Is the British public disaffected with immigration?

Right-wing populism

Vidhya Ramalingam

Vidhya Ramalingam works for Moonshot CVE - Countering Violent Extremism through Data Driven Innovation, which she founded with Ross Frenett. Her publications include "Old Threat, New Approach: Tackling the Far Right Across Europe" (ISD 2014).

Britain has long been fertile ground for movements that thrive on widespread xenophobia, EU skepticism and dissatisfaction with mainstream political institutions, says Vidhya Ramalingam. She analyzes how the EU-skeptical and right-wing populist party UKIP mobilized voters to vote for Great Britain to leave the EU.

Nigel Farage (l) poses for a photo with a UKIP supporter in Ramsgate, England shortly before the referendum on UK membership. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

On June 23, 2016, the British decided to leave the European Union and, from a political point of view, led their country to untrodden ground. This marks the beginning of a new era for British politics. The result of the referendum came as a shock to many, but it was not a surprise. Brexit was preceded by years of growing Euroscepticism and populism and a growing rejection of immigration in certain sections of the population, which was cheered on by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Although the Brexit campaign was led by then Justice Secretary Michael Gove and former London Mayor Boris Johnson, former UKIP charismatic leader Nigel Farage found the core of his political agenda at the center of this debate. And he played an important role in spreading and reinforcing UKIP's core message.

UKIP, the EU-skeptical and populist party, led the voter mobilization that rocked the UK political system in May 2014 and made history when the party - after more than a century - first won out of one instead of Labor and the Conservatives Election emerged in Great Britain. The party won 24 of the 73 British seats in the European Parliament. UKIP was founded in 1993 by members of the Anti-Federalist League. For much of its history, UKIP only became significant once every five years - during the European Parliament elections - when its anti-EU campaign became the focus of the electorate. Since 1997, however, the party has slowly but surely gained momentum, and in recent years it had succeeded in making the transition from a monothematic interest group to a broad, radical right-wing populist party with a serious political offer in British elections. This development is characterized by record results in parliamentary by-elections, a wave of victories in the 2013 local elections and finally in the 2014 European elections. The party suddenly found itself in the focus of the political debate.

This is nothing new. Britain has long been fertile ground for movements that thrive on widespread xenophobia, EU skepticism and dissatisfaction with established political institutions. Parts of the British population have always been extremely skeptical of the EU, as the referendum from 1975 showed, in which at least a third of those eligible to vote were in favor of leaving the EU forerunner "European Economic Community". This attitude is partly reinforced by the extremely EU-skeptical media landscape in Great Britain, in which many major daily newspapers are consistently anti-EU. Since the 1960s, a greater or lesser majority of the British population has been reluctant to immigrate. Research conducted by the Migration Observatory (University of Oxford) has found that immigration has become one of the most talked about issues in Britain over the past 15 years. [1] The demand / the demand for such parties has always existed. Although the UKIP is not an extremist party, it not only shares the political proposals / demands, but also shares the same electoral spectrum with Britain's EU-skeptical and anti-immigration right-wing parties.

However, before the UKIP came out, Britain's extreme right was considered politically unsuccessful and insignificant. It was less organized and less popular with voters than similar organizations in Europe. There is broad consensus among researchers that the failures of the far right have a lot to do with the formation of the parties and movements themselves (i.e., due to failure of leadership, strategic mistakes, inability to maintain an internal unity, and inability to come to terms with their extremist past to discard). Despite the local successes the British National Party (BNP) has had over the years in places like Burnley, Dudley and in the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, and notwithstanding the two seats in the European Parliament that it won in 2009 the party has collapsed today and is unlikely to play a role in British politics in the years to come.

As a result of the BNP's inability to harness the fertile environment for right wing politics, a new form of right wing politics has emerged that has successfully challenged the mainstream political parties in recent British history. UKIP is not a right-wing extremist party, but there are noticeable overlaps in political proposals / demands: calls for an end to "uncontrolled / regulated immigration", the abolition of social benefits for immigrants, and even demands from some party representatives to deport all immigrants. 2] However, the UKIP differs from the British right-wing extremists in their benevolent view of the free world market and their liberal views. It presents itself as non-racist, but "bourgeois-nationalist". [3] It has its roots more in British EU skepticism than in an anti-democratic or right-wing extremist tradition. Despite these differences, there are obvious similarities / overlaps in the support base. UKIP supporters and leaders have attitudes traditionally associated with the BNP. [4]

The results of the EU referendum have drawn attention to a number of important differences in British society: differences in values, differences between rural and urban dwellers, between the well-educated and the less educated, between winners and losers in globalization and generational conflicts between old and young .

The characteristics of UKIP supporters

British researchers once divided UKIP supporters into two types: strategic voters and regular voters. Strategic voters were those who turn to UKIP only during the European elections, largely disaffected conservatives who support the party as an anti-European platform. [5] Regular voters supported UKIP through all elections; they mostly come from the dissatisfied workforce. These voters are more like supporters of the BNP and other European right-wing extremist parties. However, the referendum results show that it took more than just these strategic and regular UKIP voters to end with the vote to leave the EU: The most important characteristics of UKIP and Brexit supporters include:

  • Similar to the BNP, the UKIP supporters have always been predominantly male (57 percent) and belong to older cohorts. Often, middle-aged or advanced men are drawn to UKIP. 57 percent of UKIP voters are older than 54, while just over 10 percent are younger than 35. [6] A decisive factor in the Brexit referendum was the age of the voters - Brexit supporters were overwhelmingly older voters. Over 65-year-olds voted much more often for "Leave" (61 percent) than for staying (39 percent). [7] UKIP itself has always sought to support young people and women.
  • UKIP voters were generally less educated than voters from other parties. 55 percent of UKIP voters left school before they turned 17; only 24 percent have attended a university. This, too, is similar to the profile of BNP supporters, of whom 62 percent left school before the age of 17 and less than 20 percent attended university. [8] The Brexit supporters were also mostly less educated. 66 percent of voters who only attended secondary school voted for "Leave," compared to 29 percent with a university degree. [9]
  • UKIP voters have voted for a wide range of parties in the past. Among them are disaffected and EU-skeptical middle-class conservatives who supported Thatcher and are now disappointed with the compromises made by the coalition government, to working-class voters, many of whom were once behind Labor. [10] Brexit supporters also come from many different political camps, with a large proportion of Conservatives (57 percent to leave), Labor supporters (31 percent to leave), the Liberal Democrats (27 percent to leave) and, unsurprisingly , UKIP supporters (93 percent for leaving). [11]
Just as UKIP supporters are mostly people who can be said to have bypassed the positive economic and social changes, the composition of Brexit supporters shows similar major rifts in British society. In this sense, the support for Brexit and UKIP is not simply a protest election as a result of political disillusionment, but rather it reveals a very real and new group within the electorate that has increasingly changed over the past few decades due to different social and economic experiences educated the British public. These people lack the ability to be socially mobile at a time when public spending is falling, incomes are falling and social inequality is increasing.

Factors for Brexit support: More than EU skepticism

EU-skeptical mindsets have been found across the UK and, according to Eurobarometer surveys, consistently higher than in any other EU Member State. The last 16 out of 20 Eurobarometer surveys showed that respondents from Great Britain had the least confidence in the EU of any Member State. [12] Researchers and scholars have blamed this highly anti-EU sentiment on a variety of reasons - from Britain's geography as an island to economic conditions.

The Conservative government promised to limit immigration to ten thousand in 2010, but missed that target by hundreds of thousands year after year. As a result, Eurosceptics and politicians, who were already against immigrants, as well as the media increasingly spoke of "mass immigration" in order to capture the feeling that one was dealing with uncontrolled immigration. It was this "mass immigration", particularly from poorer EU countries, that fueled the call for Brexit, not only from UKIP and its supporters, but also from central politicians. The widespread belief that leaving the EU alone could be a viable solution to curbing immigration was rooted in the failure of most UK politicians either to make good arguments for free movement or, given that immigration to the EU Law cannot be prevented - on the other hand, offering realistic options for national immigration control. UKIP and the Brexit supporters were able to convince voters that immigration control would only be possible by leaving the EU; they voted accordingly.

Europe has now become synonymous with numerous other perceived problems in British society, as well as perceived threats to the nation. This included the perceived threat from immigration or the loss of cultural identity. Europe was seen as the cause of Britain's immigration problems, and there was a belief that Britain was the plaything of the whims of Eurocrats who wanted to destroy national identities and level and equalize Europe.

Stubborn and unrealistic elites and "experts"

In Great Britain, as in many European countries, there is growing resentment against political and social elites. Given that Brexit advocates, UKIP supporters and the radical right mostly come from the above-mentioned new group of voters, many of whom have been "left behind" by economic progress, it is hardly surprising that surveys and statements among these supporters make it clear that they are also feel overlooked by a political system governed by an elite that has studied mainly at Oxford and Cambridge and has lost all connection with the British working class. [13]

In the run-up to the EU referendum, the Bank of England, the Treasury and the International Monetary Fund warned the British people of the economic consequences of leaving the EU. [14] Supporters of a radical right are historically above average suspicious of mainstream politicians, experts and public institutions. Nigel Farage once stated in an interview: "That's what the media say. They are obsessed with it, and they can't get away from it. But the numbers speak for themselves: the decision to vote for UKIP has a lot to do with it Belonging to social class. "[15] Again, these sentiments are not limited to the UKIP. A recent YouGov poll shows that 66 percent of Britons would be inclined to support a political party that "promises to oppose the political and business elites". [16] UKIP has promoted a populist mindset that paints a clear picture of a division between ordinary people and the political class that is "corrupt, complacent and unrealistic". This way of thinking prevailed in the EU referendum.

UKIP's role in Brexit

There are those who say that the June 2016 referendum outcome was largely due to UKIP, who argue that "UKIP changed the political landscape forever" [17]. Despite the leading role UKIP has played in promoting the EU exit, it should not be forgotten that UKIP only appeals to one in five voters who are extremely skeptical of the EU and only half of the UK electorate who is expressly against UK membership in the EU. [18] UKIP continues to struggle to attract young people, women and ethnic minorities.

UKIP certainly owes its rise to the successful combination of two political priorities: it offers an anti-immigration platform that is ostensibly non-racist, [19] and it has found the ideal time, EU skepticism and anti-establishment sentiment for itself to use. Unlike other far-right (and far-right) forces that have previously tried their hand at British politics, UKIP enjoys public legitimacy - both through its legitimate democratic origins and through strong political and media allies (including some defectors from the conservative Warehouse). UKIP also benefited for a long time from its charismatic leader Nigel Farage, who announced his resignation in July 2016; MEP Paul Nuttall has been chairman of the party since November 28, 2016. The increase in EU skepticism in Great Britain, which culminated in Brexit, took place under one of the most EU-skeptical and immigration-sensitive governments in recent British history. It cannot be said that the mainstream political parties did not address the issue of immigration or that they refused to take note of the public rejection of the European Union. Nor was UKIP the only public voice on these issues. It wasn't just UKIP's success that postponed the political debate in Britain, culminating in Brexit; EU skepticism and anti-immigration policies were on the rise for a long time.

However, the success of UKIP and Brexit itself have signaled the arrival of a new group of voters who have been "left behind" not only on economic and social success, but also on a political elite that is unrelated to it and does not care about its interests . The way the other major parties change their modus operandi to reflect the importance of this segment of the electorate will determine not only the future of these parties but also that of the radical right in Britain.

What will happen after Brexit?

Britain will leave the European Union and there will undoubtedly be months and years of debate in the UK and negotiations abroad as well about what Brexit means for the country. Immigration will be in the foreground of the negotiations on leaving the EU.

The result of the referendum has exacerbated the situation in Great Britain for migrants from Europe. Many have since faced discrimination and reprisals. Eastern European immigrants are faced with a wave of hatred, and uncertainty about Britain's future status in the EU will continue to affect their future in the country. It will be a critical post-Brexit challenge for Britain to deepen the national discourse on immigration and British identity, while ensuring that different policies do not divide society any further.

The generational conflict that is evident among EU skeptics, the cultural unease and anti-immigration sentiment in Britain also mean that in the coming years there will be a controversy over who will decide the future of British politics: the old or the young. The young in Britain are less concerned about immigration and Europe, they are more confident about the future and more relaxed about their British identity. Even if Britain leaves the European Union, its future will for many years be in the hands of a generation that is not running away from Europe, diversity or globalization, but rather moving towards it.