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How is Brexit going to affect black Britain?

CONCERN: Anti-Brexit supporters in Parliament Square, Westminster after MPs rejected the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal by 391 votes to 242 last week

BREXIT IS a significant issue facing the UK. In much of the media the attention has largely been focused on the challenges confronting the major political parties, businesses both domestic and foreign, trade, security, the Irish border and immigration.

While these issues are of great importance, the discourse on Brexit has still largely been quiet on the concerns that confront ethnic minority groups in the UK – particularly black people.

Despite the fact that three out of four black voters and two out of three Asian Britons voted to remain in the EU, the concerns of black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities have been largely ignored even though they constitute nearly 40 per cent of the UK’s population.

In the aftermath of the 2016 referendum, reports of racist incidents had increased by 18 per cent.

There are politicians who would argue that the decision of the UK to leave the EU was not entirely or in part fuelled by xenophobia or racism but a desire to “control our borders” and “restrict immigration to manageable numbers”.

The Windrush scandal and the spike in racism in Britain could be at odds with a desire to increase immigration from various Commonwealth countries

However, when you consider that modern anti-immigrant sentiments that have roots stretching back to the arrival of the Empire Windrush, it is hard to separate the arguments that racism is not a part of the discourse on immigration and by extension Brexit. However, there are other ways that Brexit could affect black Britain.

While racism and the potential for its proliferation is possible, there are other factors to consider that impact the everyday lives of black people in Britain. Brexit carries with it the potential to exacerbate current problems that affect the black community. If the outcomes of leaving the EU manifest themselves in the worst ways then the black community potentially has a lot to lose.

In recent years the BAME community have been the worst affected by the programs of austerity for much of this decade.


With the potential for Brexit to cause an eight per cent decline in gross domestic product (GDP) over a 15-year period the promises made by the government for the upcoming end of austerity seem highly tenuous.

At present the specific benefits are unclear and uncertain, but it is important that going forward an understanding is established of what could confront the black community over the next decade.

The economic state of the black community:
According to the Equality Group, up to 52 per cent of BAME individuals in Britain feel that the impact of Brexit will negatively impact their career progression.

Currently, BAME groups are up to three times more likely to be working in insecure employment such as temporary or zero hours contract work which could be subject to instability.

In every region in England, Wales and Scotland unemployment rates were higher for people from an ethnic minority background.

In terms of average household incomes in 2017, 35 per cent of black households were more likely to have a weekly income of less than £400 before tax and National Insurance was deducted.

Up to 35.7 per cent of all ethnic minorities were more likely to live in poverty compared to 17.2 per cent of white people.

Also with Brexit comes the possibility that certain employment protections will be reduced since many protections, particularly in temporary or zero hours contracts that have a high representation of BAME individuals, would be reduced which further exacerbates issues of poverty and financial insecurity.

Even though the 2010 UK Equality Act legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace, after Brexit this law could easily be repealed since it is not protected by a constitutional bill of rights.

PICTURED: Dr Zubaida Haque of the Runnymede Trust

According to Dr Zubaida Haque of the Runnymede Trust, the no deal impact papers released last year looked at how a possible no deal could impact different sectors of the British economy. However, it failed to assess the effect on different sections of the population.

This, according to Haque, is part of a wider problematic attitude towards failing to truly capture what is taking place on the ground which leaves ethnic minority groups vulnerable to the possible shocks to the economy that Brexit could entail.

Earlier this year, the chief executive of one of the country’s most prominent BAME-led housing associations called on Westminster politicians to “grasp the Brexit nettle” to avoid local communities being thrown into chaos as the countdown to the UK’s departure from the EU gathers pace.

Ali Akbor, chief executive of the BAME-led Unity housing association, has called for a Brexit compromise

In a New Year message, Ali Akbor, who has headed Leedsbased Unity Homes and Enterprise for two decades, warned that fears over a no-deal Brexit or second referendum were causing deepening anxiety amongst the organisation’s ethnic minority tenants.

And he argued that MPs from across the political divide now had a responsibility to reach an agreed way forward.

“Unity is not a political organisation and has no desire to become one,” Akbor said.

“But our staff are close to the people we serve and it is clear that the decisions politicians make in the coming weeks will impact on tenants’ lives for years to come.

“I am particularly concerned about the aggressive tone and negative rhetoric we have heard from both sides of the Brexit debate, and the dangers this poses to community cohesion. Our tenants wish to live in a society at ease with itself, and side by side with people respectful of each other’s differences.

“This is not helped by politicians who advocate a ‘my way or no way’ doctrine and who seek to denigrate those who hold a different viewpoint to their own.”

The Unity chief executive – also secretary/treasurer of BMENational, a collective of more than 60 BAME housing associations – said it was “essential” that a Brexit compromise was reached in Westminster. “The wheels of government have ground to a halt,” Akbor added. “That’s not a criticism, it’s a fact.”

Housing and living standards
This all filters into housing which also has a significant effect on quality of life.

The impact of Brexit on the housing market is not fully clear. However, it is possible that because it is influenced by wages and interest rates, Brexit could run the risk of suppressing wages.

As it stands currently only 21 per cent of black African and 39 per cent of black Caribbean heritage own their own houses in the UK.

Black families have seen the largest drop in home ownership since the 2008 financial crisis.

In 2001 the proportion who were owner-occupiers stood at 39 per cent. By 2016 it had fallen to 29 per cent.

An estimated per cent of black households were living in social housing.

Ethnic minorities as a whole are much more likely to live in overcrowded homes and there has been an overall increase in homelessness among ethnic minority families in recent years.

In some London boroughs black people are nine times more likely to be homeless than their white counterparts, according to a report by the Runnymede Trust.

According to Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, in the event of a no deal Brexit – which Parliament voted against last week – the central bank may have to raise interest rates in response to rising consumer prices, drag down the housing market thus making it even more difficult for black families to become homeowners.

Does Brexit have any benefits for black Britain?
Regardless of the current and potential challenges that confront the black community following Brexit there is a minority of black people who could see some potential benefits that may result from leaving the EU.

There is a minority of black Leave voters who felt that EU nationals were able to benefit from the EU policy of freedom of movement that did not include nationals from the Commonwealth.

DEAL OR NO DEAL: Theresa May has faced much criticism over her handling of Brexit

This sentiment had been pushed by members of the Leave campaign and in November 2018 Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to echo this by stating: “It will no longer be the case that EU nationals, regardless of the skills and experience that they have to offer, can jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi.”

Mrs May has since been criticised for such comments that seem to have undermined the contributions of EU nationals.

In theory, if her statement is put into practice then it could revive some degree of immigration from Commonwealth countries. This would be beneficial to those of African or Caribbean origin that wish for their families to come to the UK to live and work.

However, this assertion rests on a huge assumption that in practice the UK would favour immigration from Commonwealth countries at all.

The fact is that the Leave campaign was built around an anti-immigrant sentiment. To replace one set of immigrants with another would essentially defeat the purpose of what Brexit was all about.

Moreover, it would be naïve to expect that in a climate of the “hostile environment” and the Windrush scandal the government’s desire to trade with various Commonwealth countries, would not be met with opposition.


As such the evidence suggests that Brexit could exacerbate already existing challenges that confront the black community.

The benefits are not clear and there is much uncertainty about the direction that the UK will go in after it leaves the EU.

One thing is clear, however – if ethnic minority groups are not part of the conversation, they will most likely be the hardest hit by any negative fallout from Brexit.

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