Brexit Ke Baad: Britain Not ‘Fairer’ For Indians Living In the UK
It is now common knowledge that before the last election in 2015 David Cameron, the British Prime Minister offered his Conservative party the possibility of a referendum on Great Britain’s membership of the European Union. He is said to have done this to ensure that he could continue as party leader with full support from Conservatives who dislike Europe.
Only a year later, the British government is in total disarray, David Cameron has resigned as PM, the markets are in turmoil, the pound has fallen (again) and the British public is more confused than ever about its political, economic and social future.
The ‘Sensational’ Campaign
The ‘Leavers’ ran a strongly anti-immigrant and dishonest scare campaign with the slogan ‘take back control’, while the ‘Remainers’ could not find a strong enough slogan to excite the undecided voters. Those of us working on CATCH-EyoU, a large cross-national project on European Active Citizenship had already found a significant amount of negative rhetoric about Europe, about migrants, and about the EU in the British Press in the year leading up to the referendum.
While a few stories carried out a journalistic mandate by critically questioning the way money from and to the European Union is allocated, and thoughtfully discussed the pros and cons of Britain’s relationship with Europe, many sensationalised issues.
How ‘Leavers’ Voted
On the 23 June 2016, more than 70% of the UK population voted in a referendum. 51.9% of voters – a small majority – voted in favour of leaving. The other 48.1% voted to remain.
The Lord Ashcroft exit poll of 12,369 voters shows stark differences between regions and age groups of voters.
Those who voted to leave believed a significant amount of the propaganda about the European Union being undemocratic, about it being run by ‘unelected’ and faceless bureaucrats, and about its legal demands compromising British values and sovereignty.
Anecdotal accounts achieved through focus groups and other polls suggest that some ethnic minority ‘Leave’ voters believed that their economic prospects would improve if European migration in the UK could be prevented; many parts of the UK have been devastated by the welfare cuts, de-industrialisation, and austerity policies of the Conservative government and its coalition predecessor. Some also felt suspicious of newer immigrants from Eastern Europe and from countries like Greece which have been negatively reported in the media.
Some South-Asians who voted to leave believed politicians like Conservative Preeti Patel who told them it would be easier for non-White migrants to come to the UK if it left the EU. Others believed that there would be more money for essential services like schooling and hospitals if the UK leaves Europe.
The picture remains unclear as to when and how the British government will act on the referendum decision to take the UK out of the European Union. Negotiations with the European Union have not yet begun. There are reports of negative meetings in Brussels and of anger amongst the European Parliament representatives. There are reports that some leave voters are regretful of their decision and wish they had voted to remain.
There are economic, social and political ways in which Indians in the UK or those who wish to come to the UK are being affected and might be further affected in the future.
Racism On The Rise
There has been a rise in racism. According to some police forces, incidents of racism and hate crime against ethnic minorities have risen to five times since the Brexit vote. Some Europeans, African-Caribbeans, British-Asians and Indians resident in the UK for work or study have reported xenophobic graffiti, verbal abuse, and even physical assault in the wake of the Leave Europe campaign and vote. While this does not signify that all those who voted ‘Leave’ have racist ideas, it suggests that the vote to leave has empowered those in British society who already hold negative views about immigrants.
Sadly, those in the Indian community here who voted to leave and felt suspicions of European migrants may not have anticipated that they and their children would also suffer. The atmosphere on the streets and between neighbours, and even between parents and children who voted for different things has become more strained.
Border Control & Check
Border controls will get stricter. Whoever takes over the leadership of the Conservative party and becomes the new Prime Minister will be under pressure to reduce migration further. There is evidence that visible ethnic minorities such as Indians are often checked more thoroughly and suffer more institutional racism at European borders. While obtaining tourist or short stay Schengen and British visas will not necessarily be much more difficult than it already is, there will likely be more border stops, and more bureaucracy once within Britain for those wishing to visit other European countries.
Sending Money Home
The pound is more unstable. Shares in British companies have lost their value. While the economic situation may settle down, it is clear that there has been some inflation since the vote and not clear that there is a plan to deal with it. Those who have savings in pounds or who send money home will find their incomes significantly reduced if the current trend does not stabilise.
Studying In UK
There is not evidence that it will be easier for Indian students and business people to get visas. In fact, it appears that all migration to the UK, however brief, will continue to be a difficult issue for the British government, and that they are likely to institute quotas that make it even more difficult to enter the country.
Meanwhile Indian students on Erasmus programmes in European countries may no longer be able to select the UK as a destination for part of their studies. Those studying in Scotland will be affected by the outcome if there is a second Scottish vote on leaving the UK.
Businesses Race To The Bottom
British Asians and NRIs who own small businesses in the UK may see some short term gains as European competitors weigh up whether to leave. However, in the long run, there could be a ‘race to the bottom’ if European legislations about standards, safety, working hours and other matters that Britain voted to sign up to are overturned and disregarded.
Conversely, there is no evidence that it will be easier for Indian businesses large or small to do business with the UK following ‘Brexit’. In fact, as the UK tries to maintain its cultural and economic position in Europe, and becomes embroiled in trade negotiations with each of the other 27 European countries separately, there may be fewer opportunities for Indian businesses.
Many British Asians, including Indians, are employed in European-owned supermarket chains such as Lidl and Aldi, and other retail outlets across the UK, as well as in banks. If European chains and banks feel pushed to relocate, this might adversely affect jobs and increase unemployment in already low paid groups.
Conversely, some British Asian-run businesses employ European workers and will not benefit if these skilled workers leave.
Overall, there is nothing for Indians to celebrate in the UK referendum vote. Increased isolation, economic instability, racism, and xenophobia are not likely to help to build a more democratic, economically successful and fair society either inside the UK or in the European Union.
(Dr Shakuntala Banaji is Programme Director for the Master’s in Media, Communication and Development in the department of Media and Communication, London School of Economics and Political Science.)