I was personally surprised that in the majority of the interviews I made with Polish migrants about Brexit, there appear mentions about nationalistic behaviors of the British people. Even if the interviewees have not experienced them themselves, they were told about them by friends or know it third hand. Referendum campaign revealed much of these layers of nationalism in the British society in which attitude towards immigration and immigrants played a key role. We saw banners saying “Taking our country back” or “Britain for the British”. These sentiments were reinforced by statements of pro-Brexit politicians, like Nigel Farage, who twitted on 26 May 2016 “Mass immigration is still hopelessly out of control and set to get worse if we remain in the EU”. The atmosphere around the campaign caused or contributed to some dreadful events, like the fatal attack by a group of teenagers on a Polish migrant in Harlow, on August 2016, just two months after the referendum. This event provoked a lot of discussion in the Polish mediasphere both in the UK and in Poland, although it was not clear whether the murder had purely xenophobic substrate.
For some Poles this wave of nationalism and the feeling of being unwanted was one of the elements to take into consideration in their life strategies. According to my interviewees for some this could also be another factor in making decision to leave the UK. Ita Głowacka analyzed the internet forum mojawyspa.co.uk (Głowacka 2018: 84-100) and showed emotional reactions from 223 individual posts. 143 of them related to some manifestations of discrimination experienced by them in the UK. Some also were calls to revenge and self-defense. One of the key conclusions of the article was that the Poles in the UK felt increasingly alienated and endangered after the referendum in 2016. On the other hand the negative feelings towards the British also rose within themselves.
It is worth to quote, what an interviewee from Edinburgh said, that here nothing like this happened and I only heard rumors about what was going on in England. The Scots like Polish people. Similar opinion was shared by an interviewee from London, but he said that these acts of discrimination happened in the province, not in London. London is very multicultural. Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz writes on LSE blog (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2019/08/06/long-read-its-the-english-stupid/) that Brexit is an expression of English, not British nationalism and that it mainly concerned provinces. This of course goes along the outcomes of the referendum, where the majority of voters voting to leave were from small towns and villages of England, while Scotland and London recorded highest percentages of ‘remain’ supporters.
English nationalism, according to professor Mike Savage rose from two factors: economical and the one referring to identity. According to a survey held in 2008 a vast majority of British people do not have racist or nationalistic attitudes, with only 1.5% declaring that having a non-British neighbor would be very bad to them and over 25% would feel happy to have such neighbors. However, most of the society have an ambivalent or undecided approach and thus can be manipulated by the slogans and xenophobic discourse. During the Brexit referendum parts of political elites pushed this uncertain part of the society towards more nationalistic arguments and interpretations which was noticed by most of the Polish immigrants.