Nick Cohen Nick Cohen

Brexit was propelled by prejudice. Why deny it?

There are two theories about racial prejudice. Most people talk as if there is a fixed block of people ‘the racists’: always white and extreme right wing, and usually covered in tattoos. They are ugly to be sure, but they are just a few irreconcilables in the otherwise merrily diverse land of multi-faith, multi-cultural Britain.

The alternative is less cheering. Prejudice can overcome all or most of us in the right circumstances. It just lies there, like a virus waiting to be triggered. We may not know we have it, but we are capable of succumbing in the right circumstances.

The rotten apple theory of racism has taken a battering in 2016. As I have probably written too much on the subject, I will allow others to speak. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, talks of using the full force of the Metropolitan police against the extraordinary rise in racist attacks since the European referendum. He at least has no doubt what authorised the abuse of foreigners or anyone who looks remotely foreign.

We cannot let the level of debate during the referendum campaign normalise behaviour that is completely unacceptable.

Fraser Nelson, the editor of The Spectator, is equally stunned by Theresa May’s refusal to guarantee that EU migrants in Britain should have the right to remain. May, the supposedly moderate and sensible candidate for PM, does not understand that

Britain needs these people; our NHS needs these people. We don’t keep them as a favour to Poland and nor should we ever dream of bargaining their residency in some game of diplomatic hardball. The EU may threaten deportation of Brits: it’s a corrupt and undemocratic institution which is why the 52pc of us voted to leave. But no British government should ever consider kicking out any of the two million EU nationals who are already with us.

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