As racist as ever – Britain’s post-Brexit immigration scheme

Protest outside Yarl's Wood detention centre

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 268 February/March 2019

In December 2018 the government published its White Paper, ‘The UK’s future skills-based immigration system’, setting out how the British state will manage its racist immigration system after exiting the European Union. The proposals mainly consist of subjecting EU migrants to the same restrictive immigration controls as current non-EU migrants and will be phased in over the Implementation Period, which is due to end on 31 December 2020.

In forewords to the White Paper, Theresa May and Sajid Javid declare the future immigration system will ensure the UK is ‘open for business’, at the same time claiming they will restrict migration to ‘sustainable levels’ (tens of thousands). This is an arbitrary pledge consistently made by the Conservatives since 2010.

Measures to tighten control on migration include the much-trumpeted end of free movement for EU citizens and the introduction of a single ‘skills-based’ system for all migrants other than those from Ireland, who retain their current ‘special status’. The Immigration Rules on the ‘refusal of entry, permission to remain in the UK, and exclusion and deportation’ will apply to people of all nationalities including EU citizens.

EU citizens currently in Britain will be expected to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021, and those who fail to do so will be denied access to work, housing and benefits. As settled EU citizens be­come subject to UK immigration law, those who wish to bring a family member or spouse (who does not have their own work or study visa) to join them, will have to formally sponsor them. The sponsor must prove they have an annual income of at least £18,600 for one adult, increasing to £22,400 for an adult and a child, and a further £2,400 for each additional child.

On 21 January 2019, May told the House of Commons that the government was scrapping the application fee for the Settlement Scheme, which would have cost EU citizens £65.

Other key features of the proposed post-Brexit immigration system include:

All these proposed measures will serve to continue the fine tuning of migration to suit the needs of British capital.

The White Paper was based on the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Home Office. MAC has been advising the government on its repressive immigration policies since 2007. Advice in the 2008 MAC report was used by Gordon Brown’s Labour government to announce that restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers would continue until the end of 2011. Then Minister of State for Borders and Immigration Phil Woolas, a racist bullying Labour MP who was disqualified from holding elected office after using scandalous propaganda claiming that ‘illegal immigrants’ were trying to highjack the 2010 election, said this continued restriction came from a ‘need to protect the interests of the resident workforce’. In reality divide and rule tactics were being enforced through Britain’s immigration policy as the working class suffered the immediate devastating consequences of the 2008 capitalist crisis.

Similarly, Theresa May’s foreword  makes the xenophobic call for ‘Britain to take back control of its borders’ and ‘reduce the number of people coming’ in order to encourage British businesses to prioritise ‘our own young people’. Ac­cording to Home Sec­retary and former director of Deut­sche Bank Sajid Javid, the proposed immigration system will ‘support wage growth’ and the ‘UK’s economy and public services’. Yet the Economic Ap­praisal, which forms an annex to the White Paper, states that migrants ‘have “no or little” impact on the overall employment and unemployment outcomes of the UK-born workforce’, and migration was not found by Home Office analysts to be ‘a “major determinate” [sic] of the wages of UK-born workers’. The annex ac­know­ledges that the proposed changes will have a cumulative fiscal cost to the Treasury ‘of between £2bn and £4bn over the first five years’.

Javid is practised in bending reality to suit his political aims. In December 2018 he made the ridiculous claim that 250 people, mainly Syrian and Iranian asylum seekers, intercepted in the Channel during the previous ten months constituted a ‘major incident’. He called for more Border Force ships and suggested Britain needs to ‘do everything we can to make sure that [they] are not successful’ in claiming asylum. For these irresponsible comments he faced criticism from lawyers and charities, who reminded him that sending refugees away to ‘face persecution in order to dissuade others from seeking to come here is plainly illegal’ under the 1951 Refugee Convention (The Guardian, 2 January 2019).

The ‘Impact of Migration’ section in this annex also states the effect of migration to Britain on health and social care was found to be positive, ‘through their provision of labour in these sectors, and their relatively limited use’. This obfuscates the deliberate use of racist measures to restrict migrants’ access to public services, healthcare and work, particularly following the implementation of the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts.

On 18 January 2019 The Indepen­dent reported that 38-year-old Nasar Ullah Khan was dying from heart failure after being refused a life-saving operation due to his immigration status. He is just ‘one of hundreds of patients who have been denied treatment for serious health problems after ministers forced the NHS to impose upfront charges on migrants deemed ineligible for free healthcare’. Khan has now been told that he must pay £16,000 for palliative care.

The system proposed in the White Paper may not be enacted exactly as, for instance, it leaves open the possibility of future Brexit negotiations with the EU leading to increased mobility for EU citizens in return for more favourable terms for an exit deal. Whatever the exact plan for the immigration regime, socialists must continue to fight against the British state’s repressive and racist immigration and deportation regime.