Ethnic minority Londoners back Brexit over "unfair" immigration rules

Amid laughter and jeers at a hustings in north London's Tottenham area before last year's general election, one heckler joked that Tariq Saeed should help Britain's net migration by going "back where you came from."

Saeed - who was born in Pakistan in 1952, came to Britain in 1985 and worked for many years at a McDonald's - was standing for election from Tottenham for the anti-EU UK Independence Party.

He told the multi-racial audience in one of the capital's most ethnically diverse areas that Britain's employment problems were caused by "mass, open-door immigration" from the European Union.

That's the standard UKIP message ahead of Britain's in-out referendum on EU membership on June 23.

For the growing number of ethnic minority supporters of UKIP, experiences such as Saeed's are common.

Neville Watson, who was born in London to Jamaican parents, is a 30-year community activist who works as a youth mentor and runs a sports academy for local youngsters. He had stood for UKIP in last week's elections for London's regional assembly.

Watson wants to encourage more people to vote, even if they don't vote for UKIP, especially in the overlapping African-Caribbean and Christian communities. Local participation in elections is normally below 40 per cent and young people in areas like Tottenham are "totally disengaged" from politics, he says.

But ahead of next month's referendum, Watson will prioritize his "Brexit standpoint" over party politics.

He says the perceived unfairness in Britain's immigration rules for non-EU citizens is a "massive issue" for people in Tottenham and neighbouring areas of north London. EU migrants can stay visa-free under EU freedom of movement.

"It resonates amongst the African-Caribbean community more than anything else, because most of us are from Commonwealth countries," he told dpa.

He says EU migrants are "taking jobs that can be done by people from this country" and pushing down wages.

When Prime Minister David Cameron set out his arguments earlier this year for how Britain can have the "best of both worlds" by remaining part of a reformed European Union, he stressed "our tough domestic immigration rules" for non-EU citizens.

The rules were amended in 2012 to impose extra financial, language and other requirements on visa applicants, and will be strengthened again this year, apparently partly to appease critics who said Cameron had failed to curb migration from EU nations.

The tougher rules apply to people from the British Commonwealth, which includes 53 states, most of which were once ruled directly or indirectly by Britain. As Britain rebuilt its post-war economy in the 1950s and 1960s, it encouraged immigration from Commonwealth nations, especially those in the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent.

UKIP supporters are not the only ones making the argument for a British EU exit, or Brexit, based on the unfairness of immigration rules.

Syed Kamall, who represents London at the European Parliament for Cameron's Conservatives, said immigration was "a crucial deciding factor" in his decision to back a Brexit.

Kamall said he "wants to see an immigration policy that is balanced and fair - where we treat everyone outside the UK equally whether they are from an EU country or not."

"As the son of immigrants who came from a non-EU country, this is my deeply held conviction on an issue that matters deeply to me," he said in a statement.

"Sadly, a fair immigration system is incompatible with our membership of the EU."

UKIP advocates a five-year ban on immigration by unskilled workers, and the introduction of an Australian-style points-based system.

A study published this month by Oxford University's Migration Observatory for the Financial Times found that about three-quarters of EU citizens working in Britain would not meet the current visa requirements for non-EU citizens.

According to the study, up to 94 per cent of EU citizens working in British hotels and restaurants, and some 96 per cent of those working on farms, would fail to meet entry requirements.

"When we cannot bring in doctors, lawyers, professionals [from Commonwealth nations] but we can bring in unskilled, low-skilled workers from the EU, that's totally unfair," Watson says.

"And also, when I speak to my community - and yes, it is emotive, and it means something to me because my grandfather and my great grandfather, they fought for this country.

"So when you have shed blood on the battlefield, as many Indians did, Africans did, African-Caribbeans - as we did, why should the children of those brave soldiers that fought for liberty, fought for freedom, now are not allowed to come here?" he says.

"So I believe we owe it to the Commonwealth to come out of the EU."

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49
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