One year to Brexit, but no slowdown in the debate over what led 52% of voters to vote to leave the European UnionPAUL BISSEGGER

Insinuations that Brexit voters were too stupid to think for themselves – simply hapless victims of a nefarious misinformation campaign – reared their ugly head again last week. “It was Facebook wot won it”: so says Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie, playing beautifully into the narrative that the uneducated turkeys voted for Christmas only because they were dazzled by the shiny lights on the oven.

I have told almost none of my Cambridge friends that I voted to leave the European Union because I don’t want it to colour the way people view me. Stereotypes of Leave voters aren’t exactly pleasant. I’m sorry, then, if my decision to write anonymously seems cowardly: Brexit is still such an emotive issue and I’m scared of receiving personal abuse for this article. However, with one year to go until departure day, my anger at intellectual elitism and classist condescension in certain Remainer circles has reached such a fever pitch that I feel compelled to call it out in whatever way I can.

“Too often, poorly managed migration has led to segregated communities and a failure of assimilation. Many such places voted to leave the European Union”

On 7 August 2017, The Independent proclaimed: “Brexit caused by low levels of education, study finds”. Illuminating headlines such as these prompt me to bitterly lament the paper’s online switch, preventing it from being put to its most fitting use as a lavatory aid. Thank God for such enlightened journalism to remind us that the Einsteins voted Remain and the thickos voted Leave.

No one seems to have wondered whether these differences of opinion might have less to do with intelligence and more to do with the markedly different socio-economic situations of those with a university education and those without one. Think about the salary chasm between graduates and non-graduates, or the different kinds of jobs they pursue, or the fact that top universities are dominated by private school students from London and its environs.

We need to wake up and accept that impoverished voters chose Brexit not because they’re thick, but because they’re poor. Their needs and priorities are obviously not the same as those of the middle-class Guardian readers who routinely anoint themselves saviours of the working class, grazing on their hummus with no hint of irony.

Brexit, we are told by aspiring paternalists, was a misdirected expression of anti-establishment sentiment. After all, how can poor people be expected to understand what they’re voting for? How can poor people, in their grubby little council houses, possibly decide what’s best for them without the help of City-types and university professors to fill in their ballots for them?

We are likewise reminded that the silly Brexit voters got carried away with fantasies of “taking back control”. So damned gullible! But did Remainers ever stop to question their own idealist delusions? Did anyone pause to marvel at how a solidly neoliberal, austerity-pushing, protectionist, dubiously democratic and hopelessly bureaucratic institution – a body utterly intransigent to reform and paralysed by infighting, that has flailed and wilted in the face of the refugee crisis, Europe’s greatest challenge of this decade – was transformed into the flag-bearer for every progressive value under the sun: the protector of all that is good and holy? How’s that for fantasy?

Having said all this, there is little doubt that the most prominent and divisive issue of the referendum campaign was immigration. It is hard for me to talk about this issue because free movement was not a factor in my personal decision to vote leave. I have never been so ashamed to be British as the harrowing day last year when Arkadiusz Jozwik was lynched by a fifteen-year-old boy in Harlow, a town only seven miles from where I grew up. After this unspeakable atrocity, it is hard to talk about immigration – but perhaps no moment could have stressed more urgently the necessity of doing so.

The movement of people across borders creates culturally richer, more vibrant and more prosperous nations: this is a truth that we must never lose sight of. But, as the Casey Review reminds us, there are places in Britain where this ideal has not been realised. Too often, poorly managed migration has led to segregated communities and a failure of assimilation. Many such places voted to leave the European Union.

“If we belittle and ignore the concerns of fair-minded people, we only legitimise the xenophobic right’s claim to offer the sole voice of dissent”

Should we chalk this up to the innate racism of the British working class? Or should we recognise this sad state of affairs for what it really is: a failure of British and European immigration policies to make multiculturalism a reality that all of us can share?


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Feel free to attack the vitriolic conduct of the referendum campaign: I’ll come and hold the placard with you. Feel free to burn copies of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, denouncing their world of hatred and lies: I’ll give you the match. But do not feel free to lump 17 million voters in with the skinheads. If we belittle and ignore the concerns of fair-minded people, we only legitimise the xenophobic right’s claim to offer the sole voice of dissent.

I will happily admit that I struggled for a long time to decide how to vote in the EU referendum. With so much at stake and such a complex set of issues at play, this wasn’t a decision to be taken lightly. I will also readily admit that the decision I made may prove to be the wrong one: I don’t have a crystal ball at hand.

But I weighed up all the arguments as carefully as I could and made the choice I thought was best with the information that I had. And so did 33 million other voters—regardless of class or education. They thought long and hard. They listened, debated and contemplated. They voted with integrity and conscience.

To pretend otherwise is an insult that cannot easily be forgiven.

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