However, there is data to suggest that the strength of euroscepticism within the British South Asian population was perhaps stronger than previously anticipated.
A number of jurisdictions with large South Asian populations delivered Leave votes, including Luton (56.5% Leave), Hillingdon (56.4% Leave), Slough (54.3% Leave) and Bradford (54.2% Leave). All have South Asian populations of 25% and above. It’s not unreasonable to think that such Leave votes could not have been delivered without a significant number of Asian voters opting for Brexit.
One reason might be that many voters within the British South Asian diaspora don’t feel European. When the Remain campaign sought to appeal to a sense of European identity, and warned that people were about to lose that identity, it didn’t make for a particularly convincing argument.
First-generation migrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were encouraged to integrate under a social policy based on the adoption of “British values”. Being absorbed into a “European collective” was never, in reality, really part of that integration process.
The pro-Commonwealth rhetoric coming from the Leave camp, on the other hand, would have pulled on the heartstrings of many South Asian voters.
The Commonwealth argument became particularly interesting when the Leave campaign talked about immigration. Prominent Leave campaigners such as Michael Gove often claimed that the EU was essentially forcing Britain to implement a “racist” immigration system. While predominantly white EU migrants were allowed to freely enter the UK, those from the Indian subcontinent were subject to visa and work restrictions. Voting Brexit was seen as an opportunity to “level out” this in-built unfairness.
[Rakib Ehsan (2017), London School of Economics]