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Amnesty International on Brexit

Kate Allen, AIUK's Director, writes:

This is no time to curse the darkness, we need to get to work

The die is cast; the UK is set to leave the EU. There are many uncertainties and one of them is what all of this means for human rights.

During the campaign we witnessed the discourse and debate descend to divisive depths, we saw it marked by xenophobic rhetoric which appealed to the lowest common denominator.

Now, though, we must mark a new page and pull back from that divisive rhetoric and ensure that people, regardless of their heritage, who have happily called the UK home, feel safe, secure and that they belong.

Whatever course we are now embarking on, there needs to be a line drawn. We must recalibrate. There urgently needs to be a deep intake of breath and reappraisal before any more damage is done to our society by misrepresenting facts and scapegoating vulnerable groups – particularly in relation to immigration.

I was alarmed by the increasingly negative way in which some in the campaign presented their arguments – not merely arguing against immigration, but deliberately demonising migrants and stirring hostility against them.

Falling as this referendum did, in Refugee week, it was deeply sad to hear the rhetoric focused on scare stories, myths and outright lies, overlooking the myriad cultural, social, literary, sporting, political, scientific, musical, gastronomical and altruistic contributions made to the people of the UK everyday by migrants in every community. It’s not only about cataloguing contributions though - trading actual people away, and dehumanising others to make a political point is simply wrong. It’s to the shame of our politics, press and public.

Whatever is to come next, we urgently need a renewed commitment to responsible politics and political commentary.

We also need a renewed focus on our shared humanity. People are understandably concerned about what all this means for their rights, and the government is duty-bound to reassure people of its commitment to protecting human rights.

The upcoming negotiations are an opportunity to make human rights central, as a unifying force. The UK government should be looking to preserve the strong rights protections that originated in EU law – particularly in areas such as equality, privacy and worker’s rights.

On Wednesday from Nairobi to New York Amnesty joined thousands of people around the world pledging to recognise how much more we all have in common than what divides us.

Standing in Trafalgar Square just days ago celebrating the life of Jo Cox it was clear to me, that when people come together even in the face of despair, there is power. Instead of a focus on divisions and difference, we should focus on what unites us as we embark on a new post-referendum chapter. I call on everyone to make that commitment with us now, across the United Kingdom. At Amnesty our core principle is that we believe it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. This is no time for cursing, it is time to get to work, together.

Kate Allen

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