When novelist Will Self said “not all Brexiters are racists, but almost all racists will be voting for Brexit” he summed up eloquently how the 2016 EU referendum’s Leave campaign had made all people of color feel unwelcome.
Populist politicians were given too much air-time and they turned a nuanced, complicated issue into a simple choice: them or us. Brexiteers, like Nigel Farage, made EU nationals, like Polish laborers, their economic scapegoats for the country’s growing social deprivation, with their dog-whistle rhetoric leading to a huge spike in racist attacks and prejudiced language after the questionable 2016 result.
“Send them back” became a refrain that was later popularized by President Trump. I was racially abused in the street by passersby, which hadn’t happened since I was a kid, 30 years ago. It was clear that the Leave campaign had tapped knowingly into something that was buried deep in the British psyche—the link between British imperialism and white supremacy.
Worse still, any chance of Brexit being stopped was quashed in the December 2019 UK general election, when voters seemed to buy Boris Johnson’s simplistic call to “Get Brexit Done” by returning a majority of MPs who were all keen to leave the EU. The electorate again ignored repeated warnings that populists were lying to them and that leaving the EU in this manner would mean years and years of protracted trade talks.
So why does a British-Asian Londoner, like me, favor a tipple liked by bearded old white men with pot-bellies over, say, a cold craft APA like Gamma Ray?”
So on Friday, we Brexited, officially abandoning the EU as triumphant Leave voters took to the streets in scenes I could only describe as embarrassing (especially as we still have a 11-month transition period where the country remains in the EU customs union and single market). For some Brits, it was worth celebrating like a soccer result, and the vitriolic racism returned with fresh incidents reported throughout the UK. From next year we will start to see the effects of a Johnson-led Brexit, and it could be marked by people taking to streets again—but in this case to protest against job losses and a tanking economy.
It’s almost enough to put you off your beer. Almost. My devotion to British booze runs deep and “real ale” is connected for me with everything I still love about this crazy country. It’s basically cask beer brewed with traditional ingredients and pulled without gas by the bartender. So why does a British-Asian Londoner, like me, favor a tipple liked by bearded old white men with pot-bellies over, say, a cold craft APA like Gamma Ray?
The relationship, ironically, began in Johnson’s parliamentary constituency of Uxbridge, a suburban town in west London, where 20-odd years ago I worked as a bartender in a pub called The Crown when I was a university student. It was the type of establishment where I was expected to listen without complaint to paunchy men complain about immigration while I pulled their pints. The regulars ranged from an ex-army type to a former soccer hooligan who had faded tattoos and tall tales of drunken fights.
All this nostalgia I feel when I taste beer is very reminiscent of the type of longing that the Brexit campaign tapped into.”
I tolerated this nonsense for two reasons: I had no money and the beer was good. Boy, was it good. The cellar was one of the cleanest areas I’ve ever seen in a commercial enterprise and the beer was always fresh. Any keg that had been on for more than 24 hours (this was an admittedly unlikely scenario) was unplugged and then sent back to the brewery. Even though this was two decades ago, I can still remember the three main keg beers that weren’t among the “guests” or rotated ales. Bombardier. London Pride. 6X.
Bombardier was great. Pride was really good. But I remember the 6X in the Crown to be out of this world. Malty, fruity, and with the right amount of hops. I’ve had all these beers recently and they were OK. Bombardier has become hard to find, Pride is pretty boring taste-wise but 6X is still a treat. Those beers started an odyssey that has taken me to numerous beer festivals, tastings, pubs, and breweries. The subsequent 20 years have been a blast and I’ve found many more amazing real ales, which now have much warmer memories connected to them.
That includes where I live now in southeast London. Here there’s a brewery that seems to have been set up to wholly cater for my tastes (it hasn’t, I don’t drink that much) with a red ale which will be forever synonymous with my family and the fun-filled life we have. There’s also my local pub, which serves Harvey’s Best, a beer enduringly connected to a wonderful cycling holiday through Kent and Sussex my partner and I had in a particularly carefree time of our lives. The trip ended in the town of Lewes, where the Harvey’s brewery sits by the River Ouse with the chalk hills of the South Downs framing a wonderfully British scene. The brewery is imbued with tradition and delivers the area’s beer by horse and dray.
All this nostalgia I feel when I taste beer is very reminiscent of the type of longing that the Brexit campaign tapped into, especially as some of my memories have become sun-hued. If I were to remove the filter from that holiday, I would suddenly picture the man who racially abused me for refusing to yield on a cycle path, the pub landlord that aggressively told me to order a curry I didn’t want, and the odd looks some villagers gave me for being an Asian guy with a white girlfriend.
Instead of retreating to echo chambers and the safety of our own tribes, folks of differing political viewpoints need to find some common ground.”
We’ve all started to cling on to the past too much because the future is so uncertain. But it makes sense for me to be sat writing this article in the corner of my local Wetherspoons, despite its owner’s Brexit-stance, because now more than ever we need to socialize with people with different views to our own. Instead of retreating to echo chambers and the safety of our own tribes, folks of differing political viewpoints need to find some common ground. It’s not an easy journey as we all have been pitted against each other by the right-wing media and populist governments.
But if a nice cold(ish) beer can’t bring us together, what can?
Top image by Klaus Heller on Pixabay.