A Plague On Those Who Brought Us Here

Brexit Win

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown


On Wednesday morning a talented young, black musician was beaten up in a park in South London and told to ‘get back on the boat’. He was born here, so too his parents, my friends, both of whom worked for many years in the NHS. On Tuesday an email arrived from Albert Persaud, director of a prestigious psychiatry research centre. Doctors in his team are concerned about the breakout of racial hostility and it effect on black and Asian patients. In another email, Sheila Melzak, a consultant child psychotherapist who works with young asylum seekers and refugees, claimed the children have been severely bullied in the last four months. I was recently spat at and abused on a bus in High Street Kensington by a woman in her fifties: ‘ Fuck back off Paki. This is my country’. This squalid referendum campaign has released the stench of chauvinism, the germs of infectious bigotry.  Prejudice is irrational and intoxicating, emotive and powerful. Throw in introverted nationalism, nostalgia and reassuring lies and you get a seriously potent narcotic. Farage et al cynically doped millions of voters and here we are, a small, mean, nasty, divided, vicious, boorish and also deluded Britain.  

In 1963, In Smethwick, Tory Peter Griffiths overturned a massive Labour majority by repeatedly using one simple slogan: ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’.  Lamentably, we have returned to those dark old days. The unspoken Brexit slogan was ‘If you want a migrant for a neighbour, vote remain’. Those trapped in austerity poverty, many working class grouches, middle class jingoists and  anti-elite, anti-intellectual populists all ganged up against the hapless, hard working EU worker. I doubt they really believe that once this lot has been seen off, jobs will go ( or be taken up) by the true-born, hearts of oak men and women. But realism has no place in this fantasy land.  

They say they want their country back. Which country would that be? Not the one that was reflected in the upbeat, optimistic Olympics. As A.A Gill observed in a magnificent tirade: ‘ We all know what they mean. Back from Johnny Foreigner, back from the brink, back from the future…’ Even though it smelt like, looked like and sounded like racism, Brexiters insist that the vile anti- immigration rhetoric reflected genuine, nativist anguish. On Friday night, even Ukip’s Douglas Carswell expressed his dismay at the way refugees and migrants were demonised by his party.  I share his dismay. Worse still, many of those who turned paranoid and xenophobia had once themselves been refugees and economic migrants. I am an exile, forced out by Idi from my homeland Uganda. Thousands of my people voted for Brexit, some because they are obnoxiously selfish, others because they pathetically think this gives them brownie points for patriotism.

On Friday morning my working class English husband and I said we both felt sorrow, terror and shame. Is this what we have become? Has Nigel Farage replaced Jessica Ennis as the face of Britain? Yes. A plague on those who brought us here.

 Published GQ magazine 25th June 2016



Brexit, White, Black, Shades of Brown


The EU referendum has ruptured political parties, families and communities, lacerated national cohesion. Black and Asian Britons have gone through the same upheavals and anguish, and more. And worse. The vote was a test of our integrity and identity, political fidelity and pragmatism, personal concerns and wider loyalties. We made choices that will forever mark us CUT HERE.

survey carried out by Lord Ashcroft found that around 70% of  non-white Britons and 46% of white Britons voted to remain. The majority of Brexiters are native whites and a third of them are of  various other backgrounds.

I voted to remain, as did both my children and most of my most trusted colleagues and friends.  In my circle of fervent pro-EU activists are Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Africans, Arabs, South Asians and East African Asians. We cherish the European human rights laws and admire the idealism of the EU post war dream. We empathise with maligned EU immigrants because most of us walked through the same fires of rancour and animosity, sometimes still feel the burn on our skins. More importantly, we feel European and cosmopolitan, part of a connected world. Most of us lived circumscribed lives before moving to Britain. Kampala, the capital of Uganda, where I was born and raised was CUT HERE a stifling TOWN. Our British children, in contrast, have grown up to be  global citizens. Some of them will try to leave and go to more open societies in Europe. Several successful Asian and black entrepreneurs have expanded into Europe. There is an indisputable business case for staying in this vast marketplace. High flying investment manager, Miss Renu Singh, is contemptuous of Brexiters: ‘They are like a village farmer in the Punjab, scared of the outside, without any courage or imagination. I will move to Frankfurt. They can go, but they won’t take me out of Europe’     

The EU gave us equality, real equality. After the empire ended, British passports were handed out to previous subjects to create a virtual overseas kingdom. My father wrapped these precious documents in velvet and kept them in a bank vault. They turned out to be worthless.  After Uganda became independent, Asians, a defenceless minority, were persecuted by black politicians. They tried to move to their Motherland. In 1968, the Labour government passed the jus sanguinis law, which affirmed bloodline citizenship.  Colonial subjects who had a UK born parent or grandparent – Australians, New Zealanders, white South Africans etc-  could come and go freely. Darkies like me needed visas even though we were British. Our blue passports had the letter D stamped on it. I went through decades of humiliation at British airports until I got my red passport, identifying me as a British and EU citizen. The EU has been good to us, good for us.

Clearly a good many voters who share our life experiences and cultures were unmoved by these arguments.

Hundreds of thousands of them backed Brexit. Some because they are savvy and self interested, others because they are selfish, scared, or sadly simple minded. I can understand the first type, hard core Thatcherite operators who detest regulations, fear new tougher EU tax regimes, and want a completely laissez- faire economy. Mr Ram, ( not his real name), for example, imports clothes from India for the lucrative bridal market. He started with a market stall in west London and now has a turnover of millions: ‘Listen, Yasminji ( a respectful address) you have never run a business, don’t understand these things. This EU just wants to hold us back, tie our hands. Look at India- no stupid rules, see how far up it is going. We want to be like India and China. They don’t have unions and very (sic) interfering bureaucrats. We must be free.’  What about Eastern Europeans who work hard for low wages?  ‘Yes, of course. My cousin has restaurants and all the waiters are Polish. But they cannot be really be British like you and me. Better to get our own people from India’ I went to see the cousin, also a millionaire Brexiter. ‘Yes it will be difficult to get the staff, the English are bloody lazy and our young people don’t want to work in the business. But these East European people must be sent back home. Maybe I will have to close the restaurants. ’ So not that savvy or smart then, these Asian masters of the universe.    

The selfish ethnic Brexiter wants to pull up the drawbridge, is dead against admitting any more enterprising or desperate humans who want a chance to make or remake their lives. They have no conscience, no empathy with those who are exactly like they once were. Tough right winger Priti Patel, of Ugandan Asian heritage, is their poster girl. She will now go places. So too expedient immigrant politicians such as Gisela Stuart and Kwasi Kwarteng.

Many immigrants and their families voted for exit because they want to be seen as established Brits, as one of ‘us’ and not ‘them’. With the national mood so hostile, they seek to distance themselves from the story of migration. I do feel for them. They don’t yet realise that xenophobes do not distinguish between Poles and Pakistanis. I come finally to the most pitiable Britons of colour, those who fell for big fat Brexit lies. They really do believe that if we end the EU free movement of labour, their uncle from Trinidad, or in laws from Kashmir will sail in and claim their place. As Trevor, a plasterer, puts it: ‘My girlfriend, she in Jamaica. Mr Farage promised black people will get visas if we stop them Europeans. Brexit is good for us’   

The EU political quake has opened up new schisms between races and ethnicities, and also within races and ethnicities. I have fallen out with a  dear childhood friend and also a distant cousin over this. They voted Brexit and I will not forgive them. Things can only get worse after the effects of Brexit are felt in households and communities. These cuts and wounds may never heal. The nation is broken into many parts.    

Blog 25th Jne 2016




Remain – why are we stuck with such duds?

We may, probably will, leave the EU thanks to jingoists,  xenophobes, clueless millions who think their country was great when it way grey and mingy and the most dishonest, self serving, cynical pack of anti-EU politicians we have ever had to suffer. Though it hurts to admit so, the brash, confident, persuasive Brexiteers are good at selling their pernicious promises and falsities- as good as those who sold us PPI. Only if they take us out of the EU, there will be no investigation, no compensation for the citizens who were mightily duped.

These political merchants who will say anything to win, are also enthusiastically helped by right wing newspapers and journalists. The wind fills their sails and  they are puffed up, ready to go. And then there is the pathetic, weedy, inconsistent, ineffective, lazy and inept opposition, the Remain lot, who do nothing while our nation heads for the wild seas of economic ruin, racist discourse, and isolationism. Few trust or like David Cameron, who now comes across as a tired conjurer with his heart in the wrong place. Jeremy Corbyn is treasonably indifferent and is showing up on mindless Friday night TV shows as if he has all the time in the world. Tim Farron? Nice guy, No presence. Eddie Izzard? It’s all flashy pink lipstick and verbal incontinence . On Question Time, at times, he  sounded madder than Noel Edmunds. The ITV debate with all women MPs and Boris did have its moments. On the Remain side, Amber Rudd was passionate and strong. Nicola Sturgeon was, as ever, the perfectly dressed assassin, but the focus was Boris ( how he loved all that female attention) and will not have changed many minds.

What’s wrong with the Remain bunch? Can they not see how they are failing to win the arguments and look credible and inspiring? Have they no courage, no imagination, no basic political skills? On Newsnight last week, Anne McKelvoy said- and she was right- that the big names and performances are on the Brexit side.  Labour party grandees spoke up this weekend and asked their smartest MPs to step up. Of course too many of those are still in a big sulk about the Labour leader election. Get Chukka out, give Alan Johnson a big role, Theresa May has been in purdah, bring her out, Andrew Mitchell would be far better than John Major, yesterday’s man. Then there is Sadiq Khan of course, newly elected, internationally respected now, youngish and impressive. He could take the role on and carry it off, if only Cameron didn’t show up on platforms with him. Finally lock up and muzzle Tony Blair. He took us to an illegal war, fabricated reasons, has no moral or political capital.  Every time he speaks for the EU, hundreds probably go to the other side.

If the Remain team don’t shape up, all is lost. And as ever it will be the poorest and most powerless who will suffer for the next fifty years.

Last year Kareem was alive, but in a wheelchair. As he had been since the 2006 attacks by Israel on Gaza. He was from Gaza.  Medical Aid for Palestine asked me to tell his story as part of their campaign for injured and sick Palestinians. I had a picture taken of me, holding a poignant picture of Kareem. He looked quiet, resigned to his fate. He could not seek the medical help he needed because the Al Wafa hospital where he was being treated was bombed in 2014. Medics and paramedics there patiently tried to rehabilitate injured men, women and children. During this assault, 17 hospitals and 42 primary health care centres were destroyed. 18,000 houses were flattened and 110,000 people displaced. Kareem could not seek treatment elsewhere because movement is restricted and controlled. Now I hear Kareem died of untreated kidney failure. Try to imagine how he felt before his life was taken, his rage and incomprehension. Hatred too, I imagine. In this single story you understand the tragedy of Palestinians and also of increasingly intransigent Israel, which seems to have lost its heart and soul. History is betrayed and co-opted; the oppressed becomes the oppressor. there can be no winners.

Blog, 4th of June 2016