European Union flag. Photo: Gizmodo European Union flag. Photo: Gizmodo

Those who are trying to block Brexit, using anti-racist and pro-migrant arguments need to think again, argues Shabbir Lakha

In arguing to block Brexit, people are whitewashing what the EU as an institution actually is. We are now over 6 months on from the EU referendum and the debates on whether or not we should stay in the EU should long be over, but some have taken to fighting to stay in the EU at all costs and have even tried to make opposing Brexit a precondition to stopping Trump.

I found it sickening to see white men shout at Diane Abbott, a black woman, at Monday’s demonstration in London and call her racist because she supported the Article 50 bill. I found it absurd that people can chant against Donald Trump with an EU flag draped on their shoulders and a placard equating leaving a racist institution with a racist man.

The anti-racism, pro-migrant argument

If you’re going to argue that Brexit needs to be stopped, don’t say it’s because you support migrants and oppose racism. I’m a brown Muslim immigrant and you do not speak for me. If you think the EU is a progressive force then it’s because of your Eurocentric worldview, nothing else.

When you say “refugees welcome” in the same breath as “stop Brexit”, I think of the thousands of refugees at the bottom of the Mediterranean – 74 drowned just today – because the EU don’t want them here.

When you say “migrants are not the problem” in defence of the EU, I think of the EU’s constitutionally neoliberal policies that have pushed down wages, forced austerity on European people and prioritised free movement of capital and then scapegoated migrants for the failing public services, underemployment and lowering living standards.

When you say “defend Muslims” and then say “no racist EU exit”, I think of the burka ban, the minaret ban, the draconian policies to combat “militant/radical Islam” and the systematic vilification of Muslims and Islam as a means of justifying 15 years of the War on Terror. I’ve lived here for ten years, I’ve been called an “effing Paki” before and told “your people did 9/11”. This didn’t start with the EU referendum and stopping Brexit will do nothing to fight it. Changing this mindset comes from winning the arguments against war and austerity and challenging institutional racism at its roots.

I grew up in Kenya and I’ve seen firsthand what neocolonialism looks like. And I’ll tell you, one of its faces is a blue flag with yellow stars. You go ask the agricultural workers or the civil servants watching more government funds go to Europe and the US rather than domestic investment or alleviation of poverty in African countries how progressive they think the EU is.

You want to defend the EU because of freedom of movement but forget that that “freedom” applies only to the mainly white Europeans at the expense of everyone else, particularly the Global South. I defend this principle because rolling it back will not advance real freedom of movement and has no benefit to migrants from the rest of the world – but that doesn’t mean that in and of itself it isn’t a racist policy.

I know there are some people of colour who also oppose Brexit, but too many white men talk about defending migrants and think that justifies their view while marginalising the voices of us migrants. As Kevin Ovenden says:

“To be anti-racist in Greece means fighting to end the EU-Turkey deal and to open the borders. It is to rupture with the scheme which keeps refugees in camps and drowns others in the Mediterranean. Some 74 bodies washed up on the shores of Libya. 
So it is not just about having a clear anti-racist position in Britain. It is about having a position which is shared by radical movements all over Europe. 
No one is taking to the streets to say stop Brexit in Germany, France, Greece, Italy, Poland… People are fighting for something much more profound.”

We need unity

Although I disagreed, I completely understood the Remain position taken during the referendum – not David Cameron and the capitalist class’ one – but the one that opposed the far right and xenophobia. But as I’ve said before, pro-Remain does not mean pro-EU. It’s neoliberalism that has both disenfranchised people and fuelled racism, the combination of which has caused the collapse of the centre ground and boosted the far right. So you defending the EU is not only completely at odds with the principles you purport to hold, but it is exactly what the far right need to become an established force.

Let’s stop pretending the EU is some bastion of human rights and anti-racism, when in fact, it has a record of the opposite, and let’s unite around fighting racism, and for a People’s Brexit instead of a Tory one.

Event: Revolution – Russia 1917: One Hundred Years on


25 Feb, Rich Mix London

With Tariq Ali, Paul Le Blanc, Lindsey German, Lucia Pradella and many more.

Book now


10:00 am – 11.15 am

Storming heaven: the achievements of 1917

Paul Le Blanc, August Nimtz, Lindsey German

11.30 am – 12.45 pm

Democracy and the Revolution

August Nimtz, Judy Cox

1.45 pm – 3:00 pm

War, nationalism and revolution

Maria Nikolakaki, Chris Bambery, Alastair Stephens

3.15 pm – 4.30 pm

Lenin and Leninism

Tariq Ali, Paul le Blanc, and Kate Connelly

4.45 pm – 6:00 pm

Revolution in the 21 Century

John Rees, Stathis Kouvelakis, Tamas Krausz, Lucia Pradella


August Nimtz is Professor in the Political Science department at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minneapolis. He is a leading thinker and writer on socialist strategy, race in the United States and politics in Africa as well as an internationally recognised expert on Marx.

Lucia Pradella is an activist and writer who has written two acclaimed books on Marx’s Capital.

Paul Le Blanc is a world renowned writer on revolutionary history and the Russian revolution in particular. Currently Professor of History at La Roche College in Pittsburgh, since the 1960s he has been active in struggles for human rights and economic justice.

Lindsey German is a socialist activist and writer. As convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Tariq Ali is a socialist writer and broadcaster. A lifelong leader in anti-imperialist and socialist campaigns, he has been at the forefront of protests against war, from Vietnam to the Middle East. His new book on Lenin is out in March.

Maria Nikolakaki is a Greek intellectual and activist. She is a founding member of the Cooperative Institute for Transnational Studies.

Tamasz Kraus is a well know radical intellectual in Hungary and on of the editors of Marxist journal Eszmélet, he published theaward-winningg Reconstructing Lenin: an intellectual biography in 2015.

Judy Cox is a lifelong socialist writer and speaker. Now a teacher in East London, Judy was on the editorial board of International Socialism and has written amongst other things on Marx’s theory of alienation, Rosa Luxemburg’s economic theory, William Blake and Robin Hood.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.

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