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The representation of BAME communities in the Brexit resistance

Marie Aouanes-Perriere
p. 89-110

Résumé

On 23 June 2016 51.9% of UK voters opted to leave the European Union, but it did not deter remainers from setting up a myriad of pro-EU grassroots organisations to fight against such an unexpected outcome. However, it seems that they did not actively seek to recruit voters from ethnic minorities, and results revealed that a third of BAME voters endorsed Leave. The Brexit referendum campaign appeared to have been essentially led by white, middle-class activists, thus de facto excluding BAME individuals. Focusing on the Ethnic Minority for a People’s Vote campaign and on interviews with pro-EU local grassroots groups and activists, we shall ponder to what extent the remain campaign has mirrored the diversity of British society. Most importantly, this article will present an account of how anti-Brexit groups have been reflecting on the issue, some admitting that they “missed a trick”.

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Introduction

  • 1 It has been widely reported that people categorised as BAME or BME (Black and minority ethnic) cons (...)
  • 2 Ashcroft, 2016, p.10.

1In multicultural Britain, Brexit has increased social inequalities thus highlighting social cleavages fuelled by far-right politics and populism. A peak in racism, hate crimes and discrimination has been recorded since the UK voted to leave the EU on 23 June 2016 as though the results justified overt abuse, discrimination, racist attitudes and comments towards ethnic minority groups. The referendum has not only divided British society but has also accentuated the marginalisation of minority groups, who were ignored in the Brexit debate and overlooked by both the leave and remain sides during the referendum campaign and negotiations. Yet, the BAME1 (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities account for 14.4% of the UK population and leaving the EU will have negative consequences on them, because they are socioeconomically more vulnerable than their “white” British counterparts. Immigration and sovereignty were strong arguments in the Leave campaign, which blamed Europe for Britain’s ills and succeeded in convincing 51.9% of the British population that Britain’s future was outside of the EU, including a third of BAME populations.2 However, in the aftermath of Brexit, a myriad of pro-European grassroots groups campaigned to stay in the European Union but failed to address the social and economic impact Brexit will have on BAME individuals. One may wonder why the BAME population was also under-represented in the remain campaign? Would it be accurate to call it a “white-middle-class campaign”, as activists often describe it? Has the remain campaign been the sheer reflection of UK politics where ethnic minorities have been ‘left behind’? In the interests of protecting human rights and more particularly non-discrimination rights guaranteed by the EU Charter, it would be important to investigate the link between pro-EU groups and organisations defending ethnic minorities. Indeed, the late anti-Brexit advocacy group People’s Vote (PV; 2018-2019) seemed to be the only organisation which brought visibility to the BAME communities in the context of Brexit by setting up Ethnic minorities for a People’s Vote (EM4PV) in August 2018. With the slogan “Let us be heard” they intended to get ethnic minority voters more involved in the People’s Vote campaign thus touching upon the issue of representation and lack of diversity and inclusiveness in the referendum campaign.

BAME and Brexit: a brief state of affairs

2In November 2018, Race on the Agenda (ROTA) released a report to raise the alarm regarding the lack of information about the impact of Brexit on ethnic minorities. They emphasised on the importance to expose socio-economic consequences and developed a detailed assessment to prevent potential knock-on-effect on BAME communities:

  • 3 McIntosh, K., R. Mirza and Dr I. S. Ali, 2018, p.1.

Despite BAME people in Britain numbering eight million – more than the population of Scotland and Wales combined – their voice and concerns have been missing from both the Brexit campaign and negotiations.” Consultations with BAME non- governmental organisations (NGOs), volunteer and community organisations, front-line workers who are bearing the brunt of Brexit economic impact have not been conducted and should take place as a matter of urgency3.

BAME and political engagement

  • 4 In 1984 there were 4 BAME MPs and they were 65 in 2019. However, to be representative of the UK pop (...)
  • 5 Uberoi, E. and N., Johnston, 2021.
  • 6 Omer, N., 2019.
  • 7 Ibid

3According to recent studies, BAME individuals who cast their ballots during the 2016 referendum showed similar voting patterns to the rest of UK voters. Even though ethnic minorities have reached increasing levels of representation in the country’s politics over the years, their lack of involvement in British politics is still frowned upon4. However, according to House of Commons briefing paper on political disengagement in the UK published in February 2021, minorities seemed to be more engaged than their white equivalents5. This shows that not targeting them in the remain campaign could be interpreted as a mistake, as Nimo Omer reflects in her article: “As someone who is campaigning with the People’s Vote movement, I have had to take a step back and ask: why aren’t there more people that look like me in this campaign?”6. She adds that she relates “the frustration that [BAME activists] felt within the movement because of the lack of urgency in recruiting Bame voices”7. Indeed, she clearly explains that excluding BAME voters goes beyond mere neglect, and associates it to political miscalculation:

  • 8 Ibid

It isn’t just a moral issue – it would be a tactical mistake to exclude such a significant proportion of voters. While the “heavyweights” of the Leave campaign continue to promise a nostalgia-fuelled vision of Britain harking back to empire and expansion, we need to propose a forward-looking and positive image of our future that celebrates inclusion and diversity8.

  • 9 Uberoi, E. and N., Johnston, 2021.
  • 10 For a full account please see The Electoral Commission, “Voter engagement among black and minority (...)
  • 11 Richards, L. and B. Marshall, 2003, p.4.
  • 12 Ibid
  • 13 Stewart, H., 2022

4As previously mentioned, it appears that BAME individuals have historically been less likely to register to vote and also less inclined to go to the polls. Nevertheless, since the late 1990s, there has been an increasing influence of ethnic minority vote on British elections. The Brexit referendum turnout figures revealed that 54% of them voted compared with 74% of white voters9. Indeed, low turnout among BAME communities is mainly because they do not think their vote would make a difference10. However, differences do persist between subgroups influenced by generic and sociodemographic factors as Richards and Marshall demonstrate in their research paper: “Those of black African heritage have one of the lowest levels of registration in the UK, while registration rates among certain Asian communities are as high, if not higher, than for the white population”11. According to The Guardian, amid the 4 million BAME electorate and the 400,000 eligible voters from the Commonwealth, a third did not sign up to vote in the referendum12. One might remember Operation Black Vote’s (OBV) controversial poster meant to foster BAME individuals to register to vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Indeed, OBV launched a “deliberately hard-hitting campaign” and imagined that the best way “to convey the message that everyone’s vote carries equal weight” was to “[depict] an aggressive-looking skinhead on a see-saw, jabbing his finger at an Asian woman – who nevertheless sits level with him”13.

BAME and the Brexit vote

  • 14 Martin, S., N., M. Sobolewska and N. Begum, 2019.
  • 15 Parveen, N., 2016.
  • 16 Pickard, J., 2016.
  • 17 One of Muslims for Britain’s leaflets asked for a fairer immigration system and stated: “Why is it (...)

5Minorities were divided along educational and generational lines. Even though a majority voted to stay in the EU, the fact remains that 32% of them opted to leave the EU, which clearly shows that “Vote Leave succeeded among some voters in escaping the association with racism that makes the Conservative party unattractive to many minority voters”14, as The Guardian predicted only 22 days before the referendum15. Indeed, “the argument that limiting European immigrants will give Commonwealth citizens easier access has been increasingly put forward by the Out campaign”16 and constitutes one of the strongest motivations for the resentment felt by ethnic minorities against Eastern Europeans17.

6Finally, non-UK born individuals were more likely to support Brexit, whereas those who were young, born in the UK, educated and obtained a degree turned out to advocate for remain. Another similarity with white Brexiteers is that BAME leavers also felt anxious regarding EU immigration, more specifically from Turkey and expressed some concerns about national sovereignty. We shall go back to this aspect in more detail in the second part of this article.

Methodology, research design and data collection

7My interrogations were partly based on empirical research in the UK. It is clear that the campaign was mainly white middle-class but the reasons behind such a negligence on their part has remained unexplored. Therefore, the main question I asked activists was: “why they did not seek to recruit BAME voters in their campaign?”- and I managed to gather insightful responses. As a result, interviews with anti-Brexit activists and articles in which BAME journalists denounced the invisibility of ethnic minorities on the political scene, led me to conclude that the only organisation that openly promoted the BAME community was EM4PV, but I failed to get in touch with former team members. In November 2020 I contacted two pro-EU activists who I had interviewed before, like Brenda Ashton from LfE, because she is half Chinese, and Femi Oluwole who is of Nigerian origin and the former leader of the pro-EU youth group Our Future Our Choice. I also got in touch with four other organisations, all led by white activists. Interviewing other groups enabled to get the bigger picture with for instance the national group called “the3million” who is defending EU citizens’ rights in the UK, as well as other groups exposed to much diversity like London 4 Europe (L4E), the online group Britain for All (BfA) and smaller groups comparable to LfE like Preston 4 Europe (P4E). In the context of the pandemic, all interviews were conducted online either over the phone or via Zoom. The reasons behind the absence of BAME communities in the movement but also whether activists had heard about EM4PV allowed me to understand and explain why EM4PV missed out on addressing its message to local organisations and to create a supportive network for ethnic minorities.

8I prepared a set of questions and divided them into three main areas: general information about the group (date of creation, main objectives, degree of involvement in the campaign and their members’ profiles), the remain campaign and the place of BAME individuals- in other words, how race and ethnicity were tackled during the referendum campaign, and finally how they have been campaigning since the UK left the EU. All interviews were recorded (with the consent of interviewees) so that the conversation could remain natural and somehow spontaneous, as I sometimes had to adapt the questions depending on the group’s profile and activists’ responses.

BAME in the pro-EU grassroots movements

  • 18 Ashton, B., 2020 (a).

I’m actually active in BAME groups as my father was Chinese but there has been little voice for recruiting BAME members to the pro-EU groups or remain. We missed a trick […] We should’ve targeted more BAME groups. I don’t like the term but understand why Lexiters in particular branded the EU as exclusive and white. They’re misguided18.

  • 19 Weldon, L. S., 2011, p. 5.
  • 20 Ibid, p. 21.
  • 21 Asthana, A., 2016.
  • 22 Ibid

9In When Protest Makes Policy, Weldon explains that “while they are not perfect, social movements are still the best avenues of representation for disadvantaged groups”19. Anti-Brexit grassroots groups being loosely structured organisations they are more likely to include minority groups and thus to have more impact on the remain campaign as Weldon confirms: “Social movements are more effective at representing marginalized groups not when they have formal rules or electoral processes but when they are characterized by norms of inclusivity”20. And yet BAME voters were not only overlooked during the Brexit debate, but also in the remain campaign. However, it is worth mentioning that during the referendum campaign Stronger In Europe (The UK government official remain advocacy group) did launch a campaign to attract BAME voters, and recruited hundreds of ethnic minority volunteers “to help push the message, distributing leaflets outside mosques, temples and churches, and visiting small companies to make the economic case”21. They appointed Conservative MP Alok Sharma to coordinate the British Indians for IN campaign branch and insisted on the financial aspect of Brexit warning BAME individuals and more specifically “Indian business leaders across the financial, hospitality, care, media and healthcare sectors [to warn them] about the impacts of Brexit”22. Sharma was aware of the importance of BAME votes in the Brexit referendum and also acknowledged low turnout among the communities:

  • 23 Ibid

[BAME] voters are much more likely to vote to remain in the EU and, in a close contest, their votes could be absolutely crucial in determining the outcome of the referendum. However, the key will be to get BME voters to register and actually turn out and vote in sufficient numbers, and it would be hugely complacent to take the view that these voters are somehow already ‘in the bag’ for the IN campaign23.

Supporting theories and relevant literature

10The pro-EU grassroots movement is new in the field of sociology and most of findings were based on empirical evidence. Nevertheless, since 2016 scholars have been studying the impact of Brexit on ethnic minorities as well as the reasons behind their vote in the referendum and this constitutes a strong and informative basis when one is willing to decipher ethnic minorities’ identity politics and ethnocentrism in the context of Brexit which has challenged traditional political alignments.

  • 24 Ibid, p.2.

11Neema Begum, Maria Sobolewska and Robert Ford have studied the heterogeneity of political preferences within the ethnic groups that the UK is composed of, and how the Brexit vote went beyond traditional party lines. Begum identified young, female, qualified and UK-born Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Black Caribbean and Black African as remainers, and these communities voted for the same reasons as their white counterparts (human rights, the environment, pro-immigration, freedom of movement, peace). Indeed, only 25% of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Black Caribbean and Black African groups voted to exit the EU. They also rejected the idea of “taking back control” which was reminiscent of the UK’s colonial past and repudiated the xenophobic and racist tone of the leave campaign. However, unlike their white equivalents, their main motivation to vote remain was to condemn the pro-Brexit anti-immigration rhetoric and was not necessarily synonymous with an attachment to the EU and its institutions: “Seventy-five per cent of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people voted to Remain, not necessarily out of passion for the EU but out of a fear of what the Leave campaign represented”24.

  • 25 Martin, S., N., M., Sobolewska and N. Begum, 2019.

12In their study from 2019, Martin, Sobolewska and Begum give substantial elements about pro-leave organisations set up and led by British minorities and reveal the existence of a pro-Brexit grassroots campaign. Just like anti-Brexit grassroots groups, they defended the interests of the UK outside the EU: Save Our Curry Houses (which regrouped Africans for Britain, Muslims for Britain, The Bangladeshi Caterers Association) claimed that EU immigration hampered UK labour market and resulted in shortages in the curry industry25. Amid 32% of ethnic minorities who turned out to support Brexit most of them happened to be Asian, male, rather elderly who were not born in the UK (48% of ethnic minority population was born on the British soil and 52% abroad).

Figure 1- Leidig, E., 2019.

  • 26 Osterley and Spring Grove in Hounslow, west London, a mainly ethnic minority ward which had a Leave (...)
  • 27 Peston, R., 2017.
  • 28 Martin, S., N., M., Sobolewska and N. Begum, 2019.

13They lived in west London boroughs (Ealing and Hounslow)26, perceived Europe as controlling, and were anxious about UK borders and hostile towards immigration coming from Eastern Europe: “almost every Asian I met said to me that they would be voting for Brexit, in part because of their concerns about what they perceived to be excessive immigration”27. Immigration coming from the EU27 was considered as unfair towards people who had migrated from Commonwealth countries, rather than threatening as their white counterparts may have experienced it: “the anti-immigrant argument turned specifically towards migrants from Central and Eastern Europe, this fitted well with perceptions of unjust treatment of other migrant groups compared to those from the EU”28.

  • 29 Leidig, E., 2019.
  • 30 Ibid
  • 31 Dreda S., M., 2016.

14Eviane Leifid conducted interviews to understand their motive behind such a decision. Statistics show that 40% of pro-Brexiteers were British Indians (who are both the largest foreign-born population, and the largest ethnic minority group in the UK)29 and black Caribbeans. Indeed, Brexit exposed divides between Blacks and Asians, on one side, and ethnic minority groups on the other and seemed to be the opportunity to highlight the heterogeneity among the different communities. She identified four reasons: immigration from other EU member states over the Commonwealth, as Britons believed in a shared cultural heritage with former colonies. Moreover, they recognised the preference of the EU single market, some sort of preferential treatment, and by voting for Brexit they were hoping to see economic and trade links strengthen. Eviane Leifid gathered a third piece of evidence explaining that BAME communities have felt frustrated with their representation in the British media and politics in general. Fourthly, they wanted to break Brexit stigmatisation which says that all leavers are racist30. Like their white counterparts, BAME leavers opposed and rejected EU’s prevalence over their country: “The EU debate isn’t about bent bananas or migrants on the take; it’s about democracy. There doesn’t seem much point in electing MPs if their votes can be overridden by supranational institutions like the EU or tax-dodging corporations”31. What’s more, ethnic minority leavers, most of whom are of Islamic faith, felt that some EU members were anti-Muslim and racist, and thus believed their religion was better accepted in Britain.

Hypothesis

15The assumption that the remain campaign was led by white middle-class activists rests upon the fact that out of 30 interviews (conducted between 2017 and 2021) as well as participant observation in London, Bristol and Liverpool, I noticed BAME individuals were absent and never mentioned as part of the groups’ campaign objectives. Results from a survey I did back in March 2020 to investigate on LfE’s socio-demographic profile showed that out of 67 respondents, 88.8% of group members were of white ethnicity which correlates with our hypothesis (Figure 2).

Figure 2 - Source: Aouanes-Perriere, M., 2021 (a)

  • 32 Haque, Z., 2018.
  • 33 Corcoran H., and K. Smith, 2016.

16As previously mentioned, ethnic minorities were ignored and overlooked during the Brexit debate and people started to draw attention to them only after the referendum when the UK witnessed a rise in racism and hate crime32 which triggered a feeling of regret to some BAME leavers. Indeed, the Home Office published a report in 2016 and recorded a 16% increase between 2015 and 2016 where hate crimes were at the top of the list (76%). 2016 shows an increase from 3,000 to 5,500 offences: “Whilst January to May 2016 follows a similar level of hate crime to 2015, the number of racially or religiously aggravated offences recorded by the police in July 2016 was 41% higher than in July 2015” (figure 3)33.

Figure 3 – Source : Corcoran H. and K. Smith, 2016

  • 34 “European migrants are not “citizens of nowhere” or “queue jumpers” as the Prime Minister would hav (...)
  • 35 In 2013 Mete Coban founded My Life My Say meant to foster youth voting registration. He believes th (...)

17It is fundamental to bear in mind the views of key ethnic minority figures such as Labour MP David Lammy, who vigorously defended the rights of EU citizens34 and supported remaining in the EU, or former EM4PV’s head of campaign Bashir Ibrahim and Mete Coban who also participated in the campaign.35 I have also gone through EM4PV’s Twitter and Facebook accounts which were essentially composed of campaign events or newspaper articles supporting BAME communities.

A white-middle class campaign?

Data Analysis and result

18Interviews revealed mixed results as some groups like P4E and L4E were, to some extent, involved with ethnic minorities and did try to include them in their campaign, while others, such as LfE, BfA or the3million completely ignored BAME individuals, and later admitted that more attention should have been paid to them. Indeed, the grassroots had two main objectives: to attract remainers and defend human rights. Not only do BAME constitute a large electorate, but they were also the most exposed to Brexit social and economic consequences. Among interviewees only Brenda Ashton (LfE) and Femi Oluwole were BAME activists and turned out to be completely estranged to the cause. However, L4E was the most engaged with the cause as the group specifically made it a strategic target that they should reach out to members of the BAME community.

People’s Vote

  • 36 EM4PV, 2019.
  • 37 Mete Coban founded My Life My Say (MLMS) in 2013 and was awarded an MBE for his work with young, un (...)
  • 38 Coban, M. 2019.

19The PV’s campaign was launched in April 2018 to campaign for a final public vote on the Brexit deal. When in October 2019 the umbrella organisation decided to launch a national march it gathered hundreds of thousands pro-Europeans and the mobilisation was heavily covered in the national press. In a tweet EM4PV declared “It’s so important for marginalised communities to stand together to discuss how Brexit will impact US as we demand the #FinalSay”36. Additionally, Mete Coban37, also tweeted: “It was brilliant to join the Ethnic Minority for a PV rally at the #PeoplesVote march today to stand up for social justice, fairness and those who often feel powerless. Hats off to @BashOIbrahim for his tireless work to give minorities a voice on a final say”38. EM4PV was indeed the only grassroots organisation which focussed its campaign on representing the BAME communities as Nimo Omer positively states:

  • 39 Omer, N., 2019.

The existence of groups like Ethnic Minorities for a People’s Vote is testimony to the fact that there is a concerted effort from Bame activists and the People’s Vote movement itself to champion diversity and inclusion. But these efforts are frequently met with an uncomfortable silence. This issue clearly transcends the People’s Vote campaign specifically, and speaks to a problem that plagues the political landscape across this country39.

20Unfortunately, the group did not manage to unite the grassroots and PV ended in December 2019 due to internal conflict. Only Femi Oluwole and the3million knew about EM4PV, but the rest of the grassroots ignored its existence which reveals the weak resonance of the branch within the movement:

  • 40 Ashton, B. 2020 (b).

We are amateurs, remember we are grassroots! The umbrella bodies didn’t make anything out of this. I didn’t know there was a person for BAME! I never knew that- nobody ever told me that. If they had written to us about it, if they’d highlighted it, I think the penny would have dropped, I think we would have realised we missed a trick there. He [Bashir Ibrahim] said that we have missed something and that’s why it’s stuck in my mind. […] a lost opportunity. I am aggrieved, I’m not ashamed but you know I do think that we missed something there and we should have paid more attention to it40.

21Indeed, for instance P4E who collaborated closely with PV were not familiar with their ethnic minority branch. Surprisingly enough, Femi, despite being of Nigerian origin, did not participate in EM4PV, because he oversaw youth group Our Future Our Choice (OFOC), and leading that campaign prevailed over defending ethnic minority rights.

The grassroots

  • 41 Ibid

22LfE recognised the lack of engagement in the BAME cause, and the head of campaign B. Ashton admitted that BAME remainers were not an obvious target41. The group did not aim at a particular demography and Ashton confessed that they could have put in place strategies to attract the BAME electorate:

  • 42 Ibid

We could have gone to the chip shops, we could have gone to the community centres, we could have gone to speak to them, and we didn’t […] Looking back, perhaps we should have had a strategy. We were a small organisation that just went out campaigning so, we didn’t have an active strategy to target groups. We missed an opportunity. We should have done more for ethnic minorities, at least tried.42

23Set up in 2014 to refute Britain First’s far-right anti-Islam group, BfA was a very amateur online group single-handedly led by former portfolio manager for investment Dan Old. The group, which started off as anti-far right, anti-Islamophobic initiative, never thought of targeting BAME voters either:

  • 43 Old, D., 2020.

Britain First then changed into an actually political party. They actually reached a million followers at one point. They’re awful. They were like the lowest hanging political fruit you could still think of, they were blatantly fake, real bad lies. […] They stopped all of their anti-Islam campaigning completely and switched it on to anti-EU stuff43.

  • 44 In our interview Dan Old thought of joining the climate change cause.

24Its branding “Britain for All” and logo which represents hands of different colour joined together on the Union Jack (just like members of a sport team would cheer each other up before starting an important game) were both misleading as they seem to appeal to diversity. Indeed, I expected BfA to promote and support inclusiveness, but its aims and campaign objectives remained unclear.44 In our interview Dan Old adds that although he had proper links with the pro-EU movement through groups like Scientists for EU or March for Change, he admitted that the group had less structure when it comes to the minority-type of groups, which he personally found cliché. Indeed, Dan Old did not feel entitled to lead such a campaign:

  • 45 Ibid

I’m just a white guy, so it shouldn’t be just a white guy (laughs) behind something like Britain for All […] I quite like Europe and I think I’m European, but I’ve never been as passionate about it as they seem to be. […] I supposed that’s why there’s a beginning of maybe a link to what you’re looking at. They were really racist. Really bigoted. Really didn’t like the idea of the EU… I changed the name of the page to Britain for All, sort of a recognition of that, more and just anti-one specific far-right group, making it more sort of encompassing of a positive message for unity and working together on things and collaboration45.

25When Nicolas Hatton launched the3million, the people who reached out were mostly Poles and Romanians, not ethnic minorities originating from the Commonwealth. Indeed, the group focuses on defending EU citizens living in the UK and considers that they represent the UK’s European diaspora. What’s more, Hatton confessed that the first community they were willing to include were young people with the creation of the3million Young Europeans, because this is how the3million envisioned inclusiveness. However, he recognised the lack of BAME activists in the remain campaign:

  • 46Je me souviens… c’était il y a un an et demi j’étais à “Parliament Square” à Londres, il y avait u (...)

I remember, a year and half ago I was in Parliament Square in London and there was a Hooligan rally. They came to mess around, waved the English flag. The march was quiet and amongst them there was a Black individual who started to call out to people saying: ‘where are my brothers?’. I must admit that it was a very white gathering, not a single Black person… and one could feel embarrassment, even guilt…it is the epitome of pro-Europeans’ failure to attract people from their outer natural circle.46

26P4E is an interesting case. The group worked with Preston Windrush Generation and explained that, even though there were conversations happening about race they were largely to do with the Windrush generation. According to Callum Taylor (P4E’s secretary) the Windrush scandal directly affects minorities to the point where their family members could be getting deported. Indeed, a lot of the time and energy went into that, whereas with the European Movement (EM) and the Brexit side of things it didn’t affect the BAME community in the way as the Windrush has. This echoes what Martin et al. observed:

  • 47 Martin, S., N., M., Sobolewska and N. Begum, 2019.

Whilst Remain campaigners talked about potential disruption to the lives and threats to the civil rights of EU immigrants to the UK, ethnic minorities with British citizenship were being detained and deported with little mainstream outcry before the Windrush scandal gained public attention in 201847.

  • 48 In November 2020 N. Hopkinson was a member of the Liberal Democrat Party.

27Finally, L4E, one of the 225 EM branches, was the only group which actively sought to recruit BAME activists and probably the most insightful. However, the group could not tell me more about its BAME activism in general as the EM does not do diversity questionnaires. London being the most diverse area of the UK: of the 8.88 million people living in the city at the time of the most recent UK estimates, 3.32 million (37%) were born outside of the United Kingdom, one can say that L4E did consider the diversity of its area. Its vice-chair, Nick Hopkinson48, confessed that attracting BAME activists was not an easy task though and their major effort was during the referendum campaign. The group got in contact with Sikhs and Pakistanis through personal networks and did a series of talks to the Sikh community in east London Gurdwaras and a stream of work with the Pakistani community. L4E would talk about the advantages of EU membership then they would get down to some community specifics during question time. Nick Hopkinson took as a formative experience as he visited parts of London where he had never been in the past and it gave him a rather different perspective of his country. However, he admitted that it was hard to get them engaged in committees, as they did invite a few of them onto their executive, they didn’t last too long. He also adds that after the referendum when the campaign got centralised in Millbank and was supervised by PV, he found it harder to continue to keep up working with BAME activists and decided to focus on what went wrong.

Conclusion

  • 49 “Whilst Remain campaigners talked about potential disruption to the lives and threats to the civil (...)

This article has sought to highlight the lack of visibility of ethnic minority groups in the remain grassroots campaign in the UK. Empirical evidence shows that the campaign was essentially white in its vision as well as in its leadership. Conversely, the Leave campaign did not disregard potential BAME Brexiteers. Leave campaigners were quite successful in twisting their anti-European rhetoric to accommodate the concerns of this type of voters. One may draw a few conclusions from these findings. First, the late realisation that BAME voters could have constituted powerful activists; second the priority given to EU residents living in the UK in the pro-EU movement49; third, groups’ focus on recruiting BAME activists had nothing to do with personal motivation but rather relied on geography or on the existence of advocacy groups linked with the Windrush scandal; and, fourth, the failure of PV to build a strong and supportive network. However, limits persist with regards to the lack of information available on EM4PV’s campaign. Finally, one may acknowledge the fact that Black Europeans were also left out of the conversation:

  • 50 McIntosh, K., R. Mirza and Dr I. S. Ali, 2018.

The future is uncertain for EU citizens living in the UK who wish to gain settled status. The experiences of BAME people born in EU member states are not discussed as part of the debate. About 10% of the EU-born population of the UK are ethnic minorities, numbering 250,000 people – the size of a medium-sized British town.50

28These difficulties and grey areas highlight the fact that the representation of BAME in the Brexit resistance remains a key field of enquiry to further our understanding of the politics of the opponents to Brexit in the years following the referendum.

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Martin, S., N., M. Sobolewska and N. Begum, “Left out of the Left Behind? Ethnic minority support of Brexit”, Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, 22 January 2019, <http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3320418>, accessed 25 March 2022.

McIntosh, K., R. Mirza and Dr I. S. Ali, Brexit for BAME Britain. Investigating the impact”, ROTA, November 2018, <https://www.rota.org.uk/sites/default/files/events/ROTA%20Brexit%20for%20BME%20briefing%20221118.pdf>, accessed 16 April 2022.

Modood, T., “Political Blackness and British Asians”, Sociology, Vol. 28, No.4, pp.859-876, November 1994.

Omer, N., “We still haven’t acknowledge the overwhelming whiteness of Brexit”, The Independent, 20 May 2019, <https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/brexit-peoples-vote-diversity-white-march-bame-diversity-ofoc-politics-a8921581.html>, accessed 3 April 2022.

Parris, M., “‘BME’ is racist and misleading. Let’s drop it”, The Times, 6 February 2016, <https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/bme-is-racist-and-misleading-lets-drop-it-d3q87mxj9zz>, accessed 24 March 2022.

Parveen N., “Why do some ethnic minority voters want to leave the EU?”, The Guardian, 1 June 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/01/british-asians-views-eu-referendum-figures-brexit>, accessed 3 April 2022.

Peston, R., “Robert Peston: ‘I don’t appear to be living in the same Britain as much of the rest of the country’”, The Telegraph, 29 October 2017, < https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/robert-peston-dont-appear-living-britain-much-rest-country/>, accessed 21 March 2022.

Pickard, J., “Vote Leave Woos British Asians with migration leaflets”, Financial Times, 19 May 2016, <https://www.ft.com/content/94adcefa-1dd5-11e6-a7bc-ee846770ec15>, accessed 8 March 2022.

Richards L. and B. Marshall “Political engagement among black and minority ethnic communities: what we know, what we need to know”, The Electoral Commission, 3 November 2003, < https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/sites/default/files/electoral_commission_pdf_file/BMEresearchseminarpaper_11354-8831__E__N__S__W__.pdf>, accessed 31 March 2022.

Rosenbaum, M., “Local voting figures shed new light on EU referendum”, BBC NEWS, 6 February 2017, < https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-38762034>, accessed 21 March 2022.

Stewart, H., “EU referendum poster aimed at minority ethnic vote causes controversy”, The Guardian, 16 May 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/may/25/eu-referendum-poster-minority-ethnic-voters>, accessed 3 April 2022.

Uberoi E., and N. Johnston, “Political disengagement in the UK: who is disengaged?”, House of Commons Library, Number CBP-7501, 25 February 2021, <https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7501/CBP-7501.pdf>, accessed 26 march 2022.

Uberoi E., and R. Tunnicliffe, “Ethnic diversity in politics and public life”, House of Commons Library, 15 November 2022, < https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN01156/SN01156.pdf>, accessed 26 March 2022.

Weldon, L., S. When Protest Makes Policy, University of Michigan Press, 2011.

Interviews conducted by the author

Ashton, B., Liverpool for Europe, Zoom call, 25 November 2020 (a).

Ashton, B., Liverpool for Europe, Zoom call, 10 December 2020 (b).

Hatton, N., the3million, Zoom Call, 9 December 2020.

Hopkinson, N., London4EU, 10 December 2020.

Ibrahim, B., Twitter/emails, 4 December 2020.

Old, D., Britain for All, Zoom call, 13 December 2020.

Oluwole, F., Zoom call, 25 November 2020.

Taylor, C. and O. Gomez-Cash, Preston for Europe, Zoom call, 27 November 2020.

Books

Sobolewska M. and R. Ford, Brexitland, Cambridge University Press, 2020.

Weldon, L., S. When Protest Makes Policy, University of Michigan Press, 2011.

Articles

Begum, N., “Minority ethnic attitudes and the 2016 EU referendum”, The UK in a Changing Europe, 6 February 2018, <https://ukandeu.ac.uk/minority-ethnic-attitudes-and-the-2016-eu-referendum/>, accessed 19 March 2022.

Dreda, S., M., “So what if I’m black and thinking about voting for Brexit?”, The Guardian, 22 March 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/22/black-voting-brexit-out-campaign>, accessed 21 March 2022.

Martin, S., N., M. Sobolewska and N. Begum, “Left out of the Left Behind? Ethnic minority support of Brexit”, Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, 22 January 2019, <http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3320418>

Press articles

Asthana, A., “Remain campaigners step up efforts to secure ethnic minority votes”, The Guardian, 1 June 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/01/remain-campaigners-eu-referendum-step-up-efforts-to-secure-ethnic-minority-votes?CMP=gu_com>, accessed 3 April 2022.

Haque, Z., “Britain’s eight million ethnic minorities are still being ignored over Brexit”, The New Stateman, 11 September 2018, < https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/brexit/2018/09/britain-s-eight-million-ethnic-minorities-are-still-being-ignored-over>, accessed 25 march 2022.

Haque, Z., “Britain’s eight million ethnic minorities are still being ignored over Brexit”, The New Stateman, 11 September 2018, < https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/brexit/2018/09/britain-s-eight-million-ethnic-minorities-are-still-being-ignored-over>, accessed 25 march 2022.

Ibrahim, B., “As a Muslim, I feel compelled to back a people’s vote”, Islam21c.com, <https://www.islam21c.com/politics/as-a-muslim-i-feel-compelled-to-back-a-peoples-vote-on-brexit/>, accessed 2 September 2022.

Lammy, D., “David Lammy’s speech to the Commons: ‘Britain did not become ‘Great’ in total isolation’”, The New Stateman, 5 June 2019, <https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk-politics/2019/06/david-lammy-s-speech-commons-britain-did-not-become-great-total-isolation >, accessed 2 September 2022.

Leidig, E., “Why are British Indians more likely than other ethnic minority group to support Brexit?”, UK in a Changing Europe, 28 June 2019, <https://ukandeu.ac.uk/why-are-british-indians-more-likely-than-any-other-ethnic-minority-group-to-support-brexit/>, accessed 25 March 2022.

Murphy, S., “Why I’m attending the Ethnic Minorities for a People’s Vote pre-march rally”, Asian Image, 16 October 2019, <https://www.asianimage.co.uk/news/17973478.attending-ethnic-minorities-peoples-vote-pre-march-rally/>, accessed 4 April 2022.

Omer, N., “We still haven’t acknowledge the overwhelming whiteness of Brexit”, The Independent, 20 May 2019, <https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/brexit-peoples-vote-diversity-white-march-bame-diversity-ofoc-politics-a8921581.html>, accessed 3 April 2022.

Parveen N., “Why do some ethnic minority voters want to leave the EU?”, The Guardian, 1 June 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/01/british-asians-views-eu-referendum-figures-brexit>, accessed 3 April 2022.

Pemberton-Nelson, L., “Why LGBT+ ethnic minorities need to attend the People’s Vote March Lauren Pemberton-Nelson”, AZ, 15 October 2019, <https://azmagazine.co.uk/why-lgbt-ethnic-minorities-need-to-attend-the-peoples-vote-march-lauren-pemberton-nelson/>, accessed 4 April 2022.

Plexal, “‘It’s about having a seat at the table’: why Mete Coban wants you to register to vote on national voter registration day. ””, Plexal, 2021, <https://www.plexal.com/its-about-having-a-seat-at-the-table-why-mete-coban-wants-you-to-register-to-vote-on-national-voter-registration-day/>, accessed 2 September 2022.

Peston, R., “Robert Peston: ‘I don’t appear to be living in the same Britain as much of the rest of the country’”, The Telegraph, 29 October 2017, < https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/robert-peston-dont-appear-living-britain-much-rest-country/>, accessed 21 March 2022.

Pickard, J., “Vote Leave Woos British Asians with migration leaflets”, Financial Times, 19 May 2016, <https://www.ft.com/content/94adcefa-1dd5-11e6-a7bc-ee846770ec15>, accessed 8 March 2022.

Rosenbaum, M., “Local voting figures shed new light on EU referendum”, BBC NEWS, 6 February 2017, < https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-38762034>, accessed 21 March 2022.

Stewart, H., “EU referendum poster aimed at minority ethnic vote causes controversy”, The Guardian, 16 May 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/may/25/eu-referendum-poster-minority-ethnic-voters>, accessed 3 April 2022.

Polls/Surveys/Reports

Ashcroft, Lord, “EU Referendum ‘How Did You Vote’ Poll ONLINE Fieldwork : 21st-23rd June 2016”, June 2016, <https://lordashcroftpolls.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/How-the-UK-voted-Full-tables-1.pdf>, accessed 16 April 2022.

Gov.UK, “Population of England and Wales”, 1 August 2018, < https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/uk-population-by-ethnicity/national-and-regional-populations/population-of-england-and-wales/latest>, accessed 19 March 2022.

McIntosh, K., R. Mirza and Dr I. S. Ali, Brexit for BAME Britain. Investigating the impact”, ROTA, November 2018, <https://www.rota.org.uk/sites/default/files/events/ROTA%20Brexit%20for%20BME%20briefing%20221118.pdf>, accessed 16 April 2022.

Richards L. and B. Marshall “Political engagement among black and minority ethnic communities: what we know, what we need to know”, The Electoral Commission, 3 November 2003, < https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/sites/default/files/electoral_commission_pdf_file/BMEresearchseminarpaper_11354-8831__E__N__S__W__.pdf>, accessed 31 March 2022.

Uberoi E., and R. Tunnicliffe, “Ethnic diversity in politics and public life” House of Commons Library, 15 November 2022, < https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN01156/SN01156.pdf>, accessed 26 March 2022.

Videos/podcasts

Ethnic Minorities for a People’s Vote, “EM4PV supporter”, YouTube, 7 August 2019, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LxJiVVaAkM>, accessed 4 April 2022.

UK in a Changing Europe, “Brexit and Beyond with Professors Maria Sobolewska and Rob Ford”, 30 October 2020, Podcast, <https://ukandeu.ac.uk/podcasts/brexit-and-beyond-podcast-with-maria-sobolewska-and-rob-ford/>, accessed 10 March 2022.

ROTA, “‘Brexit for BAME Britain?’ conference on 22nd Nov. 2018”, YouTube, 22 November 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xElSb7qgKdY>, accessed 12 April 2022.

Tweets

@EM4PV, “It's so important for marginalised communities to stand together to discuss how Brexit will impact US as we demand the #FinalSay”, Twitter, 19 Oct. 2019, 3:06pm, <https://twitter.com/EM4PV/status/1185542698708717568?s=20>

@DavidLammy, “Thank you to the 3 million EU citizens contributing so much to our country. I am proud to stand in solidarity with you. #RightToStay”, Twitter, 23 Feb. 2017, https://twitter.com/davidlammy/status/834740882125500416

@Metecoban92, “It was brilliant to join the Ethnic Minorities for a PV rally at the #PeoplesVote march today to stand up for social justice, fairness and those who often feel powerless. Hats off to @BashOIbrahim for his tireless work to give minorities a voice on a final say”, Twitter, 19 Oct. 2019, 5:13pm, <https://twitter.com/metecoban92/status/1185574757489664000?s=20>

List of figures

Figure 1: Leidig, E., “Why are British Indians more likely than other ethnic minority group to support Brexit?”, UK in a Changing Europe, 28 June 2019, accessed 25 March 2022, <https://ukandeu.ac.uk/why-are-british-indians-more-likely-than-any-other-ethnic-minority-group-to-support-brexit/>

Figure 2: Aouanes-Perriere, M., Liverpool for Europe's sociodemographic survey - March 2021 (a)

Figure 3: Corcoran H., and K. Smith, “Hate Crime, England and Wales, 2015/16”, Statistical Bulletin, Home Office, 13 October 2016, <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/559319/hate-crime-1516-hosb1116.pdf>, accessed 25 March 2022.

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Notes

1 It has been widely reported that people categorised as BAME or BME (Black and minority ethnic) consider this acronym to be limited, insulting, misused, misleading, outdated, confusing and unsuitable. The term “BAME” has been perceived as controversial and has been questioned because it refers to everyone who is not white and is a term for surveys and polls. It has proven challenging to find a word to replace it with one which every minority would identify with. Also see Modood, T., “Political Blackness and British Asians”, Sociology, Vol. 28, No.4, pp.859-876, November 1994.

2 Ashcroft, 2016, p.10.

3 McIntosh, K., R. Mirza and Dr I. S. Ali, 2018, p.1.

4 In 1984 there were 4 BAME MPs and they were 65 in 2019. However, to be representative of the UK population there should be 93 BAME MPs sitting in Parliament – Uberoi, E. and R. Tunnicliffe, 2022.

5 Uberoi, E. and N., Johnston, 2021.

6 Omer, N., 2019.

7 Ibid

8 Ibid

9 Uberoi, E. and N., Johnston, 2021.

10 For a full account please see The Electoral Commission, “Voter engagement among black and minority ethnic communities”, 2002.

11 Richards, L. and B. Marshall, 2003, p.4.

12 Ibid

13 Stewart, H., 2022

14 Martin, S., N., M. Sobolewska and N. Begum, 2019.

15 Parveen, N., 2016.

16 Pickard, J., 2016.

17 One of Muslims for Britain’s leaflets asked for a fairer immigration system and stated: “Why is it harder for a qualified doctor or software engineer from Pakistan, India or the Middle East to come to Britain than it is for an unskilled worker from Poland or Romania?” - Ibid

18 Ashton, B., 2020 (a).

19 Weldon, L. S., 2011, p. 5.

20 Ibid, p. 21.

21 Asthana, A., 2016.

22 Ibid

23 Ibid

24 Ibid, p.2.

25 Martin, S., N., M., Sobolewska and N. Begum, 2019.

26 Osterley and Spring Grove in Hounslow, west London, a mainly ethnic minority ward which had a Leave vote of 63% - Rosenbaum, M., 2017.

27 Peston, R., 2017.

28 Martin, S., N., M., Sobolewska and N. Begum, 2019.

29 Leidig, E., 2019.

30 Ibid

31 Dreda S., M., 2016.

32 Haque, Z., 2018.

33 Corcoran H., and K. Smith, 2016.

34 “European migrants are not “citizens of nowhere” or “queue jumpers” as the Prime Minister would have us believe. Young, energetic, diverse and willing to pay taxes, EU citizens have given so much. They have done the jobs that our own would not do. Around 3.8m now live in Britain. Over their lifetimes, they pay in £78,000 more than they take out. But the contribution of European migrants has not only been financial. Our culture, our art, our music, and our food has been permanently improved.” – Lammy, D., 2019; David Lammy also supported the campaign group the3milion as he tweeted on 23 February 2017: “Thank you to the 3 million EU citizens contributing so much to our country. I am proud to stand in solidarity with you. #RightToStay ” - @DavidLammy, 2017.

35 In 2013 Mete Coban founded My Life My Say meant to foster youth voting registration. He believes that although most young people are remainers, they are underrepresented in politics. – Plexal, 2021; Bashir Ibrahim campaigned actively to get a people’s vote and defended British black Muslims’ rights: “Whilst they would like to see Muslim voices silenced, Muslim voices must be heard, and they could be heard. This is why Muslims should demand a say on the final Brexit deal.” Ibrahim, B., 2018.

36 EM4PV, 2019.

37 Mete Coban founded My Life My Say (MLMS) in 2013 and was awarded an MBE for his work with young, underrepresented communities. He was also elected Councillor in the borough of Hackney, London at the age of 21.

38 Coban, M. 2019.

39 Omer, N., 2019.

40 Ashton, B. 2020 (b).

41 Ibid

42 Ibid

43 Old, D., 2020.

44 In our interview Dan Old thought of joining the climate change cause.

45 Ibid

46Je me souviens… c’était il y a un an et demi j’étais à “Parliament Square” à Londres, il y avait un rallie de hooligans […] qui était venu foutre un peu le bordel avec leur drapeau anglais et tout ça. Parmi eux y avait un noir, y avait un black qui était là. C’était assez silencieux comme manif et il a commencé à interpeler les gens en disant “where are my brothers ?” et c’est vrai c’était que blanc… pas un seul black et on sentait l’embarras, un peu la culpabilité… c’est vraiment un symbole de l’échec en fait des pro-Européens pour vraiment faire venir des gens qui étaient en dehors de leur cercle naturel.” (author’s translation)- Hatton, N., 2020.

47 Martin, S., N., M., Sobolewska and N. Begum, 2019.

48 In November 2020 N. Hopkinson was a member of the Liberal Democrat Party.

49 “Whilst Remain campaigners talked about potential disruption to the lives and threats to the civil rights of EU immigrants to the UK, ethnic minorities with British citizenship were being detained and deported with little mainstream outcry before the Windrush scandal gained public attention in 2018.”- Martin, S., N., M., Sobolewska and N. Begum, 2019, p.5.

50 McIntosh, K., R. Mirza and Dr I. S. Ali, 2018.

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Table des illustrations

Crédits Figure 1- Leidig, E., 2019.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/osb/docannexe/image/5851/img-1.png
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Crédits Figure 2 - Source: Aouanes-Perriere, M., 2021 (a)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/osb/docannexe/image/5851/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 14k
Crédits Figure 3 – Source : Corcoran H. and K. Smith, 2016
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Marie Aouanes-Perriere, « The representation of BAME communities in the Brexit resistance »Observatoire de la société britannique, 29 | 2022, 89-110.

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Marie Aouanes-Perriere, « The representation of BAME communities in the Brexit resistance »Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 29 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2023, consulté le 23 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/osb/5851 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/osb.5851

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Marie Aouanes-Perriere

Doctorante en civilisation britannique à l’Université Toulouse - Jean Jaurès

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