An overstated welcome: Brexit and intentionally masked anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

July 13, 2020


Research and evidence suggest that the expression of targeted intolerance increasingly manifests in subtle ways. Innovative work on colour-blind racism and unconscious bias underlines the unacknowledged ways that prejudicial attitudes are perpetuated/emerge without being overtly expressed. Building upon this work, we identify an additional dimension of intolerance defined by the intentional masking of anti-immigrant sentiment directed at immigrant groups defined by nation, race and religion. Using two survey experiments – conducted before and after the Brexit vote in the UK – we reveal that individuals mask intolerance strategically and that these strategies shift depending on the normative context. In particular, Muslim immigrants, who experienced little protection from overtly expressed intolerance before the Brexit referendum, confront a post-Brexit landscape in which intolerance is significantly overstated. The root of this emergent masking of intolerance is attributable to the Brexit campaign that simultaneously normalized AND stigmatized anti-immigrant sentiment. We conclude that our understanding of emergence and perpetuation of intolerance needs to account for the strategic and intentional disclosure of intolerance.

Published in

Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies






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