I agree with Nesrine Malik (For liberals, Brexit is a hard lesson in the politics of resentment, 14 December) that Brexit has indeed “mined a generation of scattered grievances and forged them into a single demand, to leave the EU” and that immigration was one of those “grievances”. However, the leave vote was not all fuelled by anti-immigrant sentiment, and I say that as one who campaigned for remain.
I endorse the need for immigration. I endorse the need for us to fulfil our international legal and indeed moral obligations with respect to asylum seekers. However, since the majority who seek to settle here are economic migrants, what is actually wrong with a “system that sorts immigrants according to their value to the UK”? What is wrong with privileging highly skilled people who can communicate in English and can bolster our economy and enrich our society? I cite Nesrine as one very good example.
She appears to be insinuating that not only are “exclusively economic arguments … a facade for private racist attitudes of many leave voters” (in the words of research by Lucy Hu that she cites) but that this is the case for all who have economic reservations about immigration. That is simply not true. Expressing reasoned economic reservations about immigration does not automatically make someone a racist.
Is she (and other critics of UK immigration policy) actually proposing immigration without limit or restriction? If not, then make clear the nature of, and reasoning for, any restrictions we should impose.
• To her insightful analysis of the Brexit campaigns, Nesrine Malik might have added the unwitting role that some remainers played in hardening the leave vote. The more that people considering voting leave felt insulted and castigated for being stupid or racist by what they perceived as an uncaring, liberal elite, the more convinced they became.
• Labour’s failure to combat racist, anti-immigrant prejudices – referred to by Nesrine Malik – dates back at least to the 1964 government, which reneged on the commitment to repeal the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act and instead tightened it up in response to the loss of the “safe seat” of Smethwick to a racist and anti-immigrant local Tory campaign. Ever since then key elements in the party have been terrified of being labelled as “soft on immigration”, and consequently have blocked any serious attempt to confront the racist and xenophobic nationalism that underpinned a significant part of the Brexit vote and the loss of “red wall” seats in 2019.
• In focusing on the Tory party since Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech (This Brexit disaster has been brewing in the Conservative party for 30 years, 13 December), John Harris overlooks the much deeper currents that spawned the leave vote: Brexit represents the death rattle of the British empire. Our politics and culture are corrupted with a sepia-tinted narrative of beneficent foreign rule, militarism and exceptionalism that validates our nuclear weapons, permanent UN security council seat, foreign wars, our “special relationship” with the US, and the military-industrial interests they support. Europe was always a foreign county. The irony is that the delusions of empire now threaten to sabotage not just our prosperity, but the very nation state from which it first emerged.