‘The internationalist nature of Vote Leave appealed to many British Muslims’

Much has been made after the referendum on 23rd June by analysts trying to understand why the country voted to leave the European Union. As I often say (mainly to those who voted remain), apart from an obvious split between older age groups and those that are younger, there was no one single demographic that one can look to for a definitive indication of why someone voted leave or remain.

At Muslims for Britain, we found British Muslims all over the country who voted to leave the European Union, did so for various reasons. The reasoning behind this is complex and cannot be understood through binary lenses of class, race or creed but rather an understanding of the historical heritage, culture and British experience that certain communities have undergone.

Of the approximate 3.6m British Muslims, we estimated nearly 800,000 voted to leave the European Union. That is no small number and puts paid to accusations that Leave was purely a respite for xenophobic or right wing ideologies. Rather, it is precisely the internationalist nature of the Vote Leave campaign that appealed to many British Muslims. As a British Muslim of Pakistani heritage and a chartered accountant by profession, I was quite clearly not anti-immigration, nor was I anti-free trade.

On the contrary, many British Muslims shared my view that a nation should be able to decide its degree of sovereignty as it sees fit, and should be able to easily make free trade deals – if that is what it wants – with those countries that it wants.

It is that flexibility of manoeuvrability and the loss of it that was so bemusing to so many leave voters that I spoke to. Consider that many of the British Muslims in the country come from South Asia (given our Commonwealth links) and one would be hard pressed to find anyone from a South Asian country who would be willing to give ultimate sovereignty over our law-making to a supranational South-Asian commission, parliament and court.

Immigration also played an important role but not in the way that has been portrayed in certain quarters of the media. There is a sphere for us to have a sensible mature debate about immigration and I would argue that the country has clearly shown its desire for it. British Muslims and British Asians who were put at a disadvantage by a two-tier European immigration system which favoured those within its borders and discriminated against those who came from outside, genuinely and sincerely questioned why this was the case. This system seems arbitrary to many and when the country needs skilled workers from across the world, a desire to have control and to evolve our immigration system is not a bad thing.

I have no doubt that many British Asians will be heartened by the Prime Minister’s visit to India, not just because of the potential market of 1.2 billion consumers, but further because of the intent it signifies. It shows the world that we will continue to be internationalist, outward looking, trade-friendly and evolving for the 21st century. Given how the election campaign in the United States of America has played out, many in the world will be looking for the kind of leadership that I believe only Great Britain can provide.

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