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Immediately after the June 2016 EU referendum, reports of racist and xenophobic attacks, many on recent migrant populations, increased by 60%. Levels of reported attacks have since dropped, but are still 14% higher than in 2015.
Brexit has fundamentally changed the social as well as the political climate, for the worse. Yet politicians continue to make spurious claims about the “dangers” of immigration. EU migrants are now increasingly vulnerable: the Tories opposed guaranteeing the rights of all EU nationals currently resident in the UK after Britain leaves the European Union.
Theresa May uses EU migrants as a bargaining chip in her negotiations over Brexit. Playing politics with migrants lives has continued into the Tories’ general election campaign. In one of her first campaign statements Theresa May repeated a long-standing Tory pledge, which they have consistently failed to meet, to reduce net immigration into the UK to 100,000 people a year. The policy enables the Tories to look tough but it is a lie — reducing migration so drastically would collapse the UK economy, and cause desperate understaffing in the NHS. But lying about migration is one thing the Tories (and other politicians) do consistently. What are the facts?
• The UK is one of the meanest of all rich countries when it comes to letting in refugees. In 2014 France took in twice as many refugees, Germany six times as many (a much higher rate even after accounting for differences in population size). • There are 5.4 million non-UK born workers in the UK, about 17% of the total workforce. Contrary to common belief just 4% of migrants are asylum seekers (people who are awaiting a decision on their refugee status). • The government is extremely tough on asylum seekers. In the first three months of 2015 they rejected 64% of asylum claims. Yet around 70% of asylum cases that are appealed are upheld. “Fast-tracking” of asylum decisions means many claimants are deported before they can appeal. • Many migrants fall foul of the bureaucracy of the system and without access to legal help cannot prove their right to be in the UK. They live in fear of a dawn raid by police and immigration authorities, taking them away from their homes. • Increasingly the NHS is charging non-EU migrants before they can use secondary services, and soon GP and emergency services will be charged. Non-domiciled EU migrants have to pay a health surcharge. • There are increasing numbers of immigration raids on workplaces, often on spurious grounds. • 80% of EU migrants are in work; this is a higher employment rate than the UK-born population. 60% of EU migrants are here because they have a definite job to go to. Overall, there are high and rising employment rates for all EU migrants, non-EU migrant men, and UK-born workers. It is a fact that migrants are not “taking work” from “British workers”. • Just 1% of migrants claim unemployment benefits compared to 4% of UK nationals. • Academic research shows that the presence of migrant workers in the population has little or no effect on wage levels. It is bosses who make wages low, not migrant workers!
The Labour Party has rightly defended the right of EU citizens to live and work in the UK and has said that immigration is not the cause of stagnating wages, declining services and the housing crisis. That’s good, but Labour needs to do more. The right to free movement needs to be at the top of Labour's programme in this election. We need to make a clear socialist case for free movement.
Free movement across borders helps extend global individual freedoms for all, and makes cultures more diverse and richer. People who cross borders should have rights, because we want to win those rights for everyone across the world. In addition, to win democratic control against the destructive competition of capitalism we need to create joint action by workers in many countries.
Socialism cannot be built in one country alone. The working class must unite across borders. Our alternative to Brexit political retreat is to fight for workers’ rights and solidarity across Europe and the world. For freedom of movement! Against racism, xenophobia and nationalism everywhere!