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How the conduct of the Leave campaign in the EU Referendum has toxified British politics

While "Leavers" included many liberal-minded internationalists, the Leave campaign could only win by appealing to xenophobia.


Posted 9 July 2019

A habit from my professional life is ensuring that I am easy to contact. Accordingly, I often accept Facebook friend requests from slight acquaintances or complete strangers.

Muhammad Hussain became my Facebook friend in early June and at his request I liked his page News Leaf.

On Saturday 6 July via Facebook Messenger he asked me for a written interview for his website and included in his message the seven questions for which he wanted answers, specifying 50-100 words for each answer, and including an email address for sending my response.

By making his request comprehensive, he made it easy for me to decide whether to accept or reject it. I sent him the responses later that day, and the interview was published in the evening. You can read it at "Mohammed Amin Interview: Leave Campaign Toxified British Politics."

I recommend reading the full interview at the link above. Below I have reproduced just the questions and answers, because I want to supply some additional material.

The questions, my answers, and additional material

You recently stated that “I will quit if Boris Johnson becomes PM” – would that not be undemocratic as it would go against the wishes of Conservative Party members?

Every Conservative Party member is free to vote for the leadership candidate of their choice. Equally, every party member is free to resign for whatever reason.

There is nothing undemocratic about me resigning from the Conservative Party if it chooses as its Leader someone who I consider does not care about the distinction between truth and falsehood.

I have previously made it clear that no other leadership contender, not even an arch Brexiteers such as Dominic Raab, would cause me to leave the Conservative Party. Mr Johnson is unique!

Additional information

I have two separate serious objections to Mr Johnson, which I consider make him morally unfit to be Conservative Party Leader or Prime Minister.

Firstly, I believe that in his August 2018 column he chose to denigrate niqab wearing Muslim women for his own political ends, without caring about whether his words would cause them to be verbally or physically abused on the streets, as many were in the following few weeks.

See my BBC Newsnight and talkRADIO interviews on my page "The toxification of politics threatens us all."

Secondly, some of his public statements appear to show no concern about truth.

In January 2019, when he incorrectly asserted at JCB that during the EU Referendum Campaign he never said that Turkey was joining the EU, I do not believe that he was suffering from a lapse of memory. See the Guardian article "Boris Johnson wrongly denies stirring Turkey fears in Brexit campaign." I believe he gave that answer without caring whether it was true or false. I hold the same view of many of his other public statements.

Will you be joining a different party after your resignation? If so, which one?

I have not reached a decision. I do not believe in being a bystander in democratic politics, and if I considered that Mr Johnson was likely to be Conservative Party Leader for a long time, I would almost certainly look closely at the other political parties and join the one that I considered most aligned with my views.

However, it is possible that the inherent contradictions in his positions mean that Mr Johnson may last less than a year as Conservative Leader.

If – as some polls claim – Boris Johnson is the best candidate to defeat Jeremy Corbyn in a General Election then surely he is the best placed candidate you ought to support?

 There are no redeeming features which can outweigh a fundamental integrity deficit.

Furthermore, I do not believe that Mr Johnson is better placed to defeat Jeremy Corbyn than is Mr Hunt, for whom I have already cast my Conservative Party leadership ballot. Some of the polling I have seen supports my view.

Mr Johnson is very popular with Conservative Party members, and with Leave voters. However, he is remarkably unpopular in certain parts of the country.

Moving away from the Conservative Party onto more general issues facing the UK. Do you think Brexit is to blame for the ‘toxification’ of British politics?

The way that Leave campaigned in the 2016 EU Referendum has toxified British politics. While many Leave supporters are “liberal internationalists”, with Daniel Hannan MEP as the best example, the anti-EU message relied critically upon appeals to xenophobia directed at Europeans generally and Middle Eastern refugees in particular.

Furthermore, the Leave campaign actively discredited expertise and knowledge, because the overwhelming majority of economists, MPs and senior business people considered EU membership beneficial to Britain.

Additional information

For academic evidence of the importance of anti-immigration sentiment in the EU Referendum voting, see page 20 of the academic paper "Why Britain Voted for Brexit: An Individual-Level Analysis of the 2016 Referendum Vote."

And, what are some of the ways to tackle the recent ‘toxification’ of British politics?

It is essential to return to political civility. Mr Corbyn’s official parliamentary title is “The Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” and he should be respected as such.

Referring to political opponents as "traitors", judges as “Enemies of the People” is how politics has been toxified, and reversal requires the elimination of such vocabulary.

Detoxification requires accepting that our political opponents genuinely seek the best for Britain; but are simply incorrect in their analysis of the issues and have chosen solutions that are less appropriate than ours.

Additional information

I have often stressed the importance of a disciplined approach to one's vocabulary. The words you use affect the way that you think, and the way that others think. See for example my page "Choose words that unite people."

In a recent Facebook post, you wrote that you donated ‘to a campaign to encourage Remain supporting parties to co-operate’. Do you actually think this is a viable aim given the vast differences among the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP?

In normal situations, one would not expect such diverse political parties to cooperate. However, Brexit is a critical issue because it risks creating serious, irreversible, long-term harm to our country. It could lead to both Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the Union, as well as severely damaging our economy.

In such circumstances, political parties are far more willing to compromise.

To conclude on a slightly lighter note, what message would you like to give to young ambitious immigrants who have recently moved to the UK?

At times, you may feel that you have moved to a country the citizens of which have collectively gone mad.

Be reassured. Only some of them have gone mad, and the illness is curable with time and goodwill.

However, the patient needs protecting from carrying out severe self-harm such as  a No-Deal Brexit!


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