heightened fears that the country may slip into a recession. The pound is indeed on a downward spiral in world markets and with power shortly passing into the hands of a woman whose capacity to cope with the numerous challenges is untested, the Britons are waiting and watching with a sense of grim foreboding.
Yet, the British are too proud to admit that they erred in leaving EU. They say the smaller countries in Europe were a drag on the union and that they are now in for hard times. They expect the European Union to split further as the members realise the futility of depending on the EU.
There are those among the Germans I met who felt Britain’s exit from EU was long overdue. By not agreeing to a common currency for Europe, the British had sabotaged the union and hit at its very foundation. They deserved to be jettisoned, a German strategist told this writer.
The Germans and the French who too, like the British, are vain and given to attacks of arrogance were never reconciled to any form of British domination. The anger over Brexit manifested in some as hostility towards the English language. A German Customs officer at Bonn airport refused to answer any question put to her in English. ‘No English please,’ she admonished me when I enquired about the VAT refund counter at the airport.
A taxi driver predicted that Britain would be finished and would be steeped in poverty over the next few years as a result of Brexit — evidently a unduly harsh reaction without a sound basis.
While hate mail on twitter or other social networking sites was routine even earlier in Britain, now more and more reports are emerging of real-life physical and verbal confrontations. A Muslim schoolgirl was reportedly cornered by a group of people who told her: “Get out, we voted Leave.” Likewise, eastern Europeans were believed to have been stopped from using the London Underground with shouts of “Go back to your own country.”
In Hammersmith, in Newcastle, a placard was placed urging the country to “start repatriation.” These may appear to be isolated incidents, but there is no denying that those opposed to immigrants are hoping to reap a rich harvest of hatred as Britain braces itself for new challenges in the wake of Brexit.
As the British economy flounders, the anger of the dispossessed is bound to grow. In this vortex of hate there are many Asian immigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who feel that their means of livelihood could be on the chopping block. Some, however, flex their muscles and bravely announce that they cannot be wished away.
According to the British Social Attitudes, almost 50 per cent of the population feel immigration has a negative impact on the British economy. Similar sentiments may also be found even within some established migrant communities, with individuals fearful that fresh waves of migrants will take their jobs or their children’s school places, as was voiced during the referendum campaign.
The truth is that immigrants from South Asia are a boon on the whole for Britain but as emotions begin to build up they are bound to be ridiculed by the diehards who look upon them as villains.
The leadership vacuum across both main parties in Britain risks polarising the anti-immigrant parties and leaders further. To prevent the continued and unchecked growth of such bigotry, politicians and media organisations must cease fuelling religious, racial and ethnic tensions to further their petty agendas but this realisation is not dawning on them.
There is indeed no denying that in Scotland and Northern Ireland the separatists who have been threatening to break away from United Kingdom are gaining ground. While a fair and square referendum in Scotland a couple of years ago had revealed greater support for staying in the union, things could be different if a fresh vote was taken now or in the foreseeable future.
Significantly, the Scots had voted for staying in the EU last month and some of their leaders are threatening to keep their connection with EU going despite the British exit.
Some of the European countries would be only too keen to cajole the Scots to defy the British and they could well succeed, given the growing anti-British sentiment in Scotland.
Clearly, the new British government will have a lot on its plate in coming months and years. While the economic slide and the fall of the pound would be major worries, the secessionists could deal a big blow to the government of the day. The next few months would indeed be crucial for the well-being and the general health of Great Britain. As for the governments in Europe, they too would have their cup of woes filled to the brim ,with the weakening of cohesion.