Fortress Britain retreats into splendid isolation
A clear sign of isolationism was made clear by the rapid rise of the UK Independent Party (UKIP), which is ideologically anti-foreign and opposed to the expansion of EU power. In May 2014, UKIP came first in the 2014 European Parliament elections, ahead of the Labor and Conservative parties, seizing 24 of the UK’s 73 EP seats. It was probably the first time in a century that a party other than Labour and Conservative parties came first in a nationwide election.
Although UKIP has never won a seat in the House of Commons, its share of the popular vote has been growing steadily in Commons elections. In 1993, its share was a mere 0.3 percent of the vote, winning under (106,000) votes. However, in the 2010 election, it got nearly a million, or 3 percent of the popular vote, a ten-fold jump. Four years later, in the European Parliament elections last May, it got (4.4) million votes, or 28 percent of the popular vote, ahead of any other party!
UKIP already has three members in the House of Lords and in the 2013 local elections, it came fourth in the number of council seats and third in nationwide vote share, a success that has been called the “biggest surge for a fourth party” in British politics since the World War II.
It is clear that mainstream parties are concerned about UKIP’s encroachment on their electoral base, as it has been winning at their expense. This week, Lord Ashcroft’s polls showed that UKIP candidates are ahead of both Labour and Conservatives in some of the seats to be contested in the upcoming House of Commons elections, expected in May 2015. Based on that, the UK will have its first UKIP MPs in 2015, as the polls suggest that it would be able to wrest some Conservative-held seats.
However, political parties differ on how to deal with the threat. Some are distancing themselves from its isolationist agenda and anti-immigrant diatribes, while others are trying to appease UKIP base by echoing its xenophobic rhetoric and anti-EU outbursts, and raising the prospect of the UK leaving the EU altogether.
Critics have pointed out that the prime minister himself has engaged in anti-immigrant politics, as he has pledged to keep a cap on legal immigration, and limit rights of those who immigrate, including from other EU countries. They called on the prime minister to tone down his rhetoric, lest it creates a backlash against Conservatives among their votes as well as foreign allies. In March 2014, MPs from Cameron’s own party launched “Conservatives for Managed Migration”, which has been critical of his anti-immigrant policies. One of its founders was Mark Field, Conservative MP for the cities of London and Westminster, who told the press that his party should end its “near obsession” with the issue and drop its attempts to “outdo” UKIP.
In the EU elections in May, UKIP was able to lure away Tory voters. Conservatives countered those efforts by trying to demonstrate that they were more anti-immigrant than UKIP. They sent out vans with messages encouraging illegal immigrants to “go home” as well as calling for tougher policies against immigrants’ right to benefits and the welfare state.
As a result, Britain is facing legal action by the European Commission, which has brought the case before the European Court of Justice, challenging Britain’s restrictions on EU citizens’ right to reside in its territory.
Gulf visitors and business people have also faced the ill effects of the new anti-foreign atmosphere in Britain. British police have reported a sharp rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes during 2014. There have been several horrific attacks on GCC visitors in Britain, which have received extensive media coverage.
While theft may have been a motive in some of those crimes, the excessive violence with which they were committed suggests that they may have been hate crimes.
While violent crimes receive a lot of media attention, other policies negatively affecting GCC citizens
have had less media coverage. Changes in tax and investment rules have made the UK less hospitable for GCC business people, contrary to its declared policy of encouraging investment and trade. GCC customers of British banks have received curt letters from their banks informing them that their banking services were being terminated and accounts closed.
While many countries have waived visas for GCC passport holders, Britain has made it more difficult for most GCC citizens to visit Britain. There are tens of thousands of GCC students in UK schools, studying at their own or their governments’ expense, but many complain about the difficulties they now face dealing with new policies aimed at limiting the number of immigrants to the UK. Although there are no recorded cases of GCC citizens seeking to immigrate, or take advantage of UK welfare system, the immigration system treats them as potential job seekers, moochers and freeloaders.
It is ironic that Britain, with a long imperialist and aggressively intervention past, and with a domain covering seven continents, would now adopt isolationist policies. With its sons and daughters spread all over the world and reaping the benefits of globalization, it is strange that Britain itself would now retreat into its fortress, and sing the praises of “splendid isolationism” again.
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