Race and immigration has always played a crucial role in the Brexit debate even before the 2016 referendum. From the blatantly racist anti-migrant posters presented by Nigel Farage to exhausting repetitions of the slogan, “taking back control of our borders,” it was clear from the beginning that BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) groups would be disproportionately affected by the decision to leave the EU.
— Connor Beaton (@cdbeaton) June 16, 2016
As many will already know by now, the United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019 at 11:00 p.m. U.K. time. And although the European court of justice has ruled that the U.K. can unilaterally stop Brexit, this process would require a change in the U.K. law as Prime Minister, Theresa May, has already put this date into British law.
When May invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the U.K. was given two years to come up with an agreement with the EU, detailing the conditions of the split. With just weeks left of this time, the U.K. still has not agreed upon a deal and are bracing for the very-real possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
Bank of England’s scenarios under a “disorderly” Brexit:
• Britain’s GDP drops 8%
• House prices plunge 30%
• Commercial property falls 48%
• Pound slides 25%, beneath $1
• Unemployment rises to 7.5%
• Inflation accelerates to 6.5%https://t.co/HnxGBOWEMl
— Bloomberg Brexit (@Brexit) November 28, 2018
The British public, including many that have previously voted “leave,” are now fearing for the worst with concerns over food, fuel and medicine shortages, the possibility of a hard border between Northern Ireland (U.K.) and the Republic of Ireland (EU) and Bank of England’s grim warning that a no-deal Brexit could cause the pound sterling to crash by 25%. So, where do Asians fit into the picture in the midst of all this chaos and how will this affect them?
Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, stated in a speech earlier this year that the debate surrounding Brexit has normalized racially-motivated hatred and as a result, it was minority ethnic voters who have “paid the price.” Following the referendum, Home Office statistics showed a 29% increase in the number of hate crimes across England and Wales. Asian and Muslim communities were targeted in particular in a series of acid attacks and physical assaults.
The UN special rapporteur on racism has said, “The environment leading up to the referendum, the environment during the referendum, and the environment after the referendum has made racial and ethnic minorities more vulnerable to racial discrimination and intolerance.”
It’s important to remember that the United Kingdom, unlike other European countries, does not have a written constitution. After the U.K.’s official divorce with the European Union, British politicians will be free to amend or dismiss certain protection rights regarding women and minority groups. According to The Guardian, “Many employment and social protection rights are derived from the EU treaties and directives, as interpreted by the case-law of the European court of justice.” This includes parental leave regulations, anti-harassment laws, paid holiday, anti-discrimination measures and equal pay for equal value.
It is undeniable that Asians already face discrimination within the British job market. Gov.UK statistics show that in 2017, white Britons had the highest employment rate out of all ethnic groups at 81% while Pakistani/Bangladeshi group had the lowest at 55%. The “Asian other including Chinese” group was also not too far behind at 64%. Many believe this racial inequality gap will only be exacerbated by Brexit and the rise of nationalism and xenophobia.
A 2017 report on the impact of austerity on BME women found that by 2020, Asian women are likely to lose 19% of their income. The report also concluded that, “Work is often positioned as a route out of poverty, but access to the labour market and specifically to jobs that pay a living wage is stratified by gender and ethnicity.”
Despite promises from UKIP leaders, a majority of U.K. doctors and nurses believe the NHS will suffer as a result of Brexit with only 7% believing it will get better. A report on the ethnic health inequalities between 1991 to 2011 show that Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Arab and Indian women suffered from illnesses disproportionately higher than their white counterparts. It’s very likely that Asians, especially low-income Asian women, will be among the hardest hit groups when Britain leaves the EU. Shortage in funding, medicine and staff could lead to reductions in vital services that many minority ethnic women rely on.
It’s also worth mentioning that the NHS relies heavily on minority ethnic doctors and nurses, many of them being foreign nationals. Limitations set on high-skilled immigrants would inevitably cause shortages of labor within the NHS. Although the government’s proposed post-Brexit immigration plan would prioritize these high-skilled migrants, if they decide to implement the £30,000 salary threshold for skilled workers, many medical professionals would not be able to meet the visa qualifications.
Japanese car company, Nissan, operates the biggest car factory in Britain. When the U.K. was a member of the European Union, the factory’s location provided easy access to the single market without any additional taxes, tariffs or quotas placed on their products when trading with other EU countries. As the U.K. prepares to leave the EU, Nissan has warned against a hard Brexit and suggested that this chaotic process was creating “a terrible impression” with the Japanese.
Without the single market, Nissan will no longer be able to take advantage of the free movement of goods, services, money and people within the European Union and will no longer have a level playing field with other EU-based manufacterers. However, Nissan’s wishes to stay in the single market directly go against the wishes of hard Brexiteers whose priorities are to limit immigration. In February of 2017, Nissan estimated that the post-Brexit tariffs would add £500m to the plant’s costs and cause long delays at the borders. In the case of a no-deal Brexit, it appears the lack of a transition period would only make things even more unstable and difficult for the company.
But of course, none of this should be new information -i it was foreseen all the way back in 2016 that Brexit would likely affect BME communities at disproportionate levels. Even though only a third of British Asians voted to leave the European Union, the lives of the majority of Asians and other minority ethnic groups residing in the U.K. could be drastically changed by the decisions made in these coming weeks.