LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May once warned her fellow Conservatives of the perils of being known as the “nasty party.” But after 100 days in office, she is in danger of going further, turning the United Kingdom into the nasty country.
In just a few months, May has launched attacks on “international elites” and decided to prioritize immigration controls over single-market access in negotiating the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. At one point recently, companies faced the threat of being compelled to furnish a list of their foreign workers. And the 3.5 million European citizens who are settled in the UK were left to worry about whether May’s government would guarantee their residence rights.
It did not take long for the normalization of nationalist rhetoric to affect the daily lives of Britain’s immigrant population. Indeed, hate crimes began to proliferate almost immediately after June’s Brexit referendum – even before May took power. Her government’s attitude seems to be a symptom, rather than a cause, of a broader nativist revival in Britain.
This revival has come on fairly quickly. As recently as the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the UK was showing a very different face to the world: welcoming, connected, and self-confident in its diversity. The current surge in identity politics seems to reflect a backlash against all that openness. In fact, Britain seems to be oscillating between inclusion and exclusion – and has been for four decades.