The people deserve a say on deal or stay

Brexit will stoke racism, especially against BAME EU migrants says Rupa Huq

The news in early December that Sajid Javid sympathised with the Syrian refugee teenage victim of racist bullying who went viral via sickening video footage as he’d been there too as an Asian kid subjected to racism, won the Home Secretary plaudits. As someone who’s been called “Paki” in my time myself it was a welcome admission and punctured the government spin that all is rosy in near post-Brexit Britain, which threatens to take us back to the 70s in more ways than one.

Less welcome was his announcement that he would not be publishing his immigration white paper before the meaningful vote on the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Described as “shocking and unacceptable” by MPs across the political spectrum, Javid’s announcement illuminates the Cabinet divisions on this issue: Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark oppose Theresa May’s proposals to clamp down on low-skilled migration from anywhere.

Immigration issues will hit BAME EU migrants the hardest, since they look visibly different, and may be more likely to be asked for ID to access employment, housing and healthcare. The Roma community are particularly vulnerable

The draft Brexit withdrawal agreement states that freedom of movement will end, and will be replaced by a skills-based immigration system. On top of this, Britons living in EU countries, and EU nationals living in the UK (for five years), will be able to stay in their respective countries of residence, but will need to apply formally to remain in those countries. This additional layer of bureaucracy – and its potential to cause mayhem due to procedural incompetence – adds to what is already a hostile environment for immigrants. The European Parliament’s Brexit lead has already expressed concern about how EU residents would fare if the Windrush scandal was anything to go by.

Of course, more general freedom of movement concerns affect ethnic minorities too. For example, having spoken to ethnic minority leaders, People’s Vote found opportunities for their children and grandchildren’s future was a real worry. If Brexit goes ahead without freedom of movement guarantees, these opportunities will inevitably shrink, with many EU jobs potentially off-limits to UK workers.

Immigration issues will hit BAME EU migrants the hardest, since they look visibly different, and may be more likely to be asked for ID to access employment, housing and healthcare. The Roma community are particularly vulnerable to this, since they tend not to feature on electoral registers or have identity documents, and are more likely to be stateless.

Further, it is no secret that the Brexit referendum unleashed a wave of xenophobia: hate crimes spiked by almost a third in the year after the referendum, according to Home Office statistics. The victims were not just EU citizens, but also people of Asian, African and Caribbean heritage.

Forty years on from first being called Paki I’m now an MP representing my home seat that’s rich in demographic diversity. I know that even constituents who voted “out”, with loyalties to the commonwealth and in frustration at immigration policy that seemed to keep out their own relatives, are now horrified at jobs and investment already leaving our shores and the plummeting pound. Almost invariably they are asking, “Can’t we call the whole thing off?” and imploring, “Now we know all we know, voters deserve a final say – not just MPs”.

If ethnic minorities in the UK want to resolve these issues, their best option is to loudly demand a People’s Vote on Brexit. Please write to your MP at, asking them to support a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal and copy Theresa May in too. After all, she’s fond of talking about “what the British people want.” All our voices should count. Let’s put her right once and for all.

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