Why is the immigration issue at the heart of many a Brexiteer? In a recent conversation I was engaged in, it was pointed out that a stable society has a common culture, and that culture is not the same as race. For example, we have a British culture that includes people of many different races and creeds, as seen in the Vote Leave camp which include amongst others, Muslims for Britain and a LGTB group Out and Proud. Interestingly, a lot of the earlier immigrant population of Africans, Caribbeans and Asians tend to support Brexit as well, as I’ve heard from a few different sources. The common thread is a shared British cultural identity. What has cultural identity got to do with Brexit?
Wanting to control the flow of immigration is not racist nor anti-other-people, it’s a sentiment that arises trying to protect one’s identity from cultural erosion. When an immigrant population drastically changes a culture that you identify with, immigration can feel like a personal threat to one’s identity.
Everybody associates with one cultural identity or another.
For Brexiters, this identity is linked to a solid past. How about you? Do you identify with your family from whence you came, your land where you grew up, your language, your history, the entertainment that made you and your friends laugh? If so, then you may want to conserve and protect these aspects of your culture. In which case getting out of the EU is a good idea, because we want certain things to stay the same, i.e., we want control over immigration so as to protect the culture that we identify with. (Addendum: The EU has also undermined a deep rooted English culture of jury trial, Habeas Corpus, and industrial pioneering that is only possible in a free market capitalism. Some things are worth conserving.)
On the other hand, if you identify with an idealistic future of a new world order where everybody in the world is equal and the government provides you with the essentials of life, then the EU probably sounds like a step in the right direction.
Some would say that it is part of British culture to accept immigrants, and that cultures evolve, which is true. In the past, and also currently, immigrants assimilated, and together with the local population, developed a new identity called British. It takes time and will of all parties. But the current open-border immigration is a different matter. When discussing immigration, we must talk about numbers and time frame, to properly understand the situation. My husband explained it like this: Immigration is like rain; when the fields are dry and the crops are wilting, you want it to rain. But when the fields are flooded and the sheep are drowning, the last thing you want is any more rain. So with immigration, a culture can absorb moderate numbers of immigrants at a time, but not large numbers all at once, otherwise the culture, hence society, becomes very unstable.
The Brexit campaign is said to be so much more energized than the Remain campaign (even when Remain has more than twice the funding of Leave). I think this is because the influx of immigration in the last fifteen years has forced us to reflect on our own identities, and have awakened our primal instincts to fight back what feels like a threat to our own identities.