In his lecture titled “Becoming British,” well known U.K. journalist Ismail Einashe discussed the consequences of Britain’s unprecedented decision to leave the European Union in 2016, the media’s failures in coverage leading up to the referendum and the changing definition of citizenship in the U.K. The lecture, which was co-sponsored by the departments of psychological sciences, english, journalism and the Human Rights Institute, was followed by an open Q and A session and refreshments.
Einashe contributes to Warscapes, an online publication, as well as The Guardian, The Nation and Prospect Magazine, among others. He is also affiliated with the Columbia School of Journalism and the Cambridge University Migration Research Network. Einashe also worked at BBC and writes a column for the International Business Times.
Einashe started his presentation with some background on Brexit -- Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. The decision was made on June 23, 2016 after a public referendum, or vote. 52 percent of voters, about 17 million people, chose to leave while 48 percent voted to stay. This came as a major shock to many after polls and research done before the referendum said that, although Brexit was gaining ground, it likely would not happen. Major influencing forces in the decision included Boris Johnson, former mayor of London and current Foreign Minister as well as Nigel Farage, a member of the U.K.’s Independence Party.
Included in his lecture were many visuals of some of the ad campaigns for leaving the E.U., including some slogans such as “Let’s Take Back Control!” Leading up to the referendum, mainstream media printed many false statements, saying such things as “Queen Backs Brexit” in an effort to bolster support for the vote to leave. According to Einashe, it was this misinformation, as well as a lack of education about the issue, that led to the ultimate vote.
“They took a very complex, multi-faceted issue and reduced it down to yes or no, with us or against us,” said Einashe.
The decision will start to come into effect with Article 50 in about a week. The process to officially leave the E.U. will take about two years.
Einashe included many of the headlines immediately following the Brexit vote, “Take a Bow Britain,” “We’re Out” and “See E.U. Later” among them. One poignant response was from a French publication in which they simply said, “Good Luck.” He claims there is a lack of conversation post-Brexit. The people still asking questions about what happens next are criticized and vilified, even accused of treason. Einashe called Brexit an earthquake, saying it affected everyone immediately.
“This was the next day. The prime minister resigned by 2 p.m. the next day. Markets were collapsing. There was genuine fear and panic.” He compared it to the recent political upheaval with the inauguration of President Trump in the United States. Einashe says while Trump’s election was a huge deal due to the power of the U.S., our government has checks and balances and a constitution to protect us still, whereas, in the U.K., the leading political figures have much more total control. Their constitution is unwritten and based in precedent and tradition. Many of the issues regarding Brexit concern whether the governing bodies actually had the power to do this, which British businesswoman Gina Miller actually brought to court in an effort to get Parliament to vote on the Brexit process. Einashe sees the entire thing as an issue of censorship.
“It’s a deliberate political strategy, one that Trump uses, to call you out and shut you out.”
According to Einashe, the decision has led to a lot of animosity, racism, and fear in the UK.
“This happened within families; within communities,” he said. Einashe included some personal anecdotes and situations he has experienced, being someone who supported remaining in the E.U.
The discussion of racism then led to one on citizenship. Einashe explains that citizenship is layered in Britain and there is a difference between being a citizen and being a subject of the monarch. In light of Brexit, efforts have been made to redefine British citizenship and reduce it. There are three million European citizens that live in Britain whose citizenship is at stake. British government will not guarantee their rights and they will be bargaining chips and part of the Brexit negotiation. He again brought up personal accounts of friends with dual citizenship or who have been naturalized that remain at risk, saying the Brexit decision has led to people feeling as if they don’t belong.
Since almost every aspect of British law is touched by the E.U., including environmental organizations, trade, the European parliament, as well as culture and human rights, Einashe says there is a lot at risk and we need to treat this as a global issue. According to him, we should not be accepting of the complacency or media failures and hold the government accountable.
“I think we have to speak up. And I think we have to resist,” Einashe concluded.
Julia Mancini is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.firstname.lastname@example.org.