PHOTO: A message from some of the foreign staff working in the UK’s National Health Service:
On Wednesday, Laura Novo of Spain’s La Razon interviewed me about the latest comments by Ministers from the UK Government — including Prime Minister Theresa May — portraying non-UK residents as second-class, threatening to replace them in the workplace, hospitals, and universities.
My remarks complement those I made in Political WorldView’s latest podcast (listen from 29:31 to 32:54):
Theresa May has set a goal to reduce immigration to Britain under 100,000 people. To achieve this, the British Government has announced measures in recent days, some concerning health care — intending to ensure all doctors are British within 10 years — and others concerning education, reducing the places for foreigners at universities. Conservative MP Mark Harper has called for the hiring o fpersons with disabilities to perform the work carried out by European immigrants, a statement harshly criticized by associations who fear that such a move could lead to exploitation of the disabled.
To evaluate this new scenario, La Razon contacted Scott Lucas of the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham.
Is there a plan for tremendously large number of foreign workers in certain sectors of the British economy?
The Health Minister has said that foreign doctors will be replaced by British professionals. It takes many years to train a doctor, so that’s a plan that can not be implemented in the short term.
Why advertise it then? To appeal to those voters who support a priority to “England” above all else? It is to some extent a pose — the Government would have to start making plans soon and the National Health Service is unable to function without these foreign doctors.
Universities have a large number of foreign employees. Although the campuses could continue to function without them, higher education and research would not be as effective.
So the British Government is undermining both UK businesses and UK public services. Even if we do not finally have plans that say we can not work here, many of us will ask ourselves, “Why continue in a country that does not want us?”
What do you think of certain statements, by members of the Conservative Party for some time, which are more typical of the extreme right in other parts of Europe?
I think British politics has been following this trend for a while, due to the rise of the UK Independence Party.
I do not think UKIP refers to itself as racist, nor does the Government. The presentation revolves around “we’re not discriminating against anyone, we just want to protect the essence of the UK”. But there is a very, very fine line between giving privileges to a group of people just because they were born here and openly discriminating against those who are natives of this country.
If this had been a country that, from the beginning, had denounced immigration, then I would not be struck by the posture of several politicians after the victory of Brexit. But the fact is that Britain has been built during the last century by different waves of immigration: Irish, Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, etc. It is a nation that has benefited from immigration.
Suddenly we have this change that presents us as people who do not contribute. As I said, there’s a fine line between that view and that of other ultra parties in Europe.
Are the measures discussed by the British Government contributing to the prevalence of racism?
Not directly. The Government does not say that one can not work in a certain place because he/she is black or Asian. But it is creating a climate in which those who are not British — me, for example, I’m American — feel we are second-class workers.
In the last year, the atmosphere has worsened in terms of confrontation between people. I have colleagues who have been abused recently. It’s not something I see every day, but it is something that happens and is problematic.
Will there be a hard Brexit?
We do not know, mainly because negotiations have not started. All we have at the moment is a lot of posturing by politicians. The British politicians are not making strong statements about issues such as freedom of movement, but they are saying that they are going to prioritize British workers above all others.
Last week, the Home Secretary said that companies would have to submit their number of foreign workers. The Government already knows this. Instead they want to present the notion that if you have a number of foreign workers, this will affect your reputation. And suddenly, foreigners will find that they have become a black mark for companies.
Is the Foreign Office’s ban on non-UK academics reporting on Brexit a biased way to proceed?
Politically, the Foreign Office will say that there are doubts about security from providing Government information to non-British people.
But from a cultural standpoint, it seems that immigrants begin as suspects. They seem to think that if you are not British, you can not be trusted. No matter what skills you have, you are suspect.
On the surface, the Foreign Ministry will deny bias, but the fact is that this institution is affected by a culture that makes us differentiate between whether someone is a British citizen or not.
I can say from a personal point of view — having gone through it in the US — that is not a very productive mindset and that I do not think it will prove to be very beneficial for this country. It is telling people that they have to prove themselves before they are allowed to be part of the United Kingdom, and I don’t think that’s right.