How to talk to an anti-migrant Brexiteer

Post-referendum, I’m interested by the notion of a “post-fact society”, and how we deal with it. Here I am only dealing with the issue of immigration, rather than other arguments for or against the EU.

Firstly a couple of caveats:

1. People believing stuff despite all credible evidence is not remotely new.

2. Many Brexit voters were suffering from a lack of that well-researched evidence from a CREDIBLE source, a result of the severe democratic deficit which has opened up. Immigration as a cause of their problems, though untrue, is a kind of “common sense” explanation, which the austerity policies of neoliberal economics post-2008 are not. And given the level of mendacity in the Leave campaign, it’s hard not to invoke Godwin’s Law and quote Joseph Goebbels on the power of the repeated lie. So there’s a case for arguing that people were misled as to the facts, or disinclined to believe them, rather than merely ignoring them.


Racism should be dealt with forthrightly and we all need to hyper-vigilant at this time. We need to call out colleagues by using the racist word. We absolutely need to report all incidents by anyone in the course of their work to their employers, and follow the report to a satisfactory outcome. “Passer-by” incidents need calling out at the time, and the police informed if appropriate, as just happened in Manchester.
But how do we now deal with friends, acquaintances or family who aren’t espousing racism, but think there is a problem with immigration, despite a host of research showing no such effects? Cognitive linguist George Lakoff counsels that we should not attempt to argue over the “facts”. Here is a video on how to talk to climate change deniers that I made with campaigner George Marshall, whose methods, dealing with the feelings rather than the facts, are I think completely transferable. The end of the video has a quick check-list to commit to memory: