Alex Hazlehurst: Don't call me racist for voting leave

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As a Kiwi in London, Alex Hazlehurst voted for the UK to leave the EU. She thinks in a decade's time, Britain will look back on the Brexit decision with pride.
Alex Hazlehurst voted for the UK to leave the EU. Photo / Supplied
Alex Hazlehurst voted for the UK to leave the EU. Photo / Supplied

Calling someone a 'racist' is one hefty label. A word so loaded, one would think it was reserved only for Kayne West lyrics. And can you imagine if it were used in the New Zealand public arena? It would make headlines from Kaitaia to Gore.

Here in London though, the word 'racist' is being hurled around the city almost as frequently as 'mind the gap'. I have been shoved into this category by everyone from market analysts to cab drivers (one cabbie asking if I didn't like Muslims?!)

Why? Well because I am in the London minority - I voted to leave the European Union.

I'm a New Zealand citizen on a two year visa, and under referendum rules, a Commonwealth citizen residing in the UK could participate in the vote. I have followed the ins and outs (no pun intended) of the EU debate for over a year - long before David Cameron's referendum announcement in February. I remember that day well. Not just because the media went into overdrive, but because I remember thinking this was my chance to channel all my research into the ballot paper.

That day seems like a lifetime ago now. The last few months of campaigning have been excruciatingly negative, childish and all consuming. You couldn't get on a tube or go to the hairdresser without someone saying ISIS might attack us if we leave, or Brexit would mean the next recession is inevitable.

However, despite the scaremongering, I had made up my mind back back in the winter- before I knew I could vote, and long before the debate got nasty. I had spoken to campaigners from both the leave and remain camps, researched EU laws, and as much as I tried to convince myself that remaining would be best, because it wouldn't rock the EU ship, I just couldn't. The leave arguments kept pulling me back.

Let's be clear. This wasn't a vote on whether Britain should remain part of a trade union or a common market - that was the idea back in 1973. Since then, it has evolved into a political union where Brussels holds the power. So if this was a vote like 1973, it would be remain all the way. But it wasn't.

Instead, this was a vote on whether Britain wanted to be part of a club that didn't have Britain's best interests at heart. A club where you are second best to other countries, and a club that says 'sorry, no more negotiations for you, you have the best deal you are going to get'. In my opinion, this country is perfectly capable of making its own laws and going about its business on Britain's terms. I don't see Australia having the final say on New Zealand's laws, and look how great we turned out.

As you will have heard, immigration dominated this campaign. Personally, my vote had nothing to do with immigration. Well not in the sense of numbers. I do want a fairer immigration system so the Commonwealth has equal opportunities to EU migrants.

At the moment, baristas from the EU can come in for as long as they like, yet a charity worker from New Zealand must be earning more than $70,000 a year to stay longer than two years. Where's the fairness in that? But despite some of my immigration arguments, my vote to leave was largely based on putting British democracy back on the map. It was about taking back Britain's sovereignty rather than continue to be undermined by a failing and broken EU parliament.

However, since making my vote known, never did I expect so many personal insults.

I have had weeks of being called an ill-informed, uneducated, racist, and I have quite frankly reached my peak. One of my fellow Brexiteer colleagues has endured the same treatment as I have, he had someone yell 'Nazi' after he was handed a 'Leave' leaflet in the street. He said to me the day after result, "Alex have we made the wrong decision? Have we screwed it all up?" I assured him we hadn't. I felt sick he was starting to buy into this idea we were bad people and "ruined the lives of millions".

There is a lot of ignorance in the world, and the immigration issue was a sexy selling point to those who are less tolerant of others. So I understand that some of the UK did vote leave for the wrong reasons.

But why label the majority with the views of a few? The last time I checked, wanting to break away from a rigid system of legislation doesn't mean you think you are superior to the Polish. Or if your leave vote was based on immigration, being concerned about half a million people coming to your country a year doesn't mean you discriminate against Romanians. But yet here I am today being called a racist (let alone a bigot, hooligan and thug) along with the other 52 per cent of Britain, because we ticked the second box. Hang on, aren't I the one being discriminated against here?

This weekend there was a march to Parliament to protest the Brexit vote. I know a few Kiwis involved. If that was you, good on you. Will it do much to help your cause? Probably not. Because your 30,000 strong protest isn't a scrape on the 17 million who saw the cracks in the European Union. So instead of putting on your marching boots, how about channelling that energy into the positives of this vote. Why not try grasping the idea this is a momentous opportunity for Britain, rather than the end of the world as we know it.

Brexit won't happen overnight, and neither will the benefits. But in a decade's time, Britain will look back on this decision with pride. They will reflect on what their country has achieved without EU intervention. They will be a country making their own laws, and one which is firmly cemented in the world market let alone Europe.

One week on from this historic referendum, there is a lot of uncertainty (not to mention political chaos), but more importantly, there are many wounds to heal. Now is not the time for name-calling, insults or sulking. It won't help anyone. Now is the time to acknowledge democracy, and focus on this country becoming a global Britain. That's there for the taking, and that's what I voted for.

- NZ Herald

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