A significant part of the Brexit Leave campaign focused on refugees and asylum seekers via ramped up nationalistic and paranoid rhetoric that seems to have disregarded any concerns about human rights completely. According to Yougov, The British Election Study Team and the Ipsos Mori polls taken around the time of the Brexit referendum, which took place on 23 June 2016, one of the most important reasons for leaving the EU was immigration and borders.
In 2015 there was an influx of displaced people coming into Europe, predominantly from Africa and the Middle East, with Germany’s open-door policy accepting one million refugees. The sticking point that influenced a lot of Brexiteers, or Leavers, so strongly on the immigration factor is the process of free movement of people.
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 45 on Freedom of movement and of residence states that:
“Every citizen of the Union has the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States.”
According to the Office of National Statistics the highest figure of people coming into the UK was 652, 000 in the year to June 2016. That number dropped to 572,000 in the year to June 2017, this included EU citizens that went down to 19 per cent, and non-EU citizens that went down to 10 per cent.
Leading up to the referendum in 2016 Nigel Farage, the then leader of Ukip, a British Eurosceptic party, organized a fleet of vans with posters that had images of hundreds of refugees standing in a massive line with the words “Breaking Point” and “The EU has failed us all”. Yet this was a poster of Syrian refugees not of EU migrants. Now it seemed that staying in the EU meant you would have to open your doors to refugees. This stoked the fear mongering of the so called “outsider” even more effectively.
Prior to Farage’s advert, this trend of vehicles was first adopted by the Tory party which had their own vans. These were driven around six London boroughs which had high immigration during July and August 2013.
The ads for the “Go Home” vans, as they were dubbed, read, “In the UK illegally?”, “Go home or face arrest”, accompanied with a convenient text message of “Home” to report someone.
The operation was called Vaken by the Home Office. It is an interesting choice of word as vaken is the Swedish word for “awake” and Nazi Germany had a similar call to action against infidels with propaganda posters saying Deutschland Erwache which means “Germany awake”.
In 2013, Theresa May, who was the longest serving Home Secretary in six decades prior to being promoted to prime minister, created the Hostile Environment policy which alienated anyone who was technically not white British. Reflecting this concept, May at a Tory Party conference in 2015 stated that immigrants make society less “cohesive” and they were to blame for pressure on public services, housing and unemployment and brought no benefits as well as stating that EU immigration was unbalanced. Yet there was still more to come with this bombshell,
“It’s often said – usually by advocates of open-door immigration – that Britain is by definition a country of immigrants. In fact, compared to the countries of the New World and compared to the countries of Europe with their shifting land borders, we have until recently always been a country of remarkable population stability.”
This lack of understanding towards a country where around 13 per cent of the population comes from immigrants could explain May’s Hostile Environment policy towards the Windrush Generation that allowed the government to question whether those people from the Caribbean who came across to the UK in 1948 and their descendants had the right to remain as citizens in Britain.
In the talks in Brussels that took place last week Theresa May called for an end to free movement of EU citizens what she got was the end to free movement, but maybe privileged rights for EU citizens.
But where does this leave the future of Brexit with regards to refugees? According to the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a news agency that focuses on humanitarian stories, Migration Editor Kristy Siegfried mentions that the UK for a long time has opted-out from most EU asylum policies, “including last September’s agreement that member states would absorb 160,000 asylum seekers relocated from Greece and Italy.” According to the Dublin III Regulation the responsibility of asylum eligibility lies with the Member State where the asylum seeker first arrived. The Dublin Regulation regarding the UK is likely to change after Brexit depending on the negotiations of a hard or soft outcome.
A 2017 Oxfam report examining the global refugee crisis and its implications from when Brexit negotiations started and will end, in March 2019, warns that,
“Around 54,000 [people] could reach the UK in search of protection and more than half (29,000) will be turned away. More than 15,500 refugees living in the UK may ask to be reunited with a member of family, but two out of every five (6,500) could have their request denied.”
Britain is a country full of immigrants and with either a deal or no deal Brexit it is our duty to provide a safe haven for those coming to our shores. For those who claim that immigrants take jobs and are a drain on welfare, research from a 2017 LSE report states that,
“Immigrants pay more in taxes than they take out in welfare and use in public services”
When Britain signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention it did so that post war levels of displacement of people would never happen again. However, with the number of displaced people in the world reaching an estimated 65 million and surpassing even World War Two figures, it is a poignant reminder what an even greater responsibility this country has to honour its agreements and be an example to the rest of the world as a champion for refugees and human rights.