Category: Latest

9 times British MPs stood up for immigrants

From the rise in hate crimes, to growing uncertainty about the future, the referendum hasn’t been kind to immigrants. 

But we’re not alone. Here are nine Tweets by MPs who have supported immigrants in the UK. They are part of a large group of champions of immigration in this country.

Hopefully, thanks to people like them, immigrants will be protected from the most serious effects of Brexit.

1. Jack Dromey, Labour, stands against hate

2. Jo Stevens, Labour, hosts a weekly immigration clinic, which helps people with immigration cases

3. Peter Grant, SNP, comes from an immigrant family himself and welcomes immigrants in Scotland

4. George Kerevan remembers the Poles, who fought with Britain during WWII

5. Anna Soubry, Conservative, recognises the positive contribution immigrants make to the economy

6. Diane Abbott, Labour, believes that immigrants helped build the UK

7. Richard Burgon, Labour, fights against hate speech

8. Pete Wishart, SNP, saw the referendum for what it really was

9. Sarah Champion, Labour, just can’t take this nonsense anymore

Image by Jorge Royan, Wikipedia

Caroline Lucas will vote against triggering Article 50

Theresa May has just announced her plans for Brexit and they are crystal-clear. At the heart of her proposal is membership of the single market – and the long sought after reassurance that jobs, particularly in the north of England, will be safe. There’s good news for EU nationals, who can continue to live and work here, and free movement for workers will continue in the future too – meaning our economy will be better off and our communities enriched.

This is how Caroline Lucas, Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion, begins her latest Guardian opinion.  Sounds too good to be true? “That’s because it is,” Lucas writes. “The reality of the situation couldn’t be more different.”

Lucas uses the piece to set out her case for voting against Article 50. She argues that, nearly half a year after the vote, MPs still have no information with which to make an informed decision about Brexit. MPs are left, Lucas writes, “with little more than hot air from a government that is driving us towards the Brexit cliff edge, with the doors of the car locked and its eyes firmly shut.”

She’s not wrong. As we wrote in our earlier post on Brexit, the Government does not seem to have a negotiating strategy in place, never mind a coherent plan for how post-Brexit Britain might look. Worse, the High Court’s ruling to require Parliament to approve the triggering of Article 50, and the Government’s response, have added to the uncertainty.  The only thing that’s clear is that there is no plan.

Lucas argues that voting to trigger Article 50 without understanding the consequences of that vote would be a betrayal of the electorate:

Ultimately, voting to trigger article 50 – without any firm guarantees about what Brexit would mean, for everything from the security and family life of the many EU nationals working in places such as Brighton’s universities to whether there’s any way to enforce standards for the quality of the air we all breathe – would risk undermining the work that the constituents of Brighton Pavilion put me in parliament to do, and the pledges my party made to the more than 1 million people who voted for us.

A growing insurrection

Lucas joins a growing number of MPs who have said that they will vote against triggering Article 50.  The Labour Party’s David Lammy announced at the beginning of November that he will not be voting in favour:

Catherine West, also from Labour, took the same position:

The Liberal Democrats have also said that they will oppose the measure unless the Government promises a second referendum on the terms of Brexit. This reflects a concern that the choice offered in the referendum, to Remain or to Leave, failed to capture the real challenges that Brexit could bring. 

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, told the BBC: “We believe that what started with democracy last June – which we totally respect – must not now end up with a stitch-up, with a deal being imposed on the British people that absolutely nobody voted for.” 

There is also the prospect that the entirety of the Scottish National Party, which has 54 seats in Parliament, will join in opposition. Nicola Sturgeon has been a vocal opponent of Brexit. And it’s clear that she will seek to have an influence on the outcome going forward, as the majority of Scotland voted to remain in the EU. 

This may not be enough to block Brexit. But it’s important that MPs are raising objections. At the very least, the push for more clarity should focus the Government as it grapples with the enormity of the challenges ahead. 

Image from Flickr.

They need you, after all

Britain might need immigrants, after all.

Two days ago, Philip Hammond gave this year’s autumn statement (scroll down for video) and the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) published its Economic and fiscal outlook

As we remember, the Leave campaign didn’t shy away from extolling the virtues of tighter immigration controls. But things might not be working out as hoped. 

In its report, the OBR expects that Theresa May’s Government may have to borrow an extra £16bn over the next five years to offset the decrease in immigration to the country following Brexit. 

The OBR is also skeptical that the Government could make good on its promise to reduce net flow of immigrants to below 100,000. 

The “no referendum” counterfactual

Unusually, this year’s OBR Economic and fiscal outlook also included a counterfactual. What would the situation be had the referendum not taken place?

If Britain had voted to remain, or if the referendum had not taken place, the OBR would have revised the projections for immigration upwards. This increase would have allowed the Government to reduce borrowing. 

Instead, the OBR projects fewer new immigrants. The decrease in migration will end up costing £5.9bn per year after 2021 or 2022.  This is largely due to a decrease in income tax revenue.

Guesswork

All of this should, of course, be taken with a handful of salt. The Government has still not clarified its position on Brexit. Because of this, the OBR was forced to rely on a number of vague assumptions. The OBR states:

…we have not attempted to predict the precise end result of the negotiations… In time, the performance of the economy will also be affected by future choices that the Government makes about regulatory and other policies. – Office for Budget Responsibility

This is a not-too-subtle way of saying that the Government has given the OBR absolutely nothing to work with. The end results could vary widely from what was predicted this year. 

As we wrote earlier in the month, we are still a long way from any certainty on the subject. 

Are big British retailers funding hate speech?

Stop Funding Hate has launched a petition asking Waitrose, Iceland and Marks & Spencer to stop advertising in the Daily Express. At the time of writing, the petition has attracted 34,286 supporters.

For some time, The Daily Express has been running headlines that have vilified immigrant communities. Stop Funding Hate counted 60 such front-page stories in the past year:

“In the past year alone, one newspaper in which you advertise has run over 60 front page stories portraying migrants in overwhelmingly negative terms – more than any other publication. We are concerned that the cumulative effect has been to whip up hatred towards our friends and neighbours, and divide us against each other.” –Stop Funding Hate

It’s clear that these campaigns work.  Just a few days ago, Lego announced that it would no longer advertise in the Daily Mail. This came in the wake of the High Court ruling on Article 50, which we wrote about yesterday.

The Daily Mail criticised the judges involved in the ruling, and attacked one of them for being “openly gay”. Its actions were widely condemned in the press and on social media. 

We strongly condemn any attempts to stir hatred towards immigrant communities. And we would encourage our readers to support this petition by signing here.  

Will the High Court ruling stop Brexit?

If you haven’t read our earlier post about Brexit, it might be worth going through it before reading further.

We’re nearing the fifth month since Britain voted to leave the European Union. Theresa May’s Government hoped that it would submit the Article 50 notification and set Britain on the course to exit in March 2017. But on 3 November, the High Court in London put a stop to that ambition. It ruled that the Article 50 notification can’t be submitted without Parliamentary approval.  

Until now, Theresa May expected that her Government would be able to submit the notification using what’s known as the “royal prerogative”.  In the UK, the Prime Minister is chosen by a majority of Members of Parliament. The crown (currently Queen Elizabeth II) then appoints the head of the majority party to become the Prime Minister. This appointment transfers the customary authority of the crown, the “royal prerogative”, to the Prime Minister. This includes the power to conduct foreign policy.

But the “royal prerogative” does not include powers to make laws without an act of Parliament. This is an old rule of British constitutional law known as Parliamentary sovereignty. It says that only Parliament can make or unmake laws. Because of these rules, there was a lot of confusion as to what the correct process for leaving the EU might be. This was the question that the court had to consider.

What were the issues?

David Feldman, a professor of English law at Cambridge, wrote a comprehensive overview of the ruling. He explained that because the British courts had never come across an issue like Brexit, they needed to start from first principles. The principles were:

(1) that the Queen in Parliament may make or unmake any law by way of an Act of Parliament…

(2) that no law is invalid merely by reason of being contrary to the wishes of electors… 

(3) that the executive, exercising the Royal Prerogative on behalf of the Crown, is entitled to conduct the U.K.’s international relations, and has a very wide  discretion when doing so, subject to any limitation imposed by law, including Act of Parliament,

(4) that the Royal Prerogative may not be used to take action inconsistent with provision governing the field in an Act of Parliament, and

(5) that ‘the Crown cannot through the use of its prerogative powers increase or diminish or dispense with the rights of individuals or companies conferred by common law or statute or change domestic law in any without the intervention of Parliament’…

A key question, Feldman and others have said, is whether invoking Article 50 will necessarily lead to a loss of rights for British citizens. If EU law stops applying in the UK, British citizens will lose rights protected by EU law. The Government does not have the power, the court said, to take actions which will lead to such a loss of rights.

The answer depends in part on whether the Article 50 notification, once submitted, can be revoked. The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU has said that, for political purposes, Article 50 is irrevocable. Both sides in the High Court case said the same thing. But that doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court will take the same view. 

If the Government can revoke the Article 50 notification after submitting it, then the submission doesn’t “necessarily” lead to a loss of rights. The Government should then have the power to make the notification without Parliamentary approval.

We’ll have to wait to hear the appeal in the Supreme Court to understand what happens next. But it’s clear that if the Supreme Court upholds the ruling of the High Court, the Government will not be able to submit the Article 50 notification without Parliament’s approval. 

What happens next?

The short answer is: we don’t know.

Even if the Supreme Court follows the decision of the High Court, Brexit is still most likely going to happen, if not in the time-frame that Theresa May proposed.

But what we don’t know is in what way a Parliamentary debate might affect how Brexit happens. Will Members of Parliament try to influence the terms? Will they try to keep Britain in the single market? Although many now accept that Brexit is inevitable, there are many people, including Members of Parliament, who strongly prefer a “soft Brexit” over a “hard Brexit”. 

All these issues will become clearer in the months to come. 

Image from Flickr.

Brexit: what is it, why was there a referendum and what can we expect next?

Despite the results of the EU membership referendum, in which 52% of the British public voted to leave the European Union (EU), ‘Brexit’—short for ‘British exit’ from the EU—hasn’t happened yet. The referendum was advisory. This means that, on its own, the result didn’t create a legal obligation for Britain to leave the EU.

To start the exit process, Britain now needs to follow a procedure set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. (The Lisbon Treaty is the main agreement containing the rules of being a member of the EU.) The Article 50 procedure is as follows:

  • When the UK decides to leave the EU, it must send a notification to the European Council. The notification will state the UK’s intention to leave the EU.
  • The UK will then enter into negotiations with the EU on the terms of its exit. There will be a two-year period for these negotiations.
  • If the UK and the EU do not reach an agreement at the end of the two-year period, the other 27 EU member states can vote to extend the negotiating period. Their decision needs to be unanimous. If they do not agree to extend the negotiation period, the UK will leave the EU without an agreement. In this case, EU laws will stop applying in the UK altogether.

Theresa May’s Government had intended to submit the Article 50 notification in March 2017. But a recent court judgment put the brakes on that plan, by requiring Parliament to vote on the decision to submit the notification.  The Government has announced plans to appeal the decision, but it’s likely that this will delay the Government’s plans by some time.

Why did Britain vote to leave?

In 2013, David Cameron was starting to fight a national election campaign. There were members of his party who wanted Britain to leave the EU. There was also a growing challenge presented by the rise of the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farage.

To win the support of Eurosceptic voters, and members of his own Conservative Party, Cameron promised to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership in the EU. Following the negotiation, he said he would hold an in/out referendum on EU membership. This was intended to give the British people an opportunity to decide if the terms of the new agreement with the EU were acceptable to them. The Conservative Party won the election with a large lead and Cameron followed through with his promise.

The result of the referendum was a surprise to many. But the issues that led to it have existed for a long time. Large parts of Britain faced serious economic problems. Industry had declined and jobs moved away to countries where labour was cheaper. Immigration, although positive for Britain on the whole, also meant that salaries in some parts of the country decreased: foreign workers were willing to work for less. Many in the UK did not benefit from EU integration, even as it made most Europeans wealthier.

The rise of anti-EU parties like UKIP brought these issues to the national stage, and often distorted them. Problems that were not caused by the EU—like the refugee crisis and the loss of jobs—were blamed on it. Parts of the British press played a role in spreading misinformation about the EU. A study showed that the British people’s perceptions about the EU were far removed from reality. But many people became scared and the referendum gave them an opportunity to have a voice.

What happens next?

Theresa May’s Government announced that it would be pursuing a “hard Brexit”. This would mean leaving the single market altogether. 

The European single market is what allows goods, people, money and services to move freely within Europe’s borders. These are called the “four freedoms”, and they are considered indivisible. Because the Government hopes to regain control over immigration, it can’t stay in the single market.

Two big question marks now hang over Brexit: How will the Supreme Court rule on the question of whether Parliament needs to approve the Article 50 notification? And, if it happens, how will the Parliamentary debate play out? 

It’s likely that Parliament will approve the notification. Many MPs who opposed Brexit now say that they will respect the will of the people. However, the Parliamentary debate might have an influence over how Britain leaves the EU. Maybe the option of staying in the single market will be put back on the table. Maybe Parliament will decide that another referendum is needed on the terms of any agreement reached with the EU. But it’s difficult to speculate about this until the debates begin.

Apart from all this, there’s an obvious elephant in the room: the question of Scottish independence. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has been quite open about the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum if Britain leaves the EU. It’s not yet clear whether this is a bluff, but it’s a serious one: Britain as a country is at stake. 

How does Brexit affect me?

If you would like to better understand how Brexit will affect you, please refer to our Q&A on what Brexit means for EU immigrants living in the UK.