YESTERDAY, it was revealed that senior UK officials are now considering imposing a state of emergency and martial law in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Whitehall is also examining legislation which would give ministers the powers to enforce curfews and travel bans, confiscate property and deploy the army, according to the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times, which backed Leave in the 2016 referendum. One source told the paper: “The over-riding theme in all the no-deal planning is civil disobedience and the fear it will lead to death in the event of food and medical shortages.”

From the outset, one of my fears about Brexit was that it could unleash a right-wing monster. In times of deep crisis, sections of the British establishment have never been averse to flirting with fascism. “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” ran the infamous Daily Mail headline of January 15, 1934. Its owner Lord Rothermere was part of a sinister network of wealthy and influential people who covertly backed Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.

When Enoch Powell made his infamous Rivers of Blood speech in 1968, he was not some obscure backbench MP but shadow secretary of state for defence. In the early 1970s, the Monday Club – which was founded to support apartheid South Africa and “White Rhodesia” and had links to the neo-Nazi National Front – could count among its membership six government ministers, 30 backbench MPs and

35 members of the House of Lords. The Monday Club is no longer the force it once was because it’s no longer needed. The UK Tory party has now drifted into “far-right ideology and intolerance”.

These words are not mine, but those of Richard Ashworth, who until November 2013 led the British Conservative Group in the European Parliament. Today, the extremist Little Englanders are not just exerting influence on the leadership – they are effectively running the show. I’m never quite clear about Theresa May’s political ideology or motives, but she now appears to be completely under the thumb of the hard right. These days no-one in respectable political circles would dream of openly describing themselves as racist. They use softer, more oblique language. But their political agenda is hard-core xenophobia, arising from a mixture of arrogant superiority and cynical populism designed to drive deeper into Labour’s traditional heartlands.

Once upon a time, the Labour left would have faced this down, no-holds barred, challenging and exposing the myths and fictions at the core of the anti-immigration crusade of the right. But not now. Instead, Jeremy Corbyn and his trade union allies dress up their capitulation to the Tory right in the language of workers’ rights and socialism. It is nothing of the sort.

When Corbyn says mass immigration from the European Union has been used to destroy the conditions of British workers, he is unwittingly helping to perpetuate the deceitful propaganda of the far right. So, too, is Len McCluskey, who even said Karl Marx “identified a long time ago, immigration is a class question”. However, Marx never supported harder borders as the answer to that question. While noting how mass immigration – for example from Ireland into Britain – was used to cut wages, his solution was to organise migrants into trade unions and to build an international working-class movement.

So back to the present day and a few salient facts. First, more than two-thirds of EU migrants live in major cities. And how did the UK’s biggest cities vote in the EU referendum? London, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff, Belfast, Bristol, Edinburgh, Aberdeen all voted decisively to remain, with Leeds and Birmingham split down the middle.

Secondly, most EU migrants are young and so have sought work in the lowest-paid sectors of economy. They are not competing for the jobs of the middle-aged white van men. The group that might expect to be in the same jobs market as EU migrants are those aged 18-24. Yes, that’s right – the age group which voted by70% to remain. In contrast the over 65 age group – yes, the group which disproportionately benefit from the taxes paid by immigrant workers that support pensions and the NHS – voted 60% to leave. Yes, some of the poorest working-class communities in the land feel left behind by the elites. And as an opponent of Brexit, I would like to hear a bit more robust criticism of the institutions of the EU from the Remain side, including the SNP. But let’s be clear: immigrants have become the scapegoats for rampant poverty and inequality caused by the elites on both sides of the Brexit debate – the Tory and New Labour politicians, the bankers and financiers and big business tycoons.

Most of the Leave strongholds have very few EU migrants. The north-east of England has only 6% of the total, and the north-west 9% per cent, most of them in the Remain strongholds of Liverpool and Manchester. The decline and neglect of former mill towns and mining villages won’t stopped by reducing immigration – and Labour in these areas should be shouting that from the rooftops.

Finally, before ditching its principles, the Labour left should be asking why Scotland has so spectacularly defied the anti-immigration, pro-Brexit tide. Contrary to some superficial comment, that’s not because the numbers of EU migrants are drastically lower. In fact, Scotland has a significantly higher proportion than the north-west of England.

And it has a similar class composition, including more than its share of poverty and deprivation, yet anti-immigration feeling is muted in Scotland compared to many other parts of the UK.

Why? The answer lies in political leadership. To their credit, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have refused to bend to populist scaremongering over immigration. I am no uncritical cheerleader for the Scottish Government but on this issue,

it has displayed admirable courage. And in these troubled and potentially dangerous times, courage is no mean quality.