It’s the immigrants, stupid. The unofficial campaign slogan that can be attributed to recent election results in the UK, US, Hungary, France… the list (unfortunately) goes on. With Theresa May’s recent comments hinting towards how the UK’s immigration policy will look post-Brexit, we must take a serious look at how immigrants are being presented throughout the West and how none of it is based on any fact or statistic.
Theresa May has come under serious criticism in the past week for likening European migrant workers to ‘queue jumpers’. The comment comes as the Government will soon announce how the UK’s immigration system will look after Britain leaves the EU.
A British Prime Minister legitimising the cliché complaint that immigrants steal our jobs is significant in displaying how Western leaders are no longer worried about vocalising xenophobic views. Yet this is not surprising from a woman like May who has been found responsible for the Windrush scandal and general dehumanisation of migrants during her goal of creating a hostile environment for illegal immigrants in the UK.
Theresa May’s comments solidified many fears that EU nationals living and working in the UK have had since 2016. SNP MP Philippa Whitford spoke of how her German husband, a GP in the NHS for 30 years, was deeply insulted by the comments. She reminded the PM that he and 150,000 other EU citizens have been working in the NHS and contributing majorly to the health of British citizens for decades.
Since the Brexit referendum an unwelcoming atmosphere in the UK has caused EU citizens to leave in larger numbers than before, comments such as Theresa May’s are undoubtedly contributing to this atmosphere. A report from the Office for National Statistics has shown that EU migration to the UK is at a six year low. Migration from countries such as Romania has nearly halved, with Romanians contributing hugely to the UK’s construction industry there is concern over the future of this part of Britain’s economy. Immigration from countries such as Germany and Spain is also approaching half of what it was before the referendum. These migrants are very present in UK universities, contributing to the education of British people and as mentioned, hold many positions within the NHS.
Fear over what this drop in migration will mean for the future of the UK is even present within the Conservative party, with MP Phillip Lee saying that a fall in EU migrants is deeply worrying for our NHS and not what people voted for in 2016.
What is equally as troubling as Theresa May’s rhetoric and a fall in EU migration is recent comments from supposed representative of the left wing, Hillary Clinton. The Democrat candidate in the 2016 US Presidential election has told Europe to curb immigration and tell people we can “no longer offer refuge and support”. She claims immigration has “lit the flame” in the rise of right-wing populism in Europe.
The Guardian’s Nesrine Malik, rightly combatted Clinton’s comments by highlighting her failure to realise “the problem is not immigrants, it is the fear of immigrants.” Malik also says this is typical centrist pandering to xenophobic views. What it also shows however is the major failure of the left to represent immigration as a positive contributor to a nation’s economy.
Left wing candidates have a responsibility to take the issue of immigration head on. Instead of ignoring it or pandering to right wing fears of immigrants as Hillary Clinton’s comments have done, the goal should be to remind people how positive of an impact immigrants have on European countries. The presence of migrants in some of the UK’s most important sectors such as education and health care cannot be disputed. This puts real facts against the xenophobic fiction spouted some Western leaders and by anti-immigration movements such as a considerable proportion of the Leave campaign.