Ten months after the referendum, after signing Article 50 and with the 8th of June elections imminent, ‘uncertainty’ is the word most on people’s lips. EU and non-EU immigrants are living in a charged climate with more questions than answers. What no one doubts is that Brexit is here to stay and nothing will ever be the same again.
Marcos Ortiz F.
Leaving the EU and limiting free movement are two on the face of it clear and direct statements but which have, since the 23rd of June, 2016, on the contrary, done nothing but cause uncertainty and increase divisions in the UK. The referendum produced an unexpected vote and brought with it difficult consequences to predict.
“First we’ll catch the Poles then the gays!” This scenario, typical of a documentary set in Nazi Germany, occurred in the centre of London in the middle of the 21st century. But this was not an isolated incident. The events which took place after the referendum were part of a wave of xenophobic and racist attacks which marked the start of a new era. The rise in such attacks, according to the most conservative official figures bordered on 40%.
“I’ve no intention of doing what some bloody foreigner tells me!”, said a pupil of 10 years of age to his teacher in Somerset, whilst in an exclusive London restaurant a couple refused an Italian waiter and asked for an English one.
In the streets, gangs went round asking passers-by if they could speak English.
It only took a few hours after the vote recount for Brexit to begin to affect the immigrant population. Concern over the said migratory effects of the referendum came from the highest echelons. In their 2017 annual report, Human Rights Watch stressed the lack of certainty over ‘the residence status of more than 3 million citizens from other countries of the European Union in the UK.’
Months before, in August of 2016, the UN Commission for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination report had already expressed its concern over the ‘divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric’ used during the Brexit campaign. The body of independent experts which make it up were puzzled by the wave of post-referendum attacks, 44% of which had occurred in London.
The effects of the referendum are not restricted to the UK and Europe. In the US Trump relied upon this result to launch a campaign guaranteeing that his victory would be ‘Brexit multiplied by 5.’ In France, the extreme right leader Marine Le Pen managed to make it to the second round in the presidential elections, pointing out that ‘other peoples have shown us the way, such as the British who have chosen freedom with Brexit.’
In the UK meanwhile Brexit will undoubtedly be one of the key factors which will decide the surprise general elections called by Theresa May for the 8th of June.
Difficulties for Europeans
Whilst the figures vary, it is estimated that 1.2 million UK citizens live in the EU (particularly in Spain, Ireland and France) whilst 3 million Europeans live in the UK. According to recent studies immigrants from Poland (15.7%), Ireland (6%), Portugal (4.1), Romania (4%), Italy (3.7%), Lithuania (3.3%), France (3.1%) and Spain (2.8%) are those who top the figures. Indeed, the period of the greatest increase in immigrant numbers occured between 2005 and 2008 after the broadening of the EU to include countries from Eastern Europe in May of 2004.
As was expected, the post referendum uncertainty and application of Article 50 has hit certain areas hard in particular.
In the health service for instance where 55,000 Europeans work, the number of nurses coming from the EU fell by 90% despite the NHS being aware of the importance of them and midwives from the rest of the continent to the organisation.
Professionals from Spain, Portugal, Romania, Poland and Italy are discarding the idea of working for the English health system. In what has been deemed ‘absolute torture‘ by the NHS, professionals who practice in the UK are not dismissing the option of emigrating as they do not feel welcome.
Added to this is the fact that the boards of the large consultancy firms have warned that it is not a good idea to invest in the UK while uncertainties remain unclear. “If people cannot plan with confidence it is less probable that they will come and less probable they will stay,” confirms the academic Jonathan Portes in his research article Immigration after Brexit.
Months before the referendum vote, foreigners of all nationalities intensified their preparations to migrate in the face of the uncertainty.
Whilst it was forecast that the main people affected might be the most recent arrivals or the least qualified this has not been the case entirely. Monique Hawkings is Dutch. The mother of two children, married to a Briton and resident in the UK for 24 years, she applied for permanent residency before the advent of Brexit made the requirements tougher.
Four months later the Cambridge graduate received a letter of refusal and an order to leave the country as she did not have the right document to stay. “You must make preparations to leave”‘ said a part of the letter.
Sam Schwartzkopf, a German neuro scientist, resident in the UK since 1999, experienced something similar. Married to an English woman and having a doctorate from Cardiff, he received the same letter as the Dutch woman as he had not included his original passport. “Telling me to leave the country (….) is offensive, and more importantly even directly violates freedom of movement rights”, asserted Schwartzkopf. “The Home Office seems to want to make it excessively hard for people.”
Paradoxically, and despite their differences, the explusion of immigrants who were already working in the UK before the referendum was one of the big points Len McCluskey, Gerard Coyne and Ian Allinson candidates for the position of general secretary of Unite, the UK’s largest trade union stressed they had in common.
Taken as a whole, the number of immigrants of all nationalities in the UK is 8.7 million. Whilst after the referendum politicians and the media looked primarily at the reality for Europeans residing in the UK, a series of non-EU communities are being threatened by the implications of Brexit.
2015 statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) indicate that 430,000 people born in Latin America live across the UK. In cities such as London for instance where 41% of its inhabitants were born abroad, the most exhaustive study in respect of this calculates that 145,000 of its residents are Latin American. Brazilians, Colombians, Ecuadorians and Argentinians who live for the most part in inner London are predominant among them.
Two thirds began arriving after 2000, among them a handful who arrived less than five years ago with European passports and hailing from Spain as a result of the economic crisis. It is calculated that 70% of them work – that is to say, around 100,000 – added to the 1.2 million non-Europeans who work in the UK today.
In the hospitality sector, working in restaurants, cleaning and cooking, Latino residents in London grouped together in large numbers around the outdated Elephant and Castle shopping centre are wary of the gentrification of their locality, another concern to add to the worry the rest of Latinos feel in the UK in the wake of the referendum.
Non-governmental organisations committed to the protection and promotion of the rights of this group calculate for example that prior to the referendum 40% of Latino workers had suffered some kind of employer exploitation and that 11% earned less than the minimum wage. Psychological support lines and online radio stations aimed at refugees and immigrants are some of the initiatives which seek to support those anxious about the uncertainty.
Independently of whichever route Brexit ultimately takes – there is talk of hard and soft versions – studies conclude that the barriers to trade will increase, the flow of skilled and unskilled immigrants will fall and there will be an increase in illegal work.
Photos: Pixabay – (Translated by Nigel Conibear – Diptrans IoLET MCIL – firstname.lastname@example.org)