There’s a difference between understanding concerns over migration, and indulging and capitulating to them without question or critique.
There is one day until the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. Or, was it that they were scheduled to leave but now aren’t leaving until April? Or is it May? To tell you the truth, I don’t even know anymore. The entangled web of negotiations and renegotiations, of indicative votes that weren’t indicative, the promises and lies — it’s all far too much to keep up with sometimes, even for seasoned veterans at the major media outlets.
There has, however, been one thing that has been rolling around my head for the past few weeks. No, it’s not whether this has all been worth it (because I don’t think it has). It’s not whether Theresa May is the worst Prime Minister in British history (possibly, though Eden or Heath are often mooted as worse). It’s about whether, since the vote on the 23 June almost three years ago, politicians have indulged and capitulated to the fears of voters (over migrants, refugees and so on), because I fear that they have, and now the consequences of that capitulation are rearing their ugly head.
The Tory Funhouse of Hostile Environments
Various factors are responsible and many parties are at fault. The Tories, having started to push the ‘hostile environment’ agenda during the Cameron years, are to blame for obvious reasons; you can’t send a van around the country with a message on it that amounts to “if you’re a migrant, get out or be deported” on it and claim your hands are clean on this issue.
Indeed, in a sort of ‘collaboration’ of sorts with the right-wing, tabloid UK press, the Conservative Party pushed a truly shameful agenda that demonized migrants and claimed there were “swarm(s) of migrants” fleeing a deadly civil war. In recent years, the government has (somehow) gotten even crueler, threatening to deport EU migrants over simple mistakes on tax and insurance forms and flip-flopping on EU citizens rights.
No wonder Farage found it easy to stand in front of that billboard during the referendum. He knew, after years of media and state-enforced hysteria, of a hostile environment that the then home secretary (and now Prime Minister) was the architect of, that people would agree with what he and it stood for, even if they didn’t dare say so out loud.
Remember Ed’s Mug?
Labour are also at fault for this. Yes, I understand that a sizeable chunk of Labour MPs are in Leave-voting, Eurosceptic areas that tend to, at the very least, be somewhat skeptical of whether immigrants actually benefit the UK economically and socially. But that’s no excuse. All the evidence has overwhelmingly shown that migrants contribute far more to their host country than they supposedly ‘take’; indeed, I feel somewhat guilty using the word ‘take’ in that last sentence, namely because I know full well that I could move to Berlin or Paris or Copenhagen tomorrow, use their health services and so forth, and yet never be called a ‘sponge’ or ‘thief’ or ‘foreigner’.
Labour MPs could’ve pointed out that whilst migrants can put some minor strain on health or education provisions, this wouldn’t be the current case if there was better funding or less bureaucracy in various sectors. They could’ve pointed out that, across the broad spectrum, migrants overall do not lower wages for the working class. In cases where they do, it’s by around 3% and even then, this doesn’t account for overall wage increases in the long run which rectifies this minor decrease. But they didn’t, did they? Instead, both the former and current leadership have peddled anti-migrant tropes that have little basis in reality, thus capitulating to the anti-migrant narrative that pervades UK society at this current moment.
Cast Aside Those Liberal Principles
The Liberal Democrats don’t exactly come out of this examination looking too clean either. Aside from the four years in coalition with the Tories which allowed the latter to foster and create this ‘hostile environment’ narrative (though its worth noting the party hugely objected to the whole ‘van says migrants go home’ thing), one of the MPs running to be the party’s next leader, Ed Davey, has said that liberals must get tough on illegal migrants and enforce border controls in order to win again. Whilst some liberals and moderates may see this as a relatively harmless and logically sound position, it really, really isn’t.
Voters often claim to understand the difference between illegal and legal migration, welcoming the latter but not the former. However, three years later, it’s hard to deny that when it comes down to it, Brexit wasn’t simply motivated by a desire to give the establishment a hard kicking. Deep set, long term suspicion and hatred towards migrants (both legal and otherwise) contributed to the vote and have shaped government policy during the negotiations and likely will post-Brexit too. The message that politicians receive is that voters don’t simply want to limit illegal migration, they (sadly) want to limit all forms migration, not simply illegal entries.
Clearly then, whilst the Lib Dems haven’t wholeheartedly capitulated to the same extent as Labour or the Conservatives, comments like those above from Ed Davey show they’re either beginning to or are inadvertently playing into the hands of those who spout anti-migrant messages.
Here We Are Now, All The “Pure British” Lads
All three of the main parties, in one way or another, want or have already capitulated to the anti-migrant narrative that is guiding Brexit. This narrative is what fuelled Theresa May’s objection (alongside that of the ERG and other likeminded Brexiteers) to the EEA/EFTA+ option set forth by Michel Barnier, as this option violated her red line concerning the ending of free movement.
That’s the great irony or joke or whatever adjective you want to use to describe the mess the UK finds itself in: Had this hostile environment, this poisonous atmosphere, this undercurrent of anti-migrant, anti-refugee narrative not been fostered, or at the very least had been challenged in a far more vocal manner, things may have been different. Maybe yes, Brexit would still be happening. But maybe, just maybe, it would be a Brexit that, at the very least, would have been sorted out sooner and who knows, maybe actually even worked out well for everyone. It more likely in my view wouldn’t have happened at all.
There is a difference between listening to why people are skeptical of migrants, and tacitly agreeing with them. There’s a difference between understanding concerns over migration, and indulging and capitulating to them without question or critique. Sadly for migrants in the UK, a lot of those in the supposedly educated political class can’t seem to tell the difference.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)