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‘It’s high time we combated the rise of the far-right’

Submitted by on 29 Sep 2016 – 09:00

Ever since Britain’s Leave vote, widespread Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant sentiments, have without doubt dominated in the United Kingdom and across Europe, triggering the rise of political parties supporting the anti-Europe rhetoric. European far-right groups are now finding their way into mainstream politics, with greater acceleration. Tracing the rise of the far-right, Tanja Fajon MEP, Vice-Chair of Parliament’s S&D Group, writes that Europe should unquestionably focus all its attention in fencing the wave of hate crime and racial abuse

Tanja Fajon

It has been more than a month since the UK voted to Leave the European Union and Thursday 23rd June 2016 will most certainly be remembered in history. The UK’s membership within the European Union is now on the line. The aftermath has severely shaken the economy and the world’s oldest currency the pound sterling. Most political parties in Britain are in turmoil but what is even more worrying is the impact Brexit has had on the far right movement in the UK and the rest of Europe.

Will the EU change and how? Who really lost and who really won the referendum in the UK? These are the questions all of us seek answers for. While the extent of influence of Brexit on the EU and the potential future relationship between the UK and the EU remains uncertain, Brexit will without doubt change the way Britain operates. The consequences of Brexit have largely been underestimated by the political establishments in Westminster – from both sides – and to some extent, in other European capitals.

The referendum campaign was very dirty and dishonest. It even resulted in the death of Jo Cox – an event that broke my heart and continues to upset me. The arguments of the Leave campaign were often misconstrued, populist, xenophobic and racist. The Remain camp did not effectively challenge and counter the Leave camp, offering little concrete solutions to convince the undecided. Unfortunately, both camps eventually failed many of their supporters.

What remains particularly worrying is that the campaign led by major mainstream politicians and parties legitimized the anti-immigration rhetoric and xenophobia. There was a surge in racist attacks on immigrants or people of immigrant descent, immediately after the vote. More than a hundred incidents of racial abuse have been reported ever since Britain’s Leave vote. This is the main reason for concern and all of us have to forcefully condemn it. The UK has to admit that it has a problem that has been largely ignored thus far. We have to combat this growing anti-immigration rhetoric, and guarantee that high social standards remain untouched, including for foreign workers.

The reactions across Europe were coherent in calling for the ‘immediate’ triggering of the exit procedures, threby ending the period of uncertainty and a wave of hate crime. European far right hails the Brexit vote and parties across Europe have seized the moment, calling for similar referenda in their respective countries.

What happened in the UK must be a lesson for all of us. On one hand, we should improve the way in which we communicate our policies to our electorate who are starting to feel more detached from Brussels. We urgently need to find ways to convince our citizens about the benefits of a united Europe and the opportunities it holds. Our response has to be more concrete and should instantaneously relate to our voters. People should become more involved in decision making through an enhanced democratic processes.

People in the rest of Europe seem to understand the benefits of a united Europe. Several recent surveys on the EU’s popularity have revealed a big surge in support of the EU. In fact, according to a IFOP survey, Denmark, Sweden and Finland have all backed continued EU membership, with surges in support to 69%, 52% and 68%, respectively immediately after Britain’s Leave vote.

Another lesson we ought to learn from this is that we cannot take anything for granted. We must not let things get out of hand, the way they did in the UK. Peace and prosperity were the principles of our founding fathers when they established the European project. They have to be fiercely defended against nationalism and populism. Now, this means that the new Conservative government faces an enormous task in delivering on some big promises it made to its electorate. One of its greatest challenges remains in countering the rise of far-right movement. The latter will undoubtedly be a challenge for all other European governments. But what will indeed happen is yet to be seen. The Article 50 has not been triggered yet. There is severe opposition by the lawmakers as the UK parliament might require further consent before releasing the trigger. Moreover, Scotland and Northern Ireland could further complicate Britain’s exit plan.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same” – (Fr. ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’) are the famous words of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in an epigram in the issue of his journal Les Guêpes in January 1849, in which he often explained with bitter wit and satirical tones, some of the greatest artistic and political celebrities of the age. The oft quoted, timeless epigram is seldom used to describe current political events that do not affect reality on a deeper level other than to cement the status quo. Only time will tell if this holds good for Britain’s future relationship with the European Union.