The fight over the EU is not over: defending students, immigrants and living standards – no to racism and xenophobia
By Barbara Ntumy, NUS NEC (Black Students’ Campaign) and Deputy President of London Metropolitan University Students’ Union
The decision of the British people to leave the EU – by a very small majority – in the referendum last month has caused an earthquake in British politics.
Racist and xenophobic hate crime has soared following the result, after what many supporters of the Leave Campaign believe is a vote against immigrants and “foreigners.”
British Black students who have lived here all their lives have been told to “f**k off home foreigner.” Restaurants, shops and homes of immigrants, Black communities and other minorities have been violently attacked.
Racists and xenophobes feel emboldened and confident to go on the offensive and physically attack people. And why wouldn’t they? A Brexit campaign, which was almost entirely waged on an anti-immigrant, racist platform rather than a serious discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of being in the EU, won the day with 51.9% of the vote.
This political earthquake has also caused a massive democratic deficit. Students, young people, Black and ethnic minority communities voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU.
So now we face a situation where students, young, Black and ethnic minorities have been narrowly defeated on an issue that is already and will continue to have an absolutely massive impact on our lives and our futures. And some suggest that following this defeat we should give up the fight and just accept that Britain will be leaving the EU.
On the contrary, the real fight has only just started and our voices must be heard. And the National Union of Students (NUS) has a vital role to play in the massive struggles ahead.
The fight on the EU has only just begun – what the student movement should do next
First of all the referendum campaign and vote was not on anything concrete. In fact the electorate were sold lies and myths. The Leave Campaign said that leaving the EU would stop ‘uncontrolled’ immigration, bring back Britain’s ‘sovereignty’, and allow Britain to spend the subsidy it currently gives the EU on the NHS. At the same time the electorate were told that if Britain came out of the EU it could maintain all of the benefits of EU membership – including free trade in Europe, all the protections that came with EU legislation for human rights, for working conditions and for students. In reality, however, this is not what the final terms of the Brexit will look like, as all of the EU leaders have already made clear. What is actually at stake has yet to be negotiated.
The Tory government will soon begin negotiations with the EU on what the terms of Brexit will be.
NUS must intervene into the debate over what the terms of the Brexit should be. NUS’ focus in the debate should be on defending students and education, supporting jobs and workers rights and arguing for environmental protections and freedom of movement. We must oppose all attacks on immigrations and challenge the myths and lies against immigrants and refugees.
The British people should also have the chance to vote on the terms of Britain’s exit, which should include an option to reject the terms and remain part of the EU. NUS should place itself at the heart of a coalition to campaign for this to happen.
Following the referendum vote a huge racist debate, alongside a massive increase in racist and xenophobic hate crime, has been unleashed. NUS must prioritise fighting against this racist offensive, including defending freedom of movement.
NUS NEC to vote on the way forward following Brexit
I have put forward, alongside a number of my colleagues, a motion and amendment to the next NUS National Executive Council which would commit NUS to campaign against the racism and xenophobia unleashed by the Brexit vote, to intervene in the negotiations over what the Brexit terms should be, defend freedom of movement as a central priority as well as demand that the British people are given the opportunity to vote on the terms of the Brexit once these are negotiated.
The NUS NEC will be debating this motion and amendment at the next meeting on Monday 18 July. Please check out the full text of what we are proposing below.
Defending Black and Migrant Communities after the Referendum
1. On Thursday 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union (EU) by 51.9% to 48.1% – a margin of less than 2%.
2. During the referendum campaigns we witnessed elected officials carry out a campaign of misinformation and deliberately whip up racism and xenophobia. The promise of £350million extra for the NHS every week was just one of these lies. Only a week before the vote Nigel Farage launched an anti-migrant poster which has been widely denounced as inciting racial hatred; showing a queue of mostly non-white migrants and refugees with the slogan “Breaking point: the EU has failed us all.”
3. One week before the referendum, Jo Cox MP, who was well known for her support and campaigning work for refugees and in defence of immigration was brutally murdered.
4. Since the referendum result there has been a massive rise in racist and xenophobia hate crimes. Around five times as many hate crimes have been reported to the police nationally in the week following the Brexit vote. Attacks on restuarants, shops, social media abuse and violent harassment of immigrants, Black people, international students and other minorities has been on the rise.
5. Our universities, colleges and students are under serious threat following the leave vote – although the scale of how much this will adversely impact upon education will only be known for certain once the precise terms of Brexit have been negotiated. We should be concerned that leaving the EU could impact the 125,000 EU students currently studying at UK universities and the 43,000 UK university staff from other EU countries, that UK universities would be likely to lose the additional 15% of funding they receive from the EU, that UK students could have their freedom of movement restricted and cease to benefit from the Eramus exchange programe, which has provided funds for over 200,000 undergraduates to travel to EU countries to study as part of their degree.
NEC further believes:
1. That a great deal of underreporting of hate crimes, and more should be done to support victims of racism and xenophobia to come forward. The Crime Survey of England and Wales highlighted that 43% of personal hate crimes were not reported to the police, and this is in part due to state violence and racism.
2. It is vital that NUS engages in the debate over what the terms of Britain leaving the EU should be. NUS’ focus in the debate should be on defending students and education, supporting jobs and workers rights an arguing for environmental protections and freedom of movement. We must oppose all attacks on immigrations and challenge the myths and lies against immigrants and refugees.
3. All of the frontrunners in the Tory Party leadership contest – and therefore our next Prime Minister – have made clear that they want to end the freedom of movement of labour and have attached immigrants.
4. A democratic deficit has been created by the fact that the EU referendum debate was dominated by lies and the vote was on something abstract rather than concrete. The electorate were told that leaving the EU would stop ‘uncontrolled’ immigration, bring back Britain’s ‘sovereignty’, allow Britain to spend the subsidy it currently gives to the EU on the NHS. At the same time the electorate were told that if Britain came out of the EU it could maintain all of the benefits of EU membership – free trade in Europe, all the protections that came with EU legislation for human rights, the environment, for working conditions and for students. In reality this is not what the final terms of the Brexit will look like, as all of the EU leaders have made clear. What is actually at stake has yet to be negotiated.
1. To campaign against the massive wave of racism, xenophobia, bigotry unleashed by the EU referendum campaign and result. NUS must defend international students, all students experience racism and xenophobia as well as confront the myths about immigration and defend freedom of movement within the EU.
2. To campaign for the terms of the Brexit to include: keeping freedom of movement and no attacks or ‘controls’ on immigration, defending the immigration status and rights of EU international students, maintaining the funding for UK universities and all of the benefits students currently enjoy through EU membership and maintaining the jobs, workers’ rights as well as environmental protections that currently come along with EU membership.
3. To campaign for more to be done in the area regarding 3rd party reporting of hate crimes, and produce guidance for Students’ Union who want to take steps to offer this service.
1. The Tory government will soon begin negotiations with the EU on what the terms of the Brexit will be. The British people should have the chance to vote on the terms of Britain’s exit, which should include an option to reject the terms and remain part of the EU.
1. To campaign for a new referendum to take place on the specific terms of Britain’s exit from the EU once these have been negotiated with the EU.