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25 February 2019

No deal Brexit and race

Brexit will happen by default (and law) on 29 March 2019. At the time of writing it is looking unlikely that the government’s Withdrawal Bill will be passed by parliament, and the prospect of a no deal Brexit looks an increasingly likely scenario.

‘No deal’?

No deal Brexit really means that there is no law in place that governs an orderly exit from the EU. Undoubtedly there will be legal deals done after Brexit happens so that trade will continue, planes will fly, citizens are not immediately deported. However with no agreements in place, the UK is heading for a disorderly departure from the EU. There is a possibility of civil unrest if there are food and medicine shortages. That is why civil servants are preparing for the possibility that emergency powers be brought in (which would probably mean the UK temporarily withdrawing from some of the human rights safeguards in the European Convention on Human Rights).

Impact of no deal on race

The draft Withdrawal Bill set out safeguards that protected many fundamental rights, such as citizens rights and workers rights. For a full list of the fundamental rights of the EU, check out our handy guide. Let’s focus on three rights: non-discrimination, freedom of movement and EU citizen’s rights. There are more, and a future post will cover these.

Non-discrimination (and also workers rights)

These rights are important to everyone. Some are particularly important for people whose heritage is of a different race than ‘White British’, from a different ethnic group or who practice a religion or faith. For example non-discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnic minority, religion or faith. Yes, this is covered by the Equality Act and that will remain in force after Brexit. However any existing UK law could be much more easily changed in the future. For example, if the UK wanted to attract business to invest in the UK it might reduce workers rights to make the UK appear more attractive to foreign investors. Same as the number of hours an employee may work a week. All theoretical, but also all possible as there will be no overseeing legal body such as the European Court of Justice.

Freedom of movement

Freedom of movement will end on 29 March. Yes, people will probably be able to make visa free short holidays to a European country, but living and working in another European country will be much more difficult to arrange. Of course this will equally affect Black, Asian or ethnic minority UK citizens. There has been very little discussion about how restricted social mobility will impact on race in the UK.

EU citizen’s rights

The government has said that EU citizens in the UK before Brexit day will be able to remain, but must register for settled status or pre-settled status before 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. As one cannot apply for settled status (apart from the few who were testing the system) until 30 March 2019, the UK would need some time for the new immigration process to work. However the new Immigration Bill has not yet been passed by parliament and it is this that would set out the law on EU and other country nationals immigration rights. In addition those in more precarious work situations may well find themselves deported. This has been happening to Roma and rough sleepers for a few years now. The government’s likely intention to restrict future immigration to high wage earners only (earning over £30,000 a year) is a good indication of the restrictive policy being formulated. Last point to emphasise that this is relevant to race, many EU nationals living in the UK are of a different race or ethnic minority.

Uncertain times.

Alan Anstead

Coordinator, UK Race and Europe Network, and Trustee of Migrants’ Rights Network