Britain’s ethnic minorities have not featured much in the Brexit debate.
The size of Britain’s ethnic minorities is larger than the population of Scotland and Wales combined, but the implications of Brexit for Britain’s eight million ethnic minorities have been largely overlooked. Imagine telling Scotland or Wales that their Brexit concerns are going to be largely ignored?
Ethnic minority voting patterns in the 2016 EU referendum are often misunderstood.
While overall, ethnic minorities voted Remain, it is significant that a third of British Asians and a quarter of British black people voted Leave.
And to make matters more complex – in the three years since the Brexit referendum, a “mega poll” conducted by Survation and Channel 4 has shown that local authorities with high numbers of ethnic minority Leave voters would now switch to Remain if another referendum were to take place.
Until now, however, no one has really entertained – or even prepared – for a no deal Brexit.
The new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has stated publicly that he will leave the European Union by 31 October “by any means necessary” and to hammer the point home, and presumably prompted by his Chief of Staff, Dominic Cummings, he has deselected 21 Conservative MPs – two of whom were in May’s Cabinet until just a few weeks ago – for voting against no deal.
Economic analysis has already shown that Brexit will have a negative impact on poorer households, but there are good reasons for thinking that a no deal Brexit will have a more devastating impact for those on lower incomes.
This includes Britain’s ethnic minorities – a large number of whom are in low paid and insecure work, spend a greater proportion of their income on rent and have very little disposable income for food.
Increases in the prices of the latter, which Michael Gove recently admitted is a very real prospect in the event of no deal, is likely to have a much larger detrimental impact on these “just about managing” groups.
A no deal Brexit would also have huge implications on Britain’s labour market – and particularly those people in part-time, temporary or zero-hour contract jobs.
Manual workers, such as those working in the clothing industry and plant and machine operators – would be particularly vulnerable to job losses as tariffs would be imposed on British exports to the EU.
Pakistani and Bangladeshi men are twice as likely as white British men to work in these sectors, and are less likely to have skills which are transferable to other sectors.
There are also serious concerns about what will happen to employee rights, safety and guaranteed hours if the UK fails to secure a deal with the EU before the October deadline.
Countries like the United States, with significant trading clout, will recognise that Britain is in a weaker trading position after leaving the EU without a deal and can demand whatever conditions they want including a preference for reducing regulatory barriers and employee rights.
Despite the frenzied political activity in Number 10 in the last two weeks, many doubt that the government has been seriously working to come up with an alternative to no deal, let alone undertaken an impact assessment of what will happen to people with protected characteristics in the event of the latter.
And even though Boris Johnson has assured us that he will end “austerity-era restraints” it was clear from the Chancellor’s spending review last week that only about a third of the crippling cuts to welfare and social security reforms in the last ten years have been fully reversed.
Research by Runnymede Trust and the Women’s Budget Group has shown that women, ethnic minorities and disabled groups have been hit the hardest by austerity cuts, but there’s little indication that the Johnson’s government will fully restore these cuts and help lift working families out of poverty.
Instead hundreds of millions is being spent on a “Get Ready” for (no deal) Brexit campaign – an irrelevance to ordinary families who are struggling to put food on the table (two-thirds of children in poverty live in working families) and for whom things are likely to get much worse under a no deal Brexit scenario.
If the economic downturn projections about No Deal are accurate, we should also be concerned about increases in social tensions and resentment in the face of scarcity.
We already know that the politics of economic and cultural resentment drove much of the Leave vote, but a no deal Brexit is likely to exacerbate the economic positions of “left behind” voters who will be encouraged by populist politicians to scapegoat BME, European, Muslim and other minority groups.
To make things worse there is a strong possibility that in the event of a general election, Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party are likely to court the populist vote (and right-wing Brexit Party voters) at the expense of moderate BME voters, given the Conservative Party’s and Johnson’s lack of popularity with BME and Muslim voters.
Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament, deselection of senior MPs and uncompromising focus on no deal Brexit is deeply concerning.
It’s not just that Johnson’s reckless actions recall Trump-style divisive politics, with serious consequences for democracy; it’s also that there seems to be little regard for what a no deal Brexit will do to ordinary families, ethnic minorities, women and people on lower incomes.
Dr Zubaida Haque is Deputy Director of the Runnymede Trust.