Since the inception of the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK) played a major role in the workings of the EU. Major problems that are expected to plague the EU due to Brexit include, a volatile economy, trade barriers, political uncertainty, and ideological differences. It simultaneously impacts the UK as well.
This article aims to analyze an important issue that has not gained much attention considering the graveness of it - that of the migration and the conditions that the migrant population has to bear. The topic is relatively important as it poses a question regarding the uncertainty and unpredictability of the future of the concerned population. The article, thus, throws some light on the issues of employment that the concerned population is facing in the event of the exit. It provides an understanding of the possible impacts of the Brexit referendum with a special focus on the fate of Polish workers. The dark side of Brexit has reflected in an inward looking approach that has triggered ideas of Euroscepticism and an identity crisis.
The Poles are becoming the subject of a feeling of ‘unwelcome-ness’ in the UK with a strong emphasis on the identity of a person leading to an identity crisis and a feeling of Euroscepticism, which has repercussions in various sectors. The net migration has dropped drastically, affecting business groups and political organizations, and leading to a crisis in the labour market. Thus, a socially integrated nation would be difficult to achieve if this problem is not addressed properly.
Various studies have looked at the overall impact of UK leaving the European Union, including (but not limited to) its implications in job sectors and on public finances. The outcome of the Brexit referendum sent shock waves across the world. The result of this departure would highly depend on a ‘soft Brexit' or ‘hard Brexit’. Owing to a long history, and the proximate relationship between the two, the condition of Polish workers in Britain after Brexit is of great importance. Also, debates around Brexit mostly ignore the aspect of humanitarian rights in light of heavy discussions such as economic, political, and other such implications.
Former UK Prime Minister Theresa May (left) with her Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki.
The submission of Article 50 of the Treaty of European Union in March 2017, by the former United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May, which states that any member state can withdraw from the Union, fueled questions and uncertainties around the world, specifically to the EU and its member states. The decision of UK to leave the EU follows from the referendum of 23rd June, 2016 when 52% of British votes were for the support of leaving EU. Britain was unhappy with the functioning of the EU. The Union has failed to address economic problems that are prevailing in the region since a long time. The growing distrust in such organizations, and the rise of nationalism across the globe can be another reason for Brexit.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a major defeat in the parliament over the withdrawal agreement from the Union at the end of the month of October. He deliberated with the government on taking unilateral decisions on Brexit through either Brexit Withdrawal Agreement or a no-deal. This was prevented by the Benn Act, which required the Prime Minister to seek an extension for the withdrawal date that was scheduled for 31st October 2019. The UK and European Commission agreed on the Benn Act along with new protocols for Northern Ireland. The House of Commons had a session discussing the revised BWA. However, Oliver Letwin’s amendment was passed, which sought to delay considerations of the BWA until the legislation to implement is passed. If the amendment was voted through, Mr. Johnson would be forced to request an extension to Article 50 under the terms of the Benn act, despite his refusal to do so. Letwin claims,
“My aim is to ensure that Boris’ deal succeeds, but that we have an insurance policy which prevents the UK from crashing out on 31 October by mistake if something goes wrong during the passage of the implementing legislation.”
-(Brexit Central, 2019)
The proposed Withdrawal Agreement gathered the support of the House but the Prime Minister was forced to call an election. The delay on arriving at a conclusion and uncertainty of the process has bought in many criticisms to the UK Parliament. Thus, the skepticism and unpredictability nature of the process has left a dark picture in the minds of people.
Back in history, when the Treaty of Rome (1957) was signed, Britain decided to stay as a single nation. The UK joined the European community in 1973 in the light of imperial and economic decline. In 1975, 65% of Britain voted to stay in the EU relationship. Thus, history makes it evident that the EU-UK relationship had a rocky start and was a ‘not so special relationship’. Despite this kind of dynamics, UK continues to be one of the largest contributors to EU budget and plays a major role in the functioning of the Union. But, the divorce from the Union would change things to an extent that it would challenge the functioning of the EU in many ways. This decision would have major consequences for both the concerned parties and would affect major sectors of trade, economics, politics etc. The UK has been a crucial player of the Union, and thus the implications of the exit would be grave.
Implications Of BREXIT
Amidst all the serious debates around Brexit, a very crucial issue has been overlooked and has not gained importance. This is the problem with migration and the condition of the migrant population which is at stake. The UK has been the hub for migration, especially to the member states of the Union and thus, for individual member states, such as Poland, the impact can be very crucial. Poland joined the EU in 2004, after which they had the legal right to migrate within the member states. The UK was one of the countries that allowed people to come and work in the country, and as a result over 800,000 Polish people moved to UK, especially for better working opportunities.
The UK plays a massive role in the EU as it has contributed in increasing trade, reducing trade costs, contributed to higher income and helped stem the economic decline of 1950s and 60s, in the view of some experts. Thus, the consequences of the Brexit divorce are massive in many sectors affecting both UK and the EU. Brexit would slow UK’s growth, decrease Britain’s tariff-free status with the member states of the Union, increase import prices on goods to UK, might lead to collapse of real estate etcetera. Not only this, it would have serious impacts on the functioning of the EU with the departure of such a strong voice from the Union. There are possibilities of ideological differences within the region, as well as along global lines, for instance, splitting of various free trade agreements. Brexit could also have major impacts on EU development and humanitarian policies.
Implications Of BREXIT : Migration
Migrations to UK from other EU nations has been one of the main issues in the referendum debate. The migration partners have witnessed a significant increase over the years. Statistics shows that in 2015, there were over three million people living in UK from other European countries. Poland has been at the top of the list concerning migration to UK with over 800,000 migrants. However, what are the pull factors that are attracting such a high number of Poles to the country? The answer clearly lies in attractive employment opportunities that the country provides. Thus, the fact that UK’s economy is growing over the years and has a high level of employment can be an important pull factor.
Considering the amount of migration that is taking place in the country, it is impossible to predict the future of the migration pattern after Brexit. The reason being there are no concrete policies on the futures of these migrants. However, considering Britain’s pledge to end freedom of movement and to meet the same criteria for both EU and non-EU members, the migration numbers would fall drastically. The drop in net migration would affect business groups, organizations and would lead to a crisis in the labour market. On the other hand, in order to get access to the EU single market, UK would make some agreement along the lines of free movement. If this happens, there would not be any significant impact on the migration pattern after Brexit.
The government has worked on a design that gives EU citizens living in UK the position of ‘Settled Status’. However, there are problems with this. This status is not a final or legally binding status, so it lacks clarity although the government has put forth principles in implementing it. The challenges associated with this process include the coverage issue with such a wide migrate population. Awareness of such a status becomes very important among the migrant EU population, which is a challenge in itself to overcome.
Implications of BREXIT : Polish Workers as a Target
On the debate around Brexit, there is a dark picture of uncertainty and unpredictability in the lives of the concerned population mainly due to the lack of a proper Brexit plan. The decision of departure may paint a black picture of the lives of the migrate workers leading to an increase in unemployment rate in Poland. In addition, Poland receives around one billion euros from emigrants that adds up to their annual GDP, which is also likely to be reduced due to Brexit. In the advent of Brexit where large number of Poles are likely to leave UK, the demand for Polish exports may also decrease, thus, harming the Polish economy largely. There are damaging impacts in the UK as well that affect the economy, which is dependent on Polish workers. In addition, UK is Poland’s second largest trading partner and the current beneficial trading surplus will have negative results after the Brexit divorce. The threat to job markets is massive.
The history of Poles in UK can be traced far before Poland’s accession to EU in 2004. They were freed from the concentration camps of World War II and were brought to Britain. Their stay was considered as temporary, but the naturalization process gained popularity in 1960, due to political and economic stagnation in Poland. The fate of these Polish workers in UK now has a very blurred picture, as the government itself is not clear about a proper plan after the divorce. Reports have also shown that Brexit has made workers more prone to exploitation as their rights are unclear. Due to the absence of clarity, many have applied for permanent residence since the advent of Brexit. Axel Antoni, a spokesperson for the campaign The three Million (Whitehead, 2017) said,
“For many reasons, we want to confirm our status here as the government has offered us no certainty of our futures.”
The immigration policies of UK will define the nature of the country post Brexit. A restrictive policy would gain the support of many ‘leave’ voters but would pose threats to many sectors where migrant workers are in large numbers such as agriculture. An ease policy would relax out many pressures but then this would question the entire debate around the Brexit referendum. The privilege of movement would end if UK continues to adhere to its pledge to leave the single market of the Union.
In the event of the exit, there are curiosities arising between both the concerned states, but experts say that this has not yet turned out into fear. This can be supported by the fact that there are uncertainties on the government’s part of a proper plan post Brexit. Public policy experts have analyzed that Polish workers usually take up jobs in UK that the locals would not do and as a result, there should not be a clash between the two parties. In addition, Poles were well integrated in the UK without any prejudices. The 1947 Polish Resettlement Act was a clear evidence of this, whereby it offered British citizenship to Polish troops, whose gestures of World War II were outstanding. The act, however, has certain uncertainties and ambiguities that pose a question on the fate of Polish workers in UK in the event of Brexit.
Personal experiences of people reveal that they feel an attitude of ‘unwelcome-ness’ about the British people. The very notion of the integration of Polish people in UK that was prevalent since a long time is being blurred during the Brexit era. There are also incidents of racist graffiti on walls of stores and house of Polish people in many cities of UK, which is leading to an identity crisis among the Poles. There are violent incidents of abuse and hateful comments that have fueled up the situation. To these uprisings, the EU Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker says,
“EU doesn’t have enough union; there are splits out there and fragmentation exists, leaving scope for galloping populism.”
Thus, there is a clear rise of Euroscepticism, not only in UK, but also within the entire region. Brexit itself is a product of Euroscepticism, but it can be observed that this feeling is spreading throughout the region. There are cultural as well as political implications of the phenomenon. Rise of hate crimes is very evident in UK and by the time Brexit would actually happen there is a great chance of widespread xenophobia, and the fear of the ‘other’ which would have far-reaching consequences. Experiences of people reveal the rise of Euroscepticism, which is posing an existential threat to the EU. There have been backlashes against the Union, especially after the advent of Brexit. UK's citizens are less likely to be associating themselves to the European identity and the notion of sovereignty becomes very important.
The growing disenchantment with the EU, specially issues concerning migration and ‘euro woes’, have given rise to a form of ‘soft Euroscepticism’. Young people are at a higher risk of this due to high unemployment. Moreover, all this discrimination and a feeling of unwelcome-ness has given rise to what is known as an identity crisis of a person or rather a community. There are arguments around what the UK is and what it ought to be, in light of an imagined self. This is quite apparent in speeches of politicians. For example, Theresa May argued in Lancaster House speech that UK’s “history and culture is profoundly internationalist”, which placed it well to build a “truly global Britain” (Oliver, n.d.). The dichotomy between what people imagine themselves as and what they actually are poses a great threat to identity crisis.
People are thinking that Brexit would lead to British jobs being taken over by British people. However, UK has not had an unemployment issue before this event. Many workers are leaving the nation reducing tax revenue to the government. The UK needs a more broad tax base to cover the ageing workers. As a result, the workforce is shrinking, which is not only a risk to the economy, but also to businesses. On the other hand, the plight of the workers are at stake due to lack of clarity and uncertainties. Job opportunities being the main reason for EU migration, post-Brexit labour migration policies are very important.
The Brexit referendum has unleashed a complex and unpredictable process. The situation is very dicey at the current moment with people predicting many things. The topic of concern aims at throwing some light on the possible outcomes of the future of EU migrants, particularly Polish migrants. The future of this group is at stake and a proper plan of action, especially for labour migrations, would really give them some hope for a better life. The government should make a series of decisions about what kind of work and workers are eligible for ‘work permits’ in the UK.
Attaching a legal backup to this issue, would minimize many other problems that the concerned population is currently facing, including (but not limited to) discrimination. It would be the best decision to have a proper Brexit plan that would benefit a whole range of issues such as economics, trade, migration, politics etc.
Britain is in a severe shortage of skilled workers with the largest drop in the number of workers that would constrain business growth, leading to a constrain in the economy as well. Considering the drawbacks on both sides of the concerned parties, UK and the EU workers, the best possible recommendation would be to negotiate and work on the migratory labour policies that would result in a win-win outcome of both sides. Thus, there is a great need to address this issue and work on the proper structuring of the process before it is too late.
Brexit Central. (2019, October 19). Retrieved from https://brexitcentral.com/today/brexit-news-for-saturday-19-october/
Oliver, T. (n.d.). Britain better fix its identity crisis fast – or risk a disastrous Brexit. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/britain-better-fix-its-identity-crisis-fast-or-risk-a-disastrous-brexit-81227
Sudarshan, R. (n.d.). Understanding the Brexit Vote: The Impact of Polish Immigrants on Euroscepticism. Retrieved from https://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledgebase/772-understanding-the-brexit-vote-the-impact-of-polish-immigrants-on-euroscepticism
SUMPTION, M. (2017, January 27). Labour Immigration after Brexit: Trade-offs and Questions about Policy Design. The Migration Observatory . Retrieved from https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/reports/labour-immigration-brexit-trade-offs-questions-policy-design/
Whitehead, S. (2017, Febuary 24). ‘You’re Polish – you won’t be able to find work’: the employers exploiting confusion over Brexit. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/law/2017/oct/24/youre-polish-you-wont-be-able-to-find-work-the-employers-exploiting-confusion-over-brexit
Views expressed are solely those of the author.
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