Recently I’ve seen a couple of articles online appealing to Muslims to vote for Britain to leave the EU in this Thursday’s referendum. The claims are that the EU is anti-Muslim, that it could ban halal slaughter (as a couple of countries in the EU have already done), and that leaving will enable Britain to renew its links with the Commonwealth countries where most British Muslim families originate. I’ve had a few comments suggesting that I should put a “Muslim view” on this subject and that my writing on this issue could have come from any white Englishman. I believe that this referendum is about more than whether we stay in or leave the EU now; it is about who governs this country, as the defections of former Tory Leave campaigners Sarah Wollaston and now Baroness Warsi demonstrate.
Most of my reasons, as I’ve said before, are purely pragmatic and economic. Britain is right next to continental Europe; we are 21 miles from the nearest Continental country and some 3,000 miles from the nearest Commonwealth country (Canada) and that has a population roughly half ours despite its huge size. Distance clearly outweighs the cultural similarities. Canada is part of NAFTA; Australia has forged new links with countries in the Asia-Pacific region. We cannot expect that these countries would just return to principally trading with us and each other. The EU is a major world trading bloc and being a member means we get a say in making the rules. If we leave, we will most likely be subject to the rules without getting a direct hand in making them, as in the case of Norway (we could lobby, of course, but this would not always have the same effect). There is a likelihood of foreign owners of British industry moving to the Continent if we do not swiftly join the European Economic Area, which they can easily do because Britain does not protect jobs, unlike some Continental countries, and the people pushing for Brexit (all hardline Thatcherites) will not change that. These issues are not specific to Muslims; they would affect everyone.
It has become fashionable to blame the EU for policies which are in fact imposed by the British government. The EU did not force us to accept large numbers of migrants from Eastern Europe from 2004 onwards; that was the Blair government’s decision. The EU did not force us to impose restrictions on skilled workers from outside the EU, or on people settling here to marry British citizens. This, again, was a British government decision, motivated in part by agitation about Muslims marrying spouses from “back home” and thereby endangering “social cohesion”, “importing ignorance” and raising another generation of Muslims whose first language is other than English, all of which are blamed for extremism and ultimately terrorism. This goes back at least to the Oldham riots of 2001, but certainly to the early 2000s. Other EU countries, such as Denmark, imposed minimum ages for foreign spouses; Migration Watch pressured the government to do the same, as it did (this was later ruled contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, and repealed).
So anyone who is saying that leaving the EU, and blocking mass immigration from countries like Poland, will enable Muslim immigration from Commonwealth countries, is simply wrong. The people who will gain power if Britain votes to leave the EU include those who have been agitating against Muslim immigration long before anyone was aggrieved by the Poles. The Commonwealth countries to which they are attached are the ‘old’ White Commonwealth countries: Canada, Australia, New Zealand and (maybe) South Africa. You can see this whenever the right-wing tabloids complain that a family with a spouse from one of these countries has been refused permission to settle in the UK: the families are always White. They would not lift a pen to support a family with a spouse facing deportation to Pakistan or Bangladesh. If any South Asians enjoy more favourable treatment after Brexit, it will be Indian Hindus and Sikhs, not Muslims and certainly not Pakistanis.
There have been two high-profile defections of Tories from the Leave to the Remain side in the past few weeks, namely Sarah Wollaston, a GP who is MP for Totnes in Devon, and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. In giving their reasons, neither said they had been convinced of the virtue of the EU or the wisdom of staying in for its own sake; rather, they said that they disliked the tactics used by the Leave side; the claim about money that could be used on the NHS in the case of Wollaston, and the “nudge nudge, wink wink” campaign of xenophobia and racism in the case of Lady Warsi. This shows that they preferred to stay in the EU than countenance the change to politics in this country that a vote to leave would bring: putting in power dishonest opportunists like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and Muslims should consider that both of them have a long history of hostility to Islam and Muslims both in and out of Parliament: inflammatory front pages in the Spectator in Johnson’s case, war-hawkery and pro-Israel propagandising in the Times in Gove’s, not to mention the witch hunt against majority-Muslim schools in Birmingham in which normal Muslim practices such as separating boys and girls were linked to extremism.
As for the claim that the European Parliament could ban halal slaughter, this is simply scaremongering. The European Parliament cannot initiate legislation; it can only discuss bills put to it by the Commission, and most of these proposals have been on economic matters and regulations justifiable on the basis of a threat to the environment or human health. It has never interfered in such matters; they are for national parliaments. It is not a body that just passes laws on every trendy issue. In fact what is banned is non-stun slaughter, not halal slaughter per se (there is a difference of opinion as to whether stunning nullifies halal slaughter), and it is banned in only a few countries, such as Denmark, Poland and Switzerland — the latter as a result of an anti-Semitic referendum campaign in the 1890s. France and Germany, the biggest players in the EU, allow it, while some countries (like Lithuania) have a lucrative halal and kosher meat export trade to the Middle East, which means it is highly unlikely that a proposal to ban halal slaughter will even get before the European Parliament, let alone get passed.
There is no benefit to us in leaving the EU. We should particularly beware of the so-called “left-wing case” for leaving, as left-wingers will not be in power after next Thursday; rather, the right wing of the Tory party will be. Many of the objections are to things that are the result of British policy, or could be remedied by a change in their policy; all the faults of the EU — its democratic deficit, its bureaucracy, its neoliberalism — are present in the British political system as well, in some cases more so. Some Muslims may not care that the UK itself may break up, with renewed demands for Scottish independence and the impact on the status of Northern Ireland, but they should care that voting for Brexit would empower the most hostile and extreme elements of the Tory party and discredit the (relatively) moderate ones. We can always leave the EU later if need be; it will be a lot easier than rejoining after we leave and find that we are isolated and that our economy has taken a nosedive (and politicians will distract from this with attacks on poor people, disabled people, and minorities including Muslims).
Much as with the London mayoral campaign, but on a bigger scale and with far more dire consequences, the referendum is about racism and xenophobia and about which Tories govern Britain afterwards as much as it is about the EU. Much as we may dislike the policies of other European countries, much as we may feel we have no connection to any of them, Brexit will mean a Gove or Johnson premiership and will leave us far worse off than remaining in the EU. It is not just a case of giving hate a kick in the teeth; we must prevent the haters ruling us, by voting down their proposal to leave the EU.
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