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Political rhetoric around Brexit leveraged a perceived link between immigration and public services, creating resentment, division and anxiety among disadvantaged groups.

The Effects of Brexit on New and Emerging Communities

Misinformation around Brexit has created numerous anxieties and led to various forms of prejudice. However, Brexit has also provided opportunities, such as the desire of migrants to learn English to work. Dr. Loretta Trickett’s assess how better education and understanding of the implications of Brexit could foster community cohesion.

Developments have the potential for detrimental consequences for community relations within towns and cities and this is particularly the case given the political rhetoric and media coverage around the referendum and the subsequent negotiations around Brexit which have been heavily focused on immigration and resource issues within cities, towns and villages across the UK.

Campaigners in Parliament Square on 15th January 2019 as a vote is held on the EU Withdrawal Agreement. The government was defeated by 432 votes to 202. Pic Source: Paul Fillingham - Thinkamigo

There were considerable increases in hate crimes across the UK affecting a range of different ethnic groups during and after the referendum on Brexit. Examples included Anti-Polish material being posted through letterboxes and left outside primary schools in Cambridgeshire, graffiti being scrawled on a Polish Community Centre in London and the firebombing of a Muslim business in Walsall. There were also numerous examples of verbal abuse directed at ethnic minorities in public places and reports of increased fear within many ethnic minority groups.

In Mansfield, the EU referendum campaign was a ‘one-issue debate: It was all about immigration’. Pic source: Paul Fillingham - Thinkamigo

The impact of Brexit at a national level has included local studies such as one in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. Mansfield is a former mining town with high rates of social deprivation which until recently was not very culturally diverse. Over the last ten years, there has been a significant increase in migrant groups mostly from Eastern Europe. The people of Mansfield voted 70.9% leave in the 2016 EU referendum and the main reason provided was immigration. Much of this was about resentment towards ‘incomers’ taking jobs, housing and increasing demand on public services. There are several facets to this including the closing of collieries in the town and competition for jobs and wages amongst largely unskilled people (Gartzou-Katsouyanni et al, 2018).

In the 2016 EU referendum, Mansfield voted 70.9% Leave: it was the seventh highest percentage in favour of Leave out of 382 UK local authorities.

The aforementioned study provides an example of some of the tensions within areas particularly outside of cities that have only recently experienced higher rates of migration. Many of these issues were evident in and around the EU referendum and featured heavily in political debate and media coverage. According to the Office for National Statistics (2016) there were hate crime rises around the time of the referendum and many police forces and councils, including Nottinghamshire, are anticipating further rises in the immediate aftermath of the exit from the EU.

Given the potential for community tensions and barriers to integration, our respondents were asked how they felt about Brexit and whether they had any particular experiences or perceptions on it. Several of our respondents expressed concern about Brexit with some feeling very worried, that is, about their status and potential rises in hate crimes and intolerance especially against their children, these included both EU and non-EU nationals. Firstly, they were concerned about increases in prejudice, hostility and hate crimes against them and about their status and whether they would be forced to leave. A majority of respondents had been told to ‘go home’ including both EU and non-EU nationals.

Several were also very concerned about their status and about being ‘forced to leave’. Likewise, people were also worried about not being able to continue to work. The key person from the Roma organisation also told us that people were worried about the loss of housing, schooling and benefits. These concerns for their uncertain futures resulted in respondents asking agencies for help and them trying to find out about their rights. The issues surrounding Brexit also resulted in respondents from different ethnic backgrounds comparing themselves with others in terms of their ‘rights’ to stay and competition for jobs.

The concerns of respondents were often heightened due to rumours and misinformation circulating and it was this lack of real knowledge that bred fear and confusion. Some respondents talked about the disillusionment of Brexit amongst those who had voted for it as well as the impact on newer and some longer established migrants (African/Chinese were worried about costs, impact on the economy).

However, the representative from the Roma Organisation that took part in an individual interview noted that a positive consequence of Brexit was that many Roma had begun looking for work so that they could stay. Another positive was that there was a feeling that more people would potentially want to learn English, which could help them to socialise outside their micro-communities.

Surprisingly, some of the Polish people were relatively optimistic about their futures in the UK and still had plans to stay; their reasons were largely about better employment and educational opportunities, they felt integrated within a ‘micro-community’ and put down any negative attitudes from other people as only being from a few individuals and so it was worth putting up with.

The implications of Brexit on the new and emerging communities should be further studied. As our report has indicated, people in new and emerging communities were worried about the effects of Brexit on their ability to work and basic needs, such as housing and access to essential service. There was much uncertainty around the rights of people staying and whether they will be forced to leave. On the other hand, Brexit encouraged many communities to commit to learning English, which might have positive implications for their integration further. To avoid misinformation and the anxieties it generates, the services engaged with new and emerging communities should foster the measures and activities around better education and understanding of implications of Brexit, which is a difficult task given the implicit uncertainties around it.

Taken from Dr. Loretta Trickett and Amanda Hanson with James Walker and Mahad Haq, ‘New and Emerging Communities,’ August 2019.

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Mentioned in this article

Gartzou-Katsouyanni, K. et al. (2018). ‘Understanding Brexit Impacts at a Local Level: Mansfield Case Study’. The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). LSE Mansfield Brexit Case Study

‘Hate Crime, England and Wales, 2016 to 2017’. Home Office Home Office Statistical Bulletin 17