I’ve still got the Brexit Blues. I’m still in shock that what started as a tussle for power between two men ended in what has been described as the biggest constitutional crisis in a generation. In the weeks since 17 million Britons voted to leave the European Union the shockwaves have been felt across the globe. Markets have crashed, the pound has faltered, resignations have been tendered and promises reneged upon. The aftermath of Brexit has all the makings of a fictional television plot, except it seems almost too outlandish.
Like 16 million others I never thought (or wanted) Brexit to be a reality, not just because leaving the EU seemed like a cataclysmic mistake, but because of the disturbingly anti-immigrant and xenophobic nature of the Leave campaign and the sentiment it would leave behind.
But here it is, and if the last week of post-Brexit Britain is anything to go by, things are going to become deeply unpleasant— particularly for people of colour and immigrants.
The Leave campaign made immigration the focal point of their message with Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove urging Britons to ‘take back control,’ from a supposedly ‘uncontrollable’ number of migrants, both real and imagined. The approach worked. Ipsos Mori revealed that in the final two weeks leading up to the vote immigration beat the economy as the number one concern among voters.
Leaving the EU means an end to freedom of movement, which will greatly impact the number of EU citizens able to work in the UK. In a bid to gain support from second generation immigrants the ‘Leave’ campaign suggested that controls on EU migration could lead to measures that would provide migration opportunities for people living in the Commonwealth. But this doesn’t quite ring true.
Those vying to replace David Cameron are calling for a ‘reform of freedom of movement’ and ‘controlled migration,’ from the EU, a departure from the Leave campaign’s more forceful approach. So what happens if, like Leave campaigners have already suggested, EU immigration rates don’t actually drop that much?
If EU migration can’t be capped to a meaningful degree, what’s to stop the new Prime Minister from focusing on immigration that can be controlled such as non-EU migration, where the rates are actually higher? Front runner for Prime Minister and current Home Secretary Theresa May already has the ball rolling.
Earlier this year her new immigration policy came into force, it requires non-EU migrants who have been in the UK for five years on a Tier 2 visa to earn a minimum of £35,000 a year (the average UK salary is £26,500) or face deportation. For now, the policy excludes nurses but it has been said this may change.
The policy does not exempt other adult social care workers, 11% of which are made up of non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationalities according to a 2015 report by Skills for Care. Nigeria ranks 4th in the top ten nationalities of workers who are non-British. If there is an increasing crackdown, securing the right to work or live in the UK will become even more difficult.
One of the ugliest and most offensive elements of the campaign was the xenophobia and at times blatant racism displayed by the Leave camp and post referendum things have gotten worse. The police have reported a fivefold increase in racist complaints since the result and the reported incidents circulating in the media have been astonishing. From British born blacks and Asians being told to ‘go home’ to abusive chants outside mosques to racist abuse on Twitter. It is shocking to see.
Not all Leave voters are racist of course, but those that are feel emboldened by the result of the referendum. And why wouldn’t they? The architects of this mess succeeded in turning the referendum into us vs them scenario with their offensive language and inexcusable propaganda. Such rhetoric is dangerous and divisive.
Who exactly is us in this dynamic? Ironically post-Brexit racism doesn’t discriminate against who it discriminates against. It doesn’t matter if their victims have just stepped off a plane or if they have lived in the UK all their lives, to them anything ‘other’ (and many times ‘other’ means non white) is something these people voted against, it’s something they voted out.
There are many questions circling around after the result, and the future of a truly post-Brexit Britain is still uncertain but one thing is clear, for now the UK has become a more divided and less welcoming place, and immigrants and people of colour are paying the price.