An interview with an NHS physiotherapist who is packing her things and moving back to Spain, where she intends to buy land and start a business, after 18 months of abuse from racists in this country and being let down by people she expects to help her — friends, colleagues, family members of EU nationals — who stand by when the abuse happens:
People who hurl abuse are being allowed to hurl their abuse unchallenged. So there might be many people out there who don’t feel that way, that would never say these things, but they’re not standing up and saying anything either and this apathy from friends, from family members of EU nationals, from neighbours, from co-workers, is the most hurtful thing — way more hurtful than the abuse we get in the first place. When I get told that I need to learn to speak English properly, that if I don’t like it I should leave, that it was the will of the British people and I had no say in it and that it was the right thing to do, even though I’ve lived here for seventeen years and my husband is British, my children are British.
I remember delivering steel to a small metalworking company in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, in the weeks before the referendum and I distinctly remember seeing cars with Lithuanian or Latvian number plates in the car park. This company must have employed twenty people at most, so it was a small firm where people knew each other, not a large, impersonal workforce. I thought to ask them if they would be voting Brexit to throw their friends or colleagues out but said nothing; I was representing the company I was temporarily working for (most of whose drivers are from eastern Europe) and could have got myself into trouble. But it goes to show that people will conceal their true feelings about you when talking or working with you and display them when alone in the ballot box and it’s your future that’s on the line, not (so much) theirs.
The areas that voted most heavily for Brexit (and where UKIP had in some seats been in second place) were the Tory heartlands of eastern England — west Norfolk, north Cambridgeshire, south Lincolnshire. There were some problems with illegal gangmasters and other criminality associated with some of the newcomers from eastern Europe, but there is also no doubt that most are quite law-abiding and contribute to the local economy and culture rather than taking out. It was hugely irresponsible for the Tories to give in to demands for a referendum on EU membership — mainly stoked by the Tory press, who do not want a government constrained by ideas of inalienable rights — when these demands were largely the teething problems of communities dealing with large-scale immigration which had not done so before. Given another generation the eastern Europeans would have become well-integrated and their children would have grown up locally, gone to British schools and spoken English as well as anyone else (although it has to be said, many of their parents speak perfectly good English) and the idea of “sending them home” would have faded into the background, much as it has with second- and third-generation British Asians and Caribbeans. Even if we back-track on Brexit or end up with the “Norway option”, the wounds caused by this decision will take a lot longer to heal.
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