Labour leadership: Clive Lewis says ‘racism’ partly to blame for Brexit referendum result

Black people woke up after the vote to leave the EU with a ‘sense of dread’, claims MP

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Sunday 12 January 2020 11:06 GMT
Clive Lewis says 'element of racism' in Brexit

Labour leadership contender Clive Lewis has said that the Brexit campaign had “racism at its heart” and that many black people woke up with “a sense of dread” following the referendum result.

Mr Lewis also said “structural racism” within UK society was partly to blame for the fact that Labour has never had an ethnic minority leader – and for the treatment of Meghan Markle by the media.

The mixed-race MP insisted he was not claiming that his skin colour has played a part in his failure so far to secure the 22 MPs’ and MEPs’ nominations he needs to remain in the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn.

In an interview on Sky New’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Mr Lewis also declared himself a republican, days after floating the idea of a referendum on the future of the royal family as part of a constitutional convention to look at the UK’s national institutions.

He insisted he would not attempt to dictate the outcome of any debate on the future of the royals, but indicated that he might personally vote against them, saying “I’m a republican. I want to be a citizen, not a subject.”

And he told Ridge that he would abolish private schools if he came to power.

Asked if Brexit was a racist endeavour, Mr Lewis told Ridge: “I think part of the Brexit campaign, and part of the undertone of Brexit from some politicians – Nigel Farage and others – had racism at its core, at its heart.

“They used it as a mechanism to divide our communities and divide our country.

“How many people of colour, how many black people, on the day after the referendum woke up with a sense of dread because of what had happened?

“Ultimately, our country had chosen to listen to Boris Johnson, someone who has a track record of racist commentary, of giving credence to racism, to Nigel Farage, someone who stood in front of a poster which was overtly racist.

“This was a government that had the Windrush scandal, that had had ‘go home’ vans.

“For anyone to say that there was not an element of racism in the Brexit project as an endeavour – you’re basically wrong. Ask the millions of black people in this country who understood what much of the dog-whistle politics and tone was on this issue.

“That doesn’t mean that every single person that voted for Brexit is a racist – some of my family voted for Brexit. But I think there were drivers within that campaign, which certainly were very unsavoury and which I would call racist.”

Mr Lewis has so far obtained only four nominations from MPs – including himself – to become leader.

When Ridge asked him if he thought racism was part of the reason for his faltering campaign, he replied: “Structural sexism, structural racism exists within our society and the PLP (parliamentary Labour Party) is part of that society and it is for us to challenge that and make sure that we do better.

“I have never said that it is because of my colour that I am not being nominated by my parliamentary colleagues.

“But if you want to understand why we haven’t had a woman, why we haven’t had a person of colour as leader of the Labour party then we have to look at the entirety of the issue, which is that those structural issues do exist.”

The left-wing MP also declared himself a republican
The left-wing MP also declared himself a republican (Getty)

The treatment of the Duchess of Sussex was an indication of the structural racism in UK society, he said.

Mr Lewis said he was not personally calling for a referendum on the future size and function of the royal family, but said the issue could be addressed by the constitutional convention which he proposes.

“We’ve seen this week there is a great love for the royal family in this country but there are also, I think, some concerns about how it will go forward into the future,” he said.

“If people wanted to have that referendum then that would be up to them.”

Asked which way he would vote in a referendum on scrapping the monarchy, he replied: “I’m a republican. I actually want to be a citizen in this country not a subject.

“I want my community to have real say and real power over its lives. I think that is entirely acceptable… There are democracies all over the world where they do not have a royal family.

“But that shouldn’t be for me as leader, or as prime minister one day, to dictate what happen. That should be for the people of this country to have a say.”

Mr Lewis said that a successful motion at last year’s Labour conference to abolish private schools should become party policy.

“Private schools are an engine of inequality,” he said.

“I understand that lots of people out there send their children to private school for a variety of reasons and there are private schools in my own constituency where I go and talk to the students and those schools are fantastic but I would like that standard for every child in this country.

“It shouldn’t just be determined by the fact that you have the money to be able to pay for your child to have that quality of education, it should be available to everyone.

“I think that division in our society set at an early age has consequences for the inequality that we have, not just in terms of wealth but of power as well and I think that’s a very good policy. I think it’s one that could be communicated perhaps in a better way but ultimately, yes, I do support it.”

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