The Brexit debate has split families and communities across Britain.


by BARNIE CHOUDHURY MANY years ago, the Channel 4 newscaster Jon Snow was a visiting professor of journalism at Nottingham Trent University, where I happened to lecture. Over the years, I learned from him, and so did my students. When asked by a national newspaper what he would like for his epitaph, Jon cleverly showed how in touch he was with popular culture. He wanted the words: “You know nothing, Jon Snow” on his tombstone, in reference to that brilliant drama The Game of Thrones. Simple. Genius. Typical Jon Snow. To this day, under his stewardship, Channel 4 News remains the programme to watch for any serious journalist. But Jon has run into trouble after 2,600-odd people complained to the Office of Communications (Ofcom) about an impromptu ad-lib on one of his programmes at the end of March. His crime? During one of the pro-Brexit protests in parliament, the veteran newsman said he had “never seen so many white people in one place”. As a former member of Ofcom’s advisory committee for England for five years, I get visibly riled up when I hear mention of a person’s skin colour if  it is not germane to the story, as those with whom I served will tell you. With all due respect to my former colleagues, Jon did nothing wrong. He was saying it as he saw it. And, what’s more, he was doing us a public service. He was pointing out something which needed further examination – why were there so few people of colour at this rally? If you think Brexit has nothing to do with race, then I humbly suggest you are wrong. Brexit has everything to do with race. It goes to the heart of how we see and define ourselves. It is central to our identity. And what is more, Asians have skin in the game. Only, they have not been asked for their views because the media, except for this newspaper, has not asked the question – why would Asians, many of whom are descended from immigrants, vote in favour of Brexit? It is not because Asians aren’t interested in Brexit. The biggest issue of our time affects business. And remember that according to the 2019 report by Grant Thornton, a global independent firm of tax auditors, 842 Indian companies operate in the UK today, with combined revenues of almost £48 billion. They paid a total of over £684 million in corporation tax, significantly higher than global brands Google, Amazon and Starbucks. So why haven’t we made more of how Asians view Brexit. Yes, we can be notoriously media shy. Yes, we go to great lengths to make sure little gets in the way of making a profit. But we can be coaxed into commenting. And if we were to ask that question, we would find that unlike four decades ago, things have changed. Asians no longer vote en bloc for Labour. And they are no longer all pro-immigration. In fact, the speed of assimilated thought and attitude in just three gen erations has been staggering. Asians feel so much a part of Britain that, like many indigenous Britons, they don’t want their country, yes, their country, to be overrun by foreigners. That’s what I found when I asked the question of some Asians around the UK for a chapter in a book on Brexit. But I guess this is evolution, isn’t it? The same families who sought refuge in Britain after being thrown out by African dictators, those who came here for a better economic life, and those who fought to get their child’s spouse to the UK after an arranged marriage, are now saying they don’t want others to have the same chance. But they appear to be doing so in the typical Asian way, quietly and without fanfare, agitating behind the scenes. Yet it was not always so. We itched to have our voices heard. In the 1970s, we lobbied for race relations laws. In the 1980s, we marched against racists. In the 1990s, we fought for religious discrimination legislation. And in the first decade of this millennium, we successfully ensured a law against forced marriage. We campaigned in the full glare of the media spotlight. Yet, seemingly, we dare not admit we have changed so much that we are shutting the door to those who only wish to emulate what we have done so successfully by changing country. Brexit has split communities. It has split families. It has split racial groups but, unusually this time, not along the fault lines of race. And that is why Jon was right to point out what he did that March evening. Sometimes we need to point out the obvious, to get others to think and question assumptions. Barnie Choudhury is a former BBC journalist and a professor of professional practice in communications at the University of Buckingham.