Three first-generation immigrants to the UK explain their reasons for backing Brexit
By William McGee
“Fear of immigrants and foreigners is associated with support for Brexit.” “Brexit made Britain more racist than ever.” “Let’s be honest about what’s really driving Brexit: bigotry.” These are just some of the headlines that have dominated the news since the 2016 EU membership referendum. If we take such claims at face value, it would be almost inconceivable that any immigrant to the UK would have voted Leave. Some, however, did just that.
“I came here as a student and realised a foreign country gave me the privilege as a Commonwealth citizen to decide its future at the ballot box. I didn’t want to squander that,” said Leave-voting software engineer Royston Yinkore, who came to the UK as a student in 2012.
Yinkore, 30, saw the Remain vote as ceding responsibility to an external party for short-term gain. “A country is not just an economic machine but also a home. It’s been the home of the indigenous people for as long as Nigeria has been for my own people. Just as I’d like to be the final authority in my home, the British people need to be the authority in theirs.”
Some foreign-born Leave voters considered EU immigration policy to be discriminatory. “Freedom of movement is a privilege for EU and EEA nation-states. This systematic discrimination against non-EU nations is fundamentally unfair,” said Manick Govinda, whose family moved to the UK from Mauritius in 1965.
Govinda, 55, believes the EU has been detrimental to the arts sector, in which he works as a consultant. “I think the funding of culture from EU funds is partly responsible for perpetuating an identity-obsessed art scene subtly nudging nations into accepting a top-down constructed notion of a European identity. It perpetuates risk-aversive art and it dominates the artistic direction of those cultural institutions to the detriment of the art.”
Australian-born investment analyst Declan Murphy voted Leave and would like to see the UK reconnect with its former partners. “I’d like to see broader trade agreements with Commonwealth nations, such as Canada, who we generally sacrifice for EU trade. I think we should lower tariffs and promote goods the EU has been more protectionist over. More New Zealand lamb would go down a treat.”
As far as the disparaging newspaper headlines are concerned, Murphy, 26, commented: “In a country that’s clearly divided, to paint one side as racist instantly makes the other side seem right, no matter what the debate is. I won’t deny that some racist people exist and some probably voted Leave. Some probably voted to remain as well.”
Govinda confirmed Murphy’s suspicion. “Many Remainers have shown their racism, calling ethnic-minority Brexiteers names such as ‘Uncle Tom’, ‘coconut’ and ‘gammon masala’ because we don’t conform to their constructed idea of ‘blackness’.”
Yinkore has not received such abuse, which he attributes to being a very private person. “I have, however, been met with shock horror from my peers. My social sphere includes mostly working- to middle-class Nigerians, who are generally interested in the economic advantage and standard of living they enjoy in this country. They would not want to do anything to rock the boat and that is valid.
“I voted for the country and not for myself. That’s how I saw it and that’s why my peers can’t comprehend it.”