A Muslim case for Brexit


By Riaz Sobrany M.Eng.

The European Union (EU) – or more precisely whether or not Britain should continue be a member of the EU – is not a subject that has received any serious discussion and debate from within the Muslim communities. Neither is it a subject that all but a tiny handful of rank and file Muslims think about or talk about. Whilst concern over Britain's membership of the EU amongst indigenous non-Muslim British people has gradually transformed from being a minority interest in the 1990s into a mainstream issue in recent years, it is a subject that has largely passed Muslims by. Despite a climate of ignorance and apathy about the EU amongst the Muslim communities in Britain, the EU is no longer an issue that Muslims can afford to ignore.

This possibly unique article highlights the reasons why Muslims should vote to leave the EU in the referendum held on the 23rd June. It is written from the perspective of the effects of the EU on Muslims living in Britain and the relationships between Britain and countries outside of Europe rather than from the economic angle or the issue of sovereignty which form the core issues in most articles campaigning to leave the EU written by non-Muslims.

There is a common misconception that Britain is not a member of the EU because it uses the pound rather than the Euro. The reality is that Britain is a full member of the EU and has been since 1973.

What is the EU?

The EU has basically been Britain's top level of government since 1973. It is an institution that can pass legislation on thousands of issues that affect common people, including Muslims, with the power to override national legislation originating from Parliament in Westminster. It controls Britain's agriculture and fishing; much of the economy including investment and taxation; and the relationship with countries outside of the EU amongst many other things. According to Business for Britain, EU regulations accounted for 59.3% of all UK law passed between 1993 and 2014 [1].

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and EU Commissioners (who are unelected bureaucrats so are unaccountable individuals) are capable of passing legislation detrimental to the interests of Muslims that the British government is unable to veto or Britain is unable to opt out of. The EU could even pass legislation in the future to outlaw halal slaughter and the sale of halal meat in Britain!

The EU started out in 1958 as a trading arrangement between six countries but as each year has passed it has moved closer towards a superstate. In a few decades time individual nations will cease to exist as anything other than geographic entities with their national governments holding as much power and authority as a town council does today. A brief summary of how the EU works has been written by the Campaign for an Independent Britain [2].

The EU or the wider world?

There is a common theory that opponents of the EU are miserable, right-wing, xenophobic, inwards-looking, isolationists who are living in the past, and that supporters of the EU are happy, tolerant, broad-minded, multicultural, outwards looking, progressive people with vision for the future. Nothing could be further from the truth. My experience of pro-EU types is that, more often than not, they are blinkered individuals who struggle to see beyond the frontiers of Europe, European cultures, European languages, and European politics, into the wider world out there. They tend to view anything non-European as secondary to anything European and see the future of Britain in a stronger relationship with European countries and their peoples than non-European countries and their peoples.

The majority of Muslims living in Britain originate from countries outside of Europe and have relatives living in their country of origin. Many of them regularly visit their country of origin, and some also have business connections, but very few of them have relatives living in European countries or any reason to visit a European country apart from on a school trip or for a holiday.

A similar situation applies to the majority of non-Muslim blacks, Asians, and Chinese living in Britain who also have their origins, cultural connections, and family ties with countries outside of Europe rather than countries in Europe.

Muslims living in Britain have an interest in the events taking place in Palestine and the Middle East but very few of them have an interest in the current affairs of European countries.

In the light of this information, Muslims living in Britain should ask themselves the question: would they prefer Britain to have stronger economic and cultural ties with the EU or the wider world - including the Commonwealth and Muslim majority countries?

How many Muslims living in Britain:

1. Have any interest in living and working in other EU countries?

2. Know a European language other than French, German, and Spanish learned at school (which in total are used in just a mere 6 out of 28 EU countries).

3. Want to do a significant amount of business in another EU country?

The answer is probably very few. There might be a small number of professional and managerial types who would consider living in France or Germany, or possibly Belgium, Holland, Sweden, and Austria, but do any want to live and work in eastern Europe, or even Finland, Greece, and Portugal?

Only four EU countries (Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal) have had any significant involvement with countries outside of Europe, except Russia, in the past 50 years. Spain and Portugal have strong connections with several countries in Central and South America but connections with most other countries in the wider world are weak, which leaves Britain and France as the only two EU countries maintaining significant connections and relationships with countries outside of Europe via the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. The 24 remaining EU countries are strongly Europe centric in their international outlook.

What about Muslims in Europe?

An argument regularly put forwards by Muslims for Britain to remain in the EU is to establish better relationships between Muslims living in Britain and Muslims living in other EU countries. Currently such relationships are weak and underdeveloped but this is mainly because the majority Muslims in different EU countries originate from different countries outside of Europe – for example: The Indian subcontinent for Britain, north Africa for France, and Turkey for Germany. What these supporters of EU membership fail to realise is that Muslims in Britain are very adept at working with Muslims across international frontiers in Palestine, the Indian subcontinent, and several Muslim majority countries, all of which are outside of the EU. Therefore forming relationships between Muslims in Britain and Muslims in Europe will be no more difficult if Britain is not a member of the EU than if Britain remains a member of the EU. Also take into account that there are Muslim populations in Norway and Switzerland which are not members of the EU.

A common foreign and defence policy

The EU is working towards a common foreign and defence policy through the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) [3], according to Title V Article J.1 of the Maastricht Treaty, and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) [4], according to Title V Article 28 section 2 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will eventually result in EU countries no longer having their own unique foreign and defence policies determined by their national governments.

This means that if the EU decides at some time in the future not to recognise Palestine as a nation or hold sanctions against Iran then every EU country must accept this decision even if its national government disagrees; if the EU decides at some time in the future to go to war in a foreign country then the armies of EU countries will be called up to go and fight even if their national governments oppose the war. The eventual long term aim of the EU is to create a single EU army, navy, and air force.

Diplomatic relationships with Israel

The EU supports a two-state solution to the Israel Palestine conflict based on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital of both nations but that is where is stops despite criticisms by the government of Israel and Zionist in Europe that the EU is too pro-Palestinian.

The legal framework governing relations between the EU and Israel is set out in the EU-Israel Association Agreement [5] which was signed in Brussels in 1995 and entered force in June 2000. This Association Agreement facilitates largely unrestricted trade between the EU and Israel in manufactured goods and agricultural products; the free movement of capital; provisions on regular political dialogue; and enables Israel to participate in more EU programmes and projects than any other non-European country - including the Horizon 2020 research funding program, the satellite navigation project Galileo, and the Erasmus academic exchange programme. This Association Agreement has been severely criticised by organisations in support of Palestine [6] and there have even been requests by MEPs to suspend it [7].

Although EU foreign policy may superficially be seen as more favourable towards Palestine than the policies of many of the Zionist MPs in Parliament in Westminster, the EU could quite easily outlaw any organisations or individuals who call for an end to Israel as a nation regardless of whether it is peaceful or violent, and campaigns or actions to Boycott Israel are illegal under the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

The myth of the 51st American state

The argument that Britain is either a member of the EU or the 51st American state is a popular one but it is a completely false dichotomy. Britain has actually been the 51st American state ever since Churchill and Roosevelt formed the Special Relationship during WW2 before the EU even existed. The United States was a driving force behind Britain joining the EU in 1973 because Washington and Wall Street dictated that they would move the financial gateway to Europe from London to Frankfurt unless Britain joined what was then the Common Market. The world has changed dramatically since 1973 and there are now many countries which Britain could form friendly alliances with outside of Europe apart from the United States. Therefore the notion that membership of the EU is required for Britain to counterbalance the foreign policy of the United States is untrue. The EU did not prevent Britain from going to war in Iraq at the behest of the American government in 2003. It is in the interests of the United States that Britain remains a member the EU because it functions as an interface between Washington and Brussels. Washington and Wall Street will be disappointed and vexed if Britain leaves the EU.

Economic factors

Much has been written about the economic advantages of Britain leaving the EU so I will only briefly touch on this subject. Anybody who is honest about Britain leaving the EU will openly admit that there will be some economic difficulties in the short term whilst Britain re-adjusts from being a province of the EU into a free and independent nation but the longer term economic situation is far more important.

A common argument for Britain to remain in the EU is that the EU is currently our biggest trading partner although this argument conceals the fact that economic growth in most EU countries is so low that they are effectively economically dead. In contrast, economic growth in many countries outside of the EU is higher, and exports from Britain to these countries are rising as living standards and therefore levels of disposable income of their citizens rise. Britain has trade surpluses in certain products with countries outside of the EU whereas Britain has for decades constantly run a trade deficit with the EU. The lack of economic growth in EU countries means that there is minimal potential to increase economic growth in Britain through trade with the EU but potential exists for increasing economic growth by trading with countries outside of the EU. What this means is that the EU nowadays acts as a lead weight around the British economy and every year remaining in the EU means another year of recession for Britain. In other words, Britain joined the wrong club.

Another worrying economic concern is that youth unemployment in several EU countries has reached disaster levels (Spain 53.2%, Greece 52.4%, Italy 42.7%, Portugal 34.7%, France 24.1% for 2014 [8]) whilst the EU appears to be unable or unwilling to do anything about the problem. The longer term consequences of such high levels of unemployment remain to be seen but already it is leading young people into extremist politics in some EU countries (such as the Golden Dawn in Greece) and could even result in a return of 1930s style fascism with another Hitler and Mussolini elected by the popular vote of the betrayed and disenfranchised youth.

The European Court of Human Rights

A strong argument put forwards by many Muslims that Britain must remain in the EU is the protection provided to British citizens by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [9] [10]. The highest court in Europe, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, and is superior to the Court of Appeal of England and Wales and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. British citizens are able to bring human rights cases to the ECHR, if they believe that Britain has violated their fundamental rights and freedoms, which they are unable to resolve through the British courts.

The European Convention of Human Rights has faced an extraordinary amount of opposition from British politicians who have pushed for increasing draconian policies and restrictions of civil liberties in the so called War on Terror. It is not surprising that large numbers of Muslims in Britain fear losing the protections provided by the European Convention of Human Rights and the facility to take human rights cases to the ECHR which has made them very worried about Britain leaving the EU.

What they do not realise is that the ECHR is run by the Council of Europe [11] [12] which is a completely separate organisation from the EU. The Council of Europe comprises of 47 member states (compared with 28 for the EU) including Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Russia – none of which are members of the EU.

Therefore, if Britain leaves the EU it will still continue to be a member of the Council of Europe and subject to the European Convention on Human Rights. The facility for British citizens to bring human rights cases that they are unable to resolve in the British courts to the ECHR will continue as before.

Misconceptions about worker's rights

There are many misconceptions that EU regulations form the bedrock of worker's rights in Britain including paid holiday entitlement, maternity leave, the right to join a trade union, and a limit to how many hours employees work in a week. The reality is that most of the employment, health and safety, equal pay, and trade union rights in Britain have been implemented by the British government rather than through EU legislation.

Britain is actually more generous when it comes to worker's rights than the EU is. The British Working Time Regulations 1998 sets out a minimum of 28 days paid holiday a year for employees in Britain compared to a minimum of 20 days set out by the EU Working Time Directive. The Maternity and Parental Leave, etc Regulations 1999 allows mothers in Britain to take a maternity leave of 52 weeks, with up to 39 of them paid (Statutory Maternity Pay (General) Regulations 1986, SI 1986/1960), compared with just 14 weeks under the EU Directive 1992/85/EC. Germany implements the EU bare minimum maternity leave of 14 weeks. Only Croatia, Estonia, and Sweden offer a longer maternity leave in the EU than Britain does [13].

EU legislation has done nothing to close the gender pay gap in Britain; limit the average working week to 48 hours; or protect workers against anti-trade union laws passed by the British government since 1979. Neither is the EU able to enforce a statutory minimum wage; the right for workers to strike; the right to join a trade union; or protect workers against lock-outs, because EU legislation in these areas are prohibited under Article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) [14].

There is also much confusion between EU legislation and the European Social Charter [15] [16] which sets out basic rights in housing, health, education, employment, working hours, equal pay for equal work, parental leave, social security, and rights of people with disabilities amongst other things. The European Social Charter is a Council of Europe treaty, and not a piece of EU legislation, so it will continue to apply in Britain after Britain leaves the EU.

Contrary to what many in the Remain camp say, there will not be a decimation of worker's rights the moment after Britain leaves the EU because only a small fraction of worker's rights are implemented via EU legislation to start with.

The dangers of eastern Europe

When the EU was comprised of mostly prosperous countries in western Europe it was one thing but its landscape has been completely changed by the admission of former communist countries from eastern Europe since 2004. Countries in eastern Europe have a very different, and turbulent, history from countries in western Europe and are generally xenophobic – if not outright racist – nations where hostility towards Islam and Muslims runs high. Islam has never had any significant presence in some eastern European countries, such as Estonia or Slovakia, but other eastern European countries, including Romania and Bulgaria, were once part of the Ottoman Empire so knowledge of Islam mainly consists of very bad memories from the centuries of Ottoman rule. This hostility towards Islam and Muslims has the potential to be reflected in MEPs from eastern European countries which can pass legislation in the European Parliament detrimental to the interests of Muslims in Britain. The ‘open door’ immigration policy, where citizens of any EU country are free to move to Britain and live here permanently has the potential to cause tensions in local communities between established Muslims and eastern Europeans who migrate to Britain and settle down in these communities. A serious danger exists that in the future eastern Europeans who migrate to Britain will be very hostile or violent towards Muslims. Even more so if Serbia is admitted as a member of the EU in the future. The eastern European countries with larger Muslim populations – Bosnia, Kosovo, and Albania – are NOT members of the EU.

The 1975 referendum

The last time a referendum was held on Britain's membership of the EU, or the EEC as it was known at the time, was in 1975 where 67% of the voters chose to remain in the EEC. Although I cannot prove this as a fact, I have a strong feeling that a very high proportion of blacks and Asians (including most Muslims) voted against EEC membership. The vast majority of black and Asian people of voting age in Britain back in 1975 were immigrants from New Commonwealth countries. Very few of them were born in Britain or were immigrants from other countries. Their perception of continental Europe was some mysterious lands that they had nothing to do with where the locals had strange cultures and talked in languages they couldn't understand. Many of them had also learned in history lessons at school in their country of origin about the wars and conflicts between Britain and continental Europe over the centuries which must have affected their judgement.


Muslims need to seriously ask themselves exactly how THEY will benefit from Britain being a member of the EU before deciding which way to vote in the referendum. The majority of non-Muslims will battle out this referendum on the basis of economics, their career, or immigration from eastern Europe but there are many more important factors for Muslims to consider.

It is unfortunate that this referendum is likely to descend into political football along the lines that anti-EU is the prerogative of the political right, racists, and xenophobes because such people are amongst the most vocal opponents of the EU whilst the ‘progressives’ and political centre-left are overwhelmingly pro-EU. The mainstream media chooses the figureheads for the leave the EU and remain in the EU camps, which is very effective at shaping public opinion on the subject.

The Brexit camp is actually very diverse, with each individual or organisation having their own specific reasons why Britain should leave the EU, but only a small facet of it is given any significant amount of coverage by the mainstream media. Have any Muslims ever heard of Better Off Out [17], the Democracy Movement [18], and the Campaign for an Independent Britain [19]? I recommend anybody reading this article to have a look at the websites of these campaign groups for more in-depth information why Britain should leave the EU rather than relying on the mainstream media, especially the Brussels Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), as their primary sources of information.

There is also the potential that large numbers of Muslims will choose to vote to remain in the EU simply because Jeremy Corbyn (despite the fact that he voted to leave the EU in the 1975 referendum, and has now betrayed himself and the Labour Party over the 2016 referendum because of his distrust of the Conservative leadership [20]) and Sadiq Khan will be voting to remain in the EU, or deterred from voting to leave the EU because of Nigel Farage who is a Zionist and critical of Islam. The reality is that whether Britain remains in or leaves the EU is above and beyond left wing vs right wing; progressive vs backwards; or tolerant vs xenophobic positions. George Galloway [21] and Arthur Scargill [22] are both on the hard left of the political spectrum but they are voting for Britain to leave the EU. An alliance of the political left have established Left Leave [23] as their campaign group to leave the EU.

A further complication is the pack mentality amongst Muslims when it comes to voting where they will vote according to what their parents, grandparents, or the masjid committee leaders vote rather than according to their own consciences. If the ‘community elders’ overwhelmingly decide to vote for Britain to remain in the EU then the majority of younger and middle-aged Muslims will, sadly, follow along with them. This is despite ‘community elders’ and other influential figures in local Muslim communities rarely having anything more than the most superficial knowledge of the EU, and prone to swallowing propaganda and promoting misconceptions when it comes to politics.

Fear of change is a significant factor swaying Muslims to vote for Britain to remain in the EU. Unlike in 1975 when the vast majority of Muslims living in Britain were born in New Commonwealth countries, the majority of Muslims living in Britain today were either born in Britain or emigrated to Britain after 1973, so all they have experience of is Britain as a member of the EU. Younger and middle aged Muslims need to develop the courage to vote for change if it will be change for the better in the future even if change does come with some uncertainty. The world is a very different place now from what it was in 1973. Most European countries are declining in relevance on the global stage in the face of up and coming nations outside of Europe with faster growing economies.

Another fear amongst Muslims of voting to leave the EU is the potential of a ‘neo-con’ takeover of Britain where post Brexit policies will be dictated by right-wing MPs such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. Remember that we can change the government in Westminster every five years but this may be the very last opportunity for Britain to leave the EU. The Conservatives have squabbled over the EU continuously since 1973 so leaving the EU has the potential to tear the Conservative Party apart and throw them into disarray for as long as a generation. Muslims should also factor in the potential of a future ‘neo-con’ or anti-Islamic takeover of the European Parliament and EU Commission. Given the rise of hostility towards Islam in continental Europe then the EU cannot be trusted or relied on as a ‘guardian’ of Muslims in the future.

Something to think about is how Muslim majority countries in Central Asia such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan declared their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Their governments may be currently be corrupt and their presidents dictators but what cannot be denied is that they are now independent countries free to choose their political and economic relationships with other countries, and ultimately, their own destinies. If instead they had chosen to remain as states of Russia back in 1991 their future destinies would have been decided by politicians in Moscow. The economies of countries in Central Asia in 1991 were less developed and less diverse than the British economy is and more tightly tied in with the economy of Russia than the British economy is tied in with the EU. The risks of breaking away from Russia to become independent nations was many times higher than the risks incurred by Britain leaving the EU. Very few Muslims worldwide believe that countries in Central Asia should revert to being states of Russia even if there are economic benefits in doing so.

The referendum on EU membership is a watershed moment for the public to vote on the sovereignty of Britain and its future position in the world. It could be argued that the referendum is more important than any general election since 1979 when it comes to determining the future direction of the nation. A person in Britain who ignores the EU whilst focusing their attention on what the British government in Westminster does is like a person in Miami who only focuses their attention on the State Government of Florida, but they ignore the United States Federal Government and the power and authority which it wields over them.

My plea is that Muslims should sit down and have a serious think about what I have written in this short article. I have been an opponent of the Britain's membership of the EU continuously since 1990. Before the Maastricht Treaty was enacted and before UKIP even existed. I have also been critical of UKIP and have no desire to join this party. The referendum may be a very close call to the extent where the Muslim vote has the power to determine whether Britain remains in or leaves the EU.

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