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Platform: Has Brexit led to an increase in anti-Irish racism

File photo dated 02/07/16 of a European Union flag in front of the Elizabeth Tower, as Theresa May and key Cabinet ministers who oversee Brexit negotiations are expected to discuss Britain's offer to the European Union for the so-called "divorce bill" Brussels insists is needed to unlock trade talks. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday November 20, 2017. The Cabinet Exit and Trade (Strategy and Negotiations) sub-committee will meet on Monday after Chancellor Philip Hammond said Britain will make proposals to the EU in the next three-and-a-half weeks on the settlement of outstanding financial commitments. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire.

THE vote in the UK in June 2016 to leave the EU has been associated with an increase in racially and religiously aggravated hate in the country, especially in England.

Much of that hostility was initially directed at Poles and Muslims but it has extended through an increasingly confident display of broader prejudices, especially on the far right.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Racism reported in 2018 on an increased environment of racial discrimination and intolerance in the UK.

There have already been concerns about a reversion to anti-Irish, including anti-Northern Irish, racism.

My research reveals evidence of such racism.

The research included a survey via social media and analysis of reports across media outlets from June 2016 through to the present day.

There are numerous instances of anti-Irishness, including racial insults and racial stereotyping directed at individuals personally or the Irish generally.

One of the respondents to my survey, ‘Damian' (whose name I have changed to protect his identity), recalled an incident in a London pub in 2017. He had moved to London from the north of Ireland to work as an English language teacher over five years before.

He told me that during an organised class visit to a pub, an English woman who was about to leave the pub learned of his identity and made “several barbed comments” casting aspersions on his ability as an Irish person to teach English. She also insinuated that by arranging a visit to the pub he must be an alcoholic.

Stereotypes of Irish stupidity and drunkenness are inextricably linked historically to England's assumed sense of superiority over Ireland.

‘Dan' reported in October 2018 that he, too, had experienced anti-Irishness “quite a few” times since the referendum, including being told to “go home”. He hadn't personally been subject to any anti-Irishness in his previous 19 years in the UK.

The centrality of English identity within the campaign for Brexit is key to understanding contemporary anti-Irish racism. This requires recognition of England's vital role in the British Empire.

Since the 2016 referendum, old imperial views and stereotypes of the Irish have reappeared alongside revisionist nostalgia about defeat of adversaries in Europe in two world wars.

These Brexit-beliefs are associated with broader jingoistic enthusiasm for ‘taking our country back', references to ‘enemies' and ‘traitors', and Prime Minister Boris Johnson's recent anxiety about ‘surrender'.

Such sentiments echo in the statement in January by Mark Francois, Conservative MP for Braintree in Essex, and member of the right-wing European Research Group, that his father “was a D-Day veteran, he never submitted to bullying by any German. Neither will his son."

Such views are mostly channelled through the beating heart of Brexit, UKIP, and its recent stent the Brexit Party but are now increasingly pumped through the arteries of right-wing southern English Conservatives, and their favoured media.

Tenniel's cartoons for Punch in 1866 depicted Ireland as childish, troublesome, and in need of correction. The depiction resonates in recent calls by a “Tory grandee” and former UK minister that the “Irish really should know their place.”

These views are absorbed at a popular level and directed as racial insult but anti-Irish racism also needs to be understood to include systemic racism – often apparent in negligent indifference or calculated disrespect to the legitimate expectations or rights of the Irish.

This partly explains the lack of consideration and care for the backstop and the significance of the border.

It is reflected in the ignorance of Karen Bradley, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, about local political voting preferences.

It is plausible that in the event of Brexit the Irish will be on the receiving end of further racism, not least because of the (mis)perception that Ireland and many politicians in the north have wilfully sought to frustrate Brexit.

This is far from saying that all Brexiteers are necessarily racist: they are not.

Nor does every person who is Irish or assumed to be Irish in Britain experience Brexit-related interpersonal racism. Some people are privileged or fortunate because of social class, residence, occupation, or lifestyle to avoid the worst forms of racism.

No-one is immune, however, from well-established beliefs that may manifest in particular incidents nor the overarching political approaches that will have profound implications for peace and economic security.

Dermot Feenan

Associate Research Fellow

Institute of Advanced Legal Studies

School of Advanced Study, University of London

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