As part of their series on the ‘Brexit Aftermath’, Refugees Deeply interviewed Professor Alexander Betts about the nuances of Britain’s vote to leave the EU, and what this might mean for refugee and migration policy in the UK and the EU.
The interview covered issues such as the prominence of immigration in the Brexit debate, which Betts says “reflects a widespread sense of alienation and fear, in which migration has become the go-to political scapegoat for a range of genuine social grievances” such as industrial decline and housing shortages. Underlying this, he argues, is “a profound failure of political leadership from all sides” as politicians have, for years, “too often pandered to a sense of nativism rather than offering clarity.” For example, there are far fewer asylum seekers in the UK than people believe.
When asked whether another conversation about migration is possible in Britain and in Europe generally, he states that “We need to reframe the issue, and Brexit can teach us a lot about how to do that. What we need is for politicians to show far more courage and leadership on the issue.” He calls for politicians to be honest with the public; for additional support for local communities receiving large numbers of immigrants; and for a more open, informed and evidence-based debate.
On the possible consequences of Brexit for refugee and migration policy, Betts comments that while Brexit has direct consequences only for intra-EU migration, “the real consequences…for refugee and migration policies are likely to be indirect”, such as a shift to the right on immigration issues by all parties, and possible further erosion of the Common European Asylum System.
He argues that “What we urgently need is a sustainable approach [to immigration] that seeks to reconcile democracy with globalization. What has made the European refugee crisis distinctive is that it represents an influx into a democratic region, and democracies struggle to sustain a commitment to large numbers of non-citizens when citizens feel that their entitlements and opportunities are threatened. The only way to overcome this is to ensure that host communities understand and share in the benefits of immigration. It means that the larger challenge is to create a model of inclusive globalization.”
The interview ends by highlighting that positive examples of local interventions for refugees do exist in the UK (such as the Conversation Club in Sheffield) but these do not get reported, the debate focusing instead on the negative.
Read the full interview, ‘Brexit: avoiding the wrong conclusions’, here >>