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By Jason Michael
When David Davis referred to the United Kingdom as an “Anglo-Saxon” state he was honouring a tradition of racism and white supremacism in British politics that stretches back to the worst days of Empire.
Theresa May’s Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union – the “Brexit Minister,” David Davis, was reading from his notes in Vienna on Tuesday when he spoke of many people’s fear that Brexit could lead to “an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom.” This means that he or whoever cobbled this bizarre speech together actually thought about these words before putting them in writing.
An address as important as this must have been read over by the Prime Minister, other members of the Cabinet, and most likely a number of advisors and senior civil servants. Yet no one appears to have objected to this turn of phrase. Even after the overt racism of the Leave campaign, the murder of a Labour MP, and the sharp upturn in racist and xenophobic hate crime across England and Wales since the EU referendum, no one had a problem with Davis conceptualising the prospect of the United Kingdom’s economic collapse after Brexit as “an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom.”
David Davis spoke of the UK as "Anglo-Saxon." We're meant to believe this isn't a racialised state. He might as we… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) February 21, 2018
Historically the Anglo-Saxons were a group of Germanic peoples who began migrating to what is now south east England from the early part of the fifth century. In spite of the obvious weirdness of a reference to immigrants of the mediaeval period in the context of a modern political process that is distinctly anti-immigration, the term Anglo-Saxon has picked up some pretty awful racial supremacist connotations over the past three centuries or so; connotations which must have been well known to the authors of this speech.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, at the height of Britain’s imperial age, the term Anglo-Saxon had become synonymous with the white British ruling class. It was set within the nexus of an accepted pseudo-scientific racial hierarchy that placed the Anglo-Saxon – the white man of the “white man’s burden” – at the pinnacle of a pyramid of races that descended down through categories of inferior whites like the “Irish and Scotch Celts” and the Welsh, through the yellow and brown races like the Chinese and the Indians, all the way down to the African blacks.
This deeply racist use of the term – no reflection on the Anglo-Saxons themselves of course – has continued on in British politics, and not merely in the street politics of the far-right. The relationship between the term Anglo-Saxon and the idea of white English-British racial superiority has sunk deep into the fabric of the Westminster political establishment, and this is particularly the case when it comes to the Conservative Party – David Davis’ party.
Jeff Sessions’ comment regarding sheriffs and “Anglo-Saxon” law derive from an early 1970s white nationalist tenden… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…—
Eric Ward (@BulldogShadow) February 13, 2018
In March 2001 the Conservative backbencher John Townend, the Member of Parliament for Bridlington in Yorkshire, ignited fury when the Daily Mirror published an address he delivered to Conservative Party activists in which he said:
“Our homogenous Anglo-Saxon society has been seriously undermined by the massive immigration – particularly Commonwealth immigration – that has taken place since the war…”
He went on to suggest that Enoch Powell – the Tory MP notorious for his racist and xenophobic “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968 – would have become Prime Minister had the public realised the accuracy of his prediction.
What is interesting in this use of Anglo-Saxon, as a cypher for white Britishness, is that it was used in juxtaposition to “Commonwealth immigration,” a well-understood dog whistle expression in British politics for black and brown immigration from Britain’s former colonies. In light of the overt Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric that accompanied much of the Brexit campaign and continues to haunt the public and political discourse surrounding the Brexit process, Davis’ use of the phrase “Anglo-Saxon” in reference to Britain – one of Europe’s most diverse and multi-ethnic societies – can be seen as nothing other than a shout out to those who see Britain’s exit from the European Union as a racial victory over the forces of multiculturalism.
Britain is far from being a “homogenous Anglo-Saxon society.” It has never been an Anglo-Saxon society. Even in the fifth century the Anglo-Saxons were an ethnic hodgepodge of Angles, Jutes, Danes, Saxons, Frisians, and a number of other tribal groups from the coastlands of north-western Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. They came to an England that was inhabited by the Britons, the Welsh, the Cornish, and Scots and other Gaels. Over the course of fifteen hundred years this melting pot – this “mongrel nation” – has been added to and enriched by countless other immigrants from every corner of the globe.
Now that England has expanded into Scotland, Wales, and parts of the north of Ireland, becoming a Greater England under the brand name the United Kingdom, this ethnically reductive and racist appellation, Anglo-Saxon, is being applied to all its white subjects. Not to mention the gross insult this is to people of colour, we other – “inferior” – whites hate this term. Not that we see ourselves as ethnic or racial pure-breeds; such a thing has never existed, we despise everything that it stands for. As a Scot with Irish heritage I consider myself a Gael, but on cultural grounds as opposed to any vile notion of blood and racial purity.
When David Davis and his Conservative colleagues employ this term the message is clear. They know their constituency well. It is a thinly veiled appeal to a racist element of English society for support; framing “Britain’s independence day” as a revival of the British white man’s empire, “Empire 2.0,” and an Alamo-like stand against the fictive forces of Islamo-terrorism qua dark foreigners in an effort to build and maintain support for a political agenda that is everything to do with the enrichment of the British élite and nothing to do with the well-being of Britain’s long-abandoned white working class. When Davis used the word “Anglo-Saxon” he knew fine well what he was doing, and this, together with the permission he and others like him have given the far-right, is taking all of us down a horrible road that will lead us all to hell.
David Davis: “An ‘Anglo-Saxon’ race to the bottom.”