It is only four days since the announcement of the General Election results. An unprecedented election campaign, tragically marred by the horrific attacks in Manchester and London, and resulting in a hung parliament. It was a brief but fraught campaign, one drawing unlikely allies, such as Grime artists, which helped to disturb the assumptions around political youth participation, but it was also one where immigration did not define the debate. So, what can those who want progressive immigration policies do now to define Brexit?
BY FIZZA QURESHI
Young People & Missing Voters
The youth vote turned out to be a substantial factor in the election results. Over 2 million millennials were recorded as having registered for this vote, and some reports suggesting that over 70% voted in this election. Young people disproportionately voted to remain in the EU, so was this their moment to turn the tide on what is seen as a Britain closing in on itself?
The sense of political youth engagement was shared with me on the Friday after the vote. In a workshop in South London, I met two young men who shared their migration experiences, and then naturally the conversation turned to the results of the election. One expressed how happy he was to have been able to vote as he was now 18, and importantly, his immigration status allowed him to. The other young man had arrived in the UK aged 14 as an unaccompanied minor, and at 20 couldn’t vote. Even now, his immigration status in the UK did not allow him to. His frustration that all these immigration policies affecting him were being made without his ability to influence it at the ballot box.
He wasn’t the only one though. All EU nationals also did not have the right to vote in these elections, even though the biggest issue affecting their security in the UK will be playing itself out over the coming months.
Where was immigration?
Some in the migration sector believed this election would bring about an increased
majority for the Conservative party. And, they also urged the migrant and refugee sector to be cautious about challenging the Conservative party publicly on the issue of immigration, as they would be our future policy-makers to influence. A difficult notion to consider when there have been increasingly repressive immigration legislation introduced by a Conservative government. Plus, with a manifesto that includes plans to “redefine” the definition of refugees and asylum, how could we stay silent? But the sector had a reprieve, come the election campaign, immigration seemed to have dropped off the agenda.
The short but significant moment where immigration was back on the cards, was during the launch of the Conservative party manifesto, when they foolishly decided to retain a net migration target (NMT) of tens of thousands. The NMT was even mocked by members of the Conservative party, surprised that Theresa May had not just buried this pledge, because they had failed to deliver on this since David Cameron made the promise.
Even though Brexit was the backdrop in which this election was being fought, it was all about who would be the best at leading negotiations with the EU. Conversations on Brexit ignored the issues of freedom of movement, or the security of EU nationals and their dependents. So, what was assumed to be an election campaign where immigration would be the defining factor, it ended up focusing on public services and personal issues of social care, the NHS, and student fees. Unusually, migrants were also not being blamed for the lack of public resources. And this seemed to change the nature of the results.
Hard, soft, or a ‘liberal’ Brexit?
With a hung Parliament, the Conservatives had few allies with whom they could form a majority government, but they found unlikely bedfellows with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Now, during Brexit negotiations, the Conservatives will not only face the hand of the EU but will also have to tread more carefully with their government allies, as the DUP want a ‘soft’ Brexit. The DUP’s primary concern being that they don’t want a hard border with Ireland.
So, if the Government’s own partner isn’t keen on a hard Brexit, then what kind of Brexit are we actually going to get? And is this the moment we can influence the debate, and add pressure for a ‘liberal’ Brexit, where freedom of movement, and the rights and entitlements of EU nationals and their dependents can continue.
Immigration policies on the horizon
Whatever Brexit discussions take place at the EU level, we will at some point need to deal with a new Immigration Bill that will likely include the rights of EU nationals, and further restrictions to determine who can come into the UK, so the NMT can be met, for example, by increasing the minimum income threshold for family visas.
In our event, Dissecting the Immigration Manifestos, the attendees highlighted the key areas which they want to be ready to tackle post-election. And we do need to be ready and waiting to tackle the pending and current restrictive policies now. Because let us not forget that many people who are impacted by immigration policies and legislation do not have a political voice at the ballot box. So, it is even more important that we ensure their voice is heard by the new policy-makers, and our Government, whatever form it takes.
Fizza Qureshi is Director of MRN