Experts reflect on what the Brexit vote has meant for inequality, the environment, racism and politics in the past year.
“When I see someone walk towards me on the street with a bottle of water or something, I just freak out.” Those were the words of Gina Miller, the City financier who famously took the UK government to court to ensure Parliament secured a vote on Article 50.
Speaking to UK media, she admitted she was now considering leaving the country. She has suffered weeks of threats amid a spate of acid attacks, having already endured dozens of death threats. She lives with her young family under 24-hour protection, and meets with her police handlers to discuss her protection regularly. The police have already issued eight cease and desist letters against her more determined harassers.
Aristocrat Rhodri Colwyn Philipps was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison last month after posting messages on Facebook offering 5,000 British pounds to kill Miller, or as he put it “the first person to ‘accidentally’ run over this bloody troublesome first generation immigrant … If this is what we should expect from immigrants, send them back to their stinking jungles”.
The three judges hearing Miller’s case, one of whom later sought police protection, were labelled “enemies of the people” by a leading national newspaper. Rather than explicitly denouncing the threats of violence, the Justice Secretary Liz Truss had her spokesperson remind journalists about freedom of the press.
Even as a Remainer, I could see there were plenty of decent, non-bigoted reasons why people might have voted Brexit. These ranged from making sovereignty more localised, to opposing spending waste, and even parts of the immigration arguments – which needn’t be presented in a xenophobic way, but so often are.
Nevertheless – there are disturbing and awkward realities about the groups of people in this country who supported Brexit. The way in which the Brexiteers won has clearly come at a high cost to the country. This is at a time when terrorist attacks and divisive leaders abroad are hardly making Western minorities lives any easier.
Some of the Brexit movement, for example, supported Tommy Mair, the killer of Labour MP Jo Cox. After she was assassinated, the neo-Nazi group National Action which supported him put out a leaflet reading “#VoteLeave, don’t let this man’s sacrifice go in vain.”
You have to be in a special kind of gilded tower to think that neo-Nazis using your campaign slogans, judges hiding from assassins and Remain campaigners fleeing the country from acid attacks is the result of 'robust debate' and not veiled incitement.
Vote Leave was the name of the official Brexit campaign – run by now Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and recently reappointed cabinet minister Michael Gove. They were silent in denouncing National Action.
Gove, who later ran a failed bid to become prime minister, even defended the tone of his campaign after Cox was murdered. He said he had “shuddered” when he saw Nigel Farage’s infamous “breaking point” Brexit poster, depicting refugees fleeing into Europe, but his wider point was the same as his colleague Liz Truss – “Free speech, robust debate, that is in the heart of our democracy.”
You have to be in a special kind of gilded tower to think that neo-Nazis using your campaign slogans, judges hiding from assassins and Remain campaigners fleeing the country from acid attacks is the result of “robust debate” and not veiled incitement.
Brexiteers now exercise the logic of Donald Trump. He recently said there was blame “on many sides” in Charlottesville, when one of the sides was chanting Hitlerian slogans and celebrating black slavery. Nobody on the Remain side of the Brexit vote killed anyone, or even came close.
In February, an investigation by the Press Association found hate crimes for three months after the referendum were at their highest since 2012.
Amazingly, one top Brexiteer columnist, Brendan O’Neill, attributed this to “the fact that various officials actively trawled for evidence of hate post-Brexit, imploring people to phone police hotlines”.
He was duly published in the paper of record for the British conservative movement; the Spectator magazine, which lent unforgivable credibility to this madcap conspiracy theory.
Then last month, Conservative MEP and media personality Dan Hannan, “the brains behind Brexit”, called the hate crime spike “idiotic” and a “preposterous statistic”.
The very same month, however, new figures actually showed that even eleven months after the result, hate crime was still rising.
Hannan, like so many Brexiteers, was clearly in denial.
This continuous rise was attributed to Brexit as well as Muslim terrorist attacks.
Muslims are regularly asked to denounce terrorism. Why then aren’t the Brexiteers?
There has also been silence from Number 10 – no calls for calm or recognition that this rise in violence has been compounded by the particular type of Brexit campaign the lead Brexiteers chose to fight.
Likewise in the cabinet – key Brexit campaigners include the now Foreign Secretary, the International Trade Secretary, the Environment Secretary and the Brexit Secretary. They have been silent about a rising tide of violence, tucked away in their ministerial cars and, as white males, far from the danger themselves.
The collateral damage the Brexiteers have caused with their divisive campaign has also created a debt.
That debt comes in the form of a new environment they created. The Brexit campaign undeniably created an environment where abuse of anyone that looks “foreign” is increasingly normal, in which hate is legitimised by suited politicians and newspaper editors speaking not identical but strikingly similar language to the far right. In this environment they created, even – in the case of Jo Cox – murder is somewhat normalised.
Over a year from the referendum they won – this is a debt the Brexiteers must settle, and fast.
Alastair Sloan covers international affairs, politics and human rights for a variety of British newspapers and magazines.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.