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Henry McLeish: The Brexiters are 'little Trumps'

Henry McLeish: The Brexiters are 'little Trumps'

Donald Trump - credit Gage Skidmore

This Thursday Britain will decide whether to remain in or leave the European Union. Remaining will allow a remarkably successful EU to build on its achievements, progress the vision of the immediate post-war pioneers, including Churchill, and get down to the real challenges and opportunities facing the peoples of Europe. 

Leaving could create the conditions in which the disintegration of the EU and the Union here become real possibilities.

The Little Trumps leading the Brexit campaign will welcome the shrinking of Britain. We have seen the promotion of racism, English nationalism, right-wing populism, Islamophobia and xenophobia reach new heights and people’s fears of difference, growing anxieties, economic insecurity and post-2008 anger have been ruthlessly exploited by the right of the Conservative Party and UKIP.


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Undoubtedly, Europe’s political extremists will be hoping for a Brexit victory to boost their own anti-migrant, anti-EU and pro-nationalism agendas. Norbert Hoffer in Austria, Marine Le Pen in France, Sylvia Listhaugh in Norway, Kristian Thulesen in Denmark and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands will be the real beneficiaries of a leave majority.

For the political right in Britain and the UKIP leadership, this campaign has been about ‘them’ and ‘us’ politics, picking scapegoats for Britain’s decline and driving progressive social democratic ideals out of Britain. 

For Labour voters this is the ultimate con. They are being asked to vote Brexit, ostensibly based on the idea of winning our country back, which of course is bogus in itself, when in fact they are really being asked to support and endorse an extreme right-wing agenda led by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Nigel Farage, our own little Trumps. Labour voters are key to winning the vote for Remain. The Conservative Party is in a civil war meltdown. Their Brexit campaign has been hijacked by political elites and cheap patriots. 

Describing our Brexit leaders as Trumps may seem harsh but there are worrying similarities between the Donald Trump playbook and what Farage and friends argue every day. Fellow Republicans have described him as a “textbook racist”, as “playing the race card”, a “demagogue” and as “un-American”.

Farage has linked migrants to crime and rapists. Is this speaking to truth or stirring up racism and fear? The Archbishop of Canterbury has described Farage as giving “legitimisation to racism” and said he is “not appealing to principles but prejudices and fear”. Electors should feel concerned about his response where he described the Archbishop’s comments as “confected outrage”.

Boris Johnson compared European leaders to Hitler’s Third Reich, but criticism of him was dismissed because buffoons, in patronising the electorate, need a bit of historical leeway! No. This was a new low in the lowest of campaigns. 

Brexit leaders talk about bringing Britain back from the EU; the question is back to what? This smacks of Donald Trump’s signature theme, ‘Make America Great Again’. This of course carries the subliminal message that having fewer migrants, foreigners, Muslims and asylum seekers would help Britain or America achieve their aims. This has been the coded racism of our referendum campaign.

Mitt Romney, US Republican presidential candidate in 2012, has described Trump’s comments as “trickle-down racism”. The right of the Conservative Party and the UKIP leadership are guilty as charged. Farage is really saying to people that it is OK to be racist and that religious intolerance and ethnic divisions are acceptable.

The extreme right in this country and their anti-EU campaign is undermining the credibility and relevance of Britain as seen by the rest of Europe and the world. Britain’s reputation is in doubt as it slips further into this small-minded nationalism, mainly in England, and seems to be turning its back on a world it did so much to create.

Where is our broader humanity, our hope and idealism, our sense of global citizenship, our feel for internationalism, our idea of one world and the possibility that some time in the future we can all be patriots of humanity? This vision of the future contrasts sharply with the little Englander mentality, nationalism and the excesses of the nation state which the founding fathers of the EU were keen to put behind them after the Second World War.  

Johnson, Gove and Farage seem to have missed some of the lessons of history and for reasons of personal ambition, political dogma and party politics are willing to sacrifice Britain and its people to a lesser role in this turbulent new world.   

Being on the same play page as Trump is less than a ringing endorsement of a broader humanity and decent politics. Churchill wrote in December 1949: “British participation is essential to the success of a European Union.” Wise words.

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