Migration control and economic security were probably the two main issues for voters in the recent referendum. I haven’t found any analysis of how BME people voted in the referendum but polling before it suggested that nearly two thirds them would vote to remain.
In the post-war period many mainstream politicians argued BME immigrants could only integrate into British society if their number was controlled. However, in 2004, the British Government agreed to the Free Movement of Labour (FML), goods, services and finance within the EU but estimated that very few migrants would come here from the EU.
Twelve years later there are 3 million EU migrants in the UK and 1.3 million Brits living and working in other member states.
During that same period we have also had:
a severe economic downturn in the USA and Europe caused by the collapse of the several large banks.
austerity which put even greater pressure on public services and working people.
an on-going severe lack of social housing.
Although the UK has now technically achieved ‘full employment’ with unemployment rate at 4.9% (not true for young people and BME communities), how many of these are full-time and with a living wage is a matter for debate.
We are told that the FML suppresses wage levels, especially for low paid workers. That may or may not be true. It’s clear that politicians did not think through the implications of its FML policy and we haven’t heard anything over the past 12 years about the impact of FML on BME jobseekers.
BTEG have spent many years working to narrow the employment gap between the UK’s BME and white workforce, which is still around 11 per cent. In London there is also a 20 per cent pay gap between BME and white workers. For young black men the unemployment rate in London is 30% more than double that of white young people and only 10% of apprentices in the UK are from BME backgrounds.
The reality for many young BME people is that they are competing against their white British counterparts and well-educated, bilingual young white Europeans. As a young black man from London told me, it's hard getting jobs in Oxford Street (retail sector) these days when ‘you only speak one language.’
I recently asked a well educated young black male Londoner why he had wanted to stay in the EU. He said economic security (being part of the single market) and employment opportunities. I then asked him what he thought about competing for jobs in London with young people from other member states that are often white, well educated and bilingual. He hadn’t really considered this.
How many young BME people speak other European languages and can realise the economic benefit of working in the EU? It’s probably more the case that many young BME people enjoy the cultural benefits the EU offers because of affordable and restriction free travel.
I don’t know how many young BME people from low income backgrounds voted to remain in the EU but clearly most Londoners did. I suspect those BME people that voted to leave the EU did so for a combination of reasons, but the electorate was denied an intelligent debate about migration and this vacuum was filled by ‘fear’ mongers. We also saw offensive racist campaigning, designed to whip up fear amongst white voters.
One former Prime Minister even suggested that people were mainly concerned about non-EU migration. Of course, there will always be some people that would prefer if there was no immigration at all. It’s probably this group of people that now feels at liberty to abuse and attack BME people, migrants and refugees.
The State needs to lead the fight against this unlawful behaviour and we all have duty to stop hate crime and racism.