Brexit. Immigrants


The APC driver who collects our parcels is a mad keen Brexiter.  He still has his Vote Leave badge on his tabard, and believes profoundly that Brexit will reduce immigration, which in turn will increase his wages.   

He calls me a Remoaner.   

I explained to him that I don’t mind being called a Remoaner, and that the Ramones are one of my favourite bands.  He doesn’t get the joke no matter how many times I shout “Hey ho! Lets go!”, or tell him about the Ramones gig I went to at the Mayfair in Newcastle (The Prisoners were the support act).   I fully intend to continue to tell this joke until he laughs, no matter how long it takes.

His views on immigration and Brexit are fairly common on the Industrial Estate were I work.  Although he has been in his current job for years he is still on a really low wage, and has discovered somehow that he earns less than the lowest paid person at the Distillery (we have a living wage+ policy).   The link in his mind between immigration and low wages is unshakeable, even though the company he works for doesn’t employ anyone who isn’t from Birtley.

Just before the last election we applied for registration with the Home Office UKBA so that we could employ people from outside the EU (a sponsor license).

We were hoping to employ an American to establish a sales role for us. She had done a similar job in the US, was familiar with the American Craft Spirit market, and was in the UK for 9mths to a year while her partner was at Durham University. The idea was that she would eventually recruit someone local to replace her when she went back to the US

In order to recruit someone from outside the EU you have to be registered as a sponsor, as well as having approval for the person and the job.   Most big employers are registered as sponsors.

We had 2 attempts to register both of which were unsuccessful.  Our essential problem is that we are a food and drink company.   It was explained to us discretely that there is a perception in government and in UKBA that food and drink company means takeaway or restaurant, which in turn means Asian.   We were advised by the UKBA business support team to emphasise on our application the kind of business we were, making it clear that we weren’t a takeaway or Asian owned restaurant – we were given hints how we could emphasise that we were white and not involved with curry or noodles.   UKBA seemed rather oblivious to the unsubtle racism of this approach.

Obviously we were unsuccessful in making our business sound white, which costs us a lot of money (over £1k).   I complained and threatened to cause a stink, and we got an apology and our money back.

It is however clear that the official or unofficial prohibition on food and drink businesses recruiting from outside the EU isn’t going to end soon, no matter how much it damages small businesses.   Particularly as lots of the small businesses it damages are Asian owned.   

Post Brexit that means that we won’t be able to recruit anyone directly from outside the UK.  The government is committed to reduce the number of food and drink businesses who have sponsor licenses, which means we will never get one.  It’s also why in some smaller towns and cities Indian takeaways are closing as they can’t recruit staff.    Food and drink of course won’t be the only industry sector which has similar restrictions on, nor the only one where the licensing restrictions have a strong whiff of racism.

That of course doesn’t quite mean that we can’t recruit from outside the EU, just that they will have to qualify to work in the UK before they come to work for us, which is even more confusing and bureaucratic for small businesses.

The end point is that the kind of immigration management systems that Theresa May operated as Home Secretary are prone to huge and often unseen biases – big employers with sponsors licenses will be fine – small businesses can get stuffed.  Asian owned small businesses in small towns will be bottom of the heap.   

This will change the dynamic of immigration into the UK.  Big companies in big cities will still be able to recruit from abroad to fill skills shortages as long as they have political leverage.  Small business in small towns won’t.   

Big cities will continue to be prosperous, diverse and have high levels of economic activity. Small towns will have fewer businesses, as small businesses in small towns, particularly poorer towns are disproportionately owned by immigrants.

At the moment the government is stuck between an economy highly dependent on importing skills from abroad and group of voters who actively rejected immigration and are prepared to take radical political steps to “get their country back”.  These voters may well determine the outcome of the next General Election.    An immigration system which allows immigration led by big companies based in big prosperous cities, but which bans immigration into small businesses and small towns is a crude way of resolving this problem.   I suspect that this is exactly the way a post Brexit May government will control immigration – by manipulating the allocation of sponsors licenses.

Pret a Manger will have a sponsors license, and will be able to employ non-British workers for their shiny stores in big cities.  They will do well.   The Jewel in the Crown in Birtley won’t be able to recruit a new Bangladeshi chef. They will do badly.

The risk of course is that it just makes rich and successful parts of the UK richer and more successful, and the less well off areas with high levels of anti-immigrant sentiment even poorer.  

None of which will have any impact on the wages of our APC driver. 

At the moment he doesn’t care about the consequences of Brexit.  Brexit isn’t a means to an end for him.  It is an end in it’s own right – that’s why Brexit means Brexit.   The company he works for has no immigrant employees, and is highly dependent on import and export. He lives in a town which is almost exclusively white, and where the only immigrants are business owners and their families.   He will still have rubbish wages, and his home town will be whiter and poorer.  The question is – will that make him happier?  


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