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Sunday 23 October 2016


It's not racist to want to control national borders

It's hysterical to suggest the English have turned xenophobic and anti-immigrant

Vexed questions: Polls reveal that 60pc of first and second-generation migrants want to see immigration reduced Photo: AP Photo/Amel Emric
Vexed questions: Polls reveal that 60pc of first and second-generation migrants want to see immigration reduced Photo: AP Photo/Amel Emric

There have been some pretty mad articles written recently by Irish journalists about Brexit, but palm goes to Kathy Sheridan of The Irish Times.

Her first illustration of why she believes the Leavers are moving "ever closer to a religious movement, as authoritarian, fanatical and swivel-eyed as any rogue cleric", was the tale of a Conservative councillor in a Surrey suburb who launched a petition to make supporting EU membership an act of treason. She said nothing about his suspension by his local party leader - who described the petition as "crass" and "stupid" - or its withdrawal.

In The Guardian, Eimear McBride, winner of the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, said the Brexit vote had turned its back on a union "forged to overcome the rank, jingoistic nationalism that wreaked such havoc across the continent and the world in the 20th century" and failed to give priority to maintaining the peace in Northern Ireland - "a web of hope… carelessly, thoughtlessly jeopardised by a handful of bloviating careerists unashamed to found fear and division in British society in order to achieve their personal ambitions".

Mind you, neither plumbed the depths like former Labour minister Ruairi Quinn, who said the UK vote meant "the Brits, or actually the English, hate foreigners".

As I struggled long and hard about how to vote on Brexit, the possible consequences for Ireland troubled me greatly, but in the end I couldn't support staying in what I think has become a sprawling, sclerotic, dysfunctional, bureaucratic hell-hole incapable of meeting such urgent challenges as mass migration and Russian aggression, while demanding a European army that can only undermine Nato. It evades reform, while demanding ever-more power. It never suited the English, who distrust vast continental projects, but was good for Ireland for a long time. Yet in recent times, it assisted Ireland's plunge into irresponsible debt, sacrificed the country to German bankers and bullied and continues to bully Ireland because it is small.

It was a UK referendum and, inevitably, it was the English results that mattered. The English electorate (massive compared to the other parts of the UK) provided 28,455,402 out of a total of 33,577,342 votes, or 85pc; Scotland accounted for just under 8pc, Wales, 4.8pc and Northern Ireland 2.35pc. England and Wales, both of which voted Leave, also had the highest turnout (England 73pc, Wales 71.7pc, Scotland 67.2pc and Northern Ireland 62.7pc).

On top of that, England heavily subsidises the rest of the UK, something few English realised until the debate over Scottish independence two years ago. It makes them more inclined to resent being lectured on their historical and other iniquities by the fringes who depend on them. The English - who have absorbed a great deal of immigration in the past - have also borne the brunt of UK mass immigration (93pc), which they came to resent not least because no one consulted them about it. In 1997, net migration (those arriving minus those leaving) was 47,000: in 2005 it had risen to 320,000: 3.6 million migrants arrived under New Labour (1997-2010). As a Downing Street speechwriter later disclosed, mass immigration was intended by the government to make the UK truly multicultural, but public discussion was deliberately avoided for electoral reasons.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales still have plenty of room, but England is now the second most densely populated country in the EU (after the Netherlands); one in four children born in England and Wales has a foreign-born mother, there is a serious housing crisis, a strain on maternity services and a shortage of school places. What is more, 80pc of those who come from the EU are competing for low-skilled work, which has therefore become increasingly badly paid. It is hardly surprising that 77pc of the public (and 60pc of first and second-generation migrants) want to see immigration reduced. This is not racism: it is a desire to regain control over borders, fuelled by an increasing distaste for being dictated to by a shambolic and deaf ruling class in Brussels.

Your average Joe has got very fed up with being accused of racism and xenophobia, having made it clear in poll after poll that he doesn't want any immigrants presently living in the United Kingdom to be asked to leave. The recorded increase in race or religious hate crimes since the referendum has been massively exaggerated by an over-zealous police force and the media left. The English-based Irish journalist Declan McSwiney, one of an ethnically mixed family who found "multi-ethnic Britain a haven", eloquently reminded Ruairi Quinn last week that Britain has an admirable level of integration of minorities and a long tradition of inter-racial marriages.

Opposing unsustainable levels of immigration is not xenophobia and one dotty councillor doesn't make a summer.

Ruth Dudley Edwards' 'The Seven: the life and legacies of the founding fathers of the Irish Republic' was published by Oneworld on March 22

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards