After the Brexit vote, a ‘silent majority’ was revealed, whereby those prejudiced against EU immigrants now felt they could express those views freely. But discrimination is not only the result of bigotry, writes Thomas Roulet (KCL). He explains the many ways EU citizens are already being stigmatised in Britain, and how such treatment may progressively lead to an erosion of their rights.
How is Brexit affecting EU citizens? While most of the public debate has revolved around EU citizens’ right to stay, their ‘settled status’, and ‘permanent residence’, less attention has been given to the general hostility towards migrants that fuelled the vote, and the change in attitudes since.
As a social scientist studying stigmatisation, the case of EU citizens in the UK is particularly telling. Sociologists and social psychologists broadly agree on a definition of stigma as a negative label that links an individual to a socially devalued characteristic. Stigmatisation is often considered as a dichotomous categorisation process – individuals either belong to the stigmatised category or they are out of it. This process emerges when a critical mass of stakeholders and social actors start to consider a characteristic as devalued. Can we say that in today’s Britain, being an EU citizen is socially devalued?
Until the vote, being publicly hostile to migration was socially frowned upon. People holding a negative prejudice against EU immigrants thought they belonged to a minority, until the Brexit result made them feel like they were part of a majority that shared their point of view. Yet the fear of immigration was not evenly shared among all Brexit voters. In fact, in some case it was not even a motivation. But it did not prevent those who were indeed motivated by hostility to immigration to believe that the 52% who voted in favour of the UK leaving the EU shared the same views. By, in appearance, revealing a majority hostile to EU immigrants, Brexit legitimised this antagonism. People holding such political positions felt safer to express them in public. But when does hostility result in stigma?
Image by Ilovetheeu, (Wiki), (CC BY-SA 4.0).
From cues to prejudice, from prejudice to apathy, and from apathy to discrimination
In the aftermath of Brexit, I sat on a train back from the countryside next to an older British lady and a Romanian man. The lady spotted the accent of the man, and asked him, with no malice intended, when he was planning to “return home” as a consequence of Brexit. With the same ingenuity, he answered that he was studying in the UK and did not feel the need to leave. She had made a shortcut linking the accent of her fellow traveller to his origins and formulated expectations with regards to his behaviour. He was subject to a prejudice due to the category he was associated with. That’s precisely how stigmatisation processes start to unfold.
Reports of individuals speaking a foreign language or English with a foreign accent being told to ‘speak English‘ are becoming more common. Any visible attribute that can link individuals to their status as EU citizens is now potentially a source of prejudice. Banks, potential employers and landlords are demanding proofs of residence (even though no such proof is currently required). During the Conservative Party conference in 2016, cabinet members even suggested that companies should be forced to report a list of their foreign employees.
Laure Ollivier-Minns, a French campaigner for EU citizens’ rights summarised it in one sentence: “Brexit has created this ‘us versus them”. Because most of those EU citizens have lived in the UK for years, this situation is even more of a heartache because they feel conflicted between their identity of origin, and the efforts they have made to adopt a social identity that makes them belong to a British society that now seems to reject them.
EU citizens increasingly seem to be considered undesirable or suspicious parties to trade with – not necessarily because of negative stereotypes regarding who they are (i.e. the erroneous idea that they take jobs from British citizens), but because of prejudices and preconceptions regarding their ability to stay and live a normal life in the UK. Those banks, landlords, potential employers, are not interested in knowing the future of EU citizens in the UK, so they come to avoid them to spare themselves any possible complications. This mechanism shows that it is not only bigotry that leads to discrimination against EU citizens but also laziness, nonchalance, and uncertainty.
On the plus side, EU citizens now have a social movement defending their rights, ‘The 3 million’. Those elements, negative or positive, contribute to creating stable boundaries around EU citizens, demarcating them as a distinct category of individuals whose rights need to be protected. The existence of discrimination and of stable boundaries around a devalued category of individuals are the two elements of the stigma cocktail. This climate of hostility has led to a falling level of net migration, and reports of an increasing number of EU citizens ‘Brexiting’ universities and the NHS.
Is Theresa May’s ‘Settled status’ any likely to stop EU citizens feeling unwelcomed or discriminated against? In fact, just the idea that EU citizens will have to carry additional documentation might lead them to be and feel even more ostracised. If banks, employers, and landlords already ask unlawfully for proof of permanent residence, will they accept ‘settled’ citizens as equal parties to trade with once the UK is no longer subjected to the case law of the European Court of Justice? How will they be treating EU citizens who have not yet accumulated the five years needed to acquire settled status?
The current treatment of EU citizens, unfortunately, suggests we might observe a progressive and subtle erosion of their rights, as with the settled status. Such a drift will require acute vigilance to ensure they do not progressively become second-class citizens.
This article originally appeared at our sister site, British Politics and Policy at LSE. It gives the views of the author, not the position of LSE Brexit or the London School of Economics.
Thomas Roulet is a Senior Lecturer in International Management at King’s Business School, King’s College London. Thomas’s work is rooted in economic sociology, organisation theory and ethics, and focuses on negative social evaluations (stigma and disapproval) and ethics in the context of professional service firms (investment banking, audit firms) and cultural industries.
I think you have to balance this against the EU’s own data (EU barometer), which indicates a growing ‘positivity’ towards EU migration in the UK both in the period prior to the EUref, and continuing after it too. The same data also indicates a declining percentage of people in the lowest ‘positivity’ category (i.e. the least positive about EU migration). The mistake shared by the Tories and also many Remain campaigners was to assume that Brexit was all about xenophobia.
My reading of this piece is that its central theme is that some Leave voters are assuming that the Brexit vote was all about xenophobia and therefore concluded that a majority vote for leave represented a majority vote for xenophobia. I do not think that this is true. The vote offered a choice of actions but it was left to individuals to make all the calculations and assessments and construct their own notion of where those actions would lead on complex issues that were challenging even for those with specialist knowledge and understanding. What people thought they would achieve varied quite a lot and different expectations were often inconsistent or directly conflicting. Maybe this explains why some people feel there is an issue with the referendum and the interpretation of the outcome.
The article is just one assumption after another and says more about the author than anyone else.
“Until the vote, being publicly hostile to migration was socially frowned upon.” – how on earth does Thomas Roulet come to this conclusion? Is he not aware that we have had immigration control in the UK since the 1950s and all mainstream political parties, including Labour and Conservatives have continuously supported immigration control? For most of the period since the 1950s immigration was seen as a major political issue. During the 2015 general election Labour and Conservatives competed on who was toughest against immigration – remember Ed Milliband’s stone tablet with (4) the promise to reduce immigration? Did this lead to a rise in racism Roulet talks about? According to Roulet it is Brexit voters that are to blame. When controls were introduced in the 1950s the concern was not about restricting white Europeans or white ex-colonials, it was about controlling non-whites. Similar controls, such as the guest worker system, were put in place across Europe that marked non-white immigrants as second class and not equal citizens. The immigration rules of the EU and Fortress Europe have merely consolidated the division across Europe between the (white) European workers and the (non-white) immigrant. Academics such as Roulet conveniently forgets these facts of the widespread support for immigration controls across the EU and UK, among both Leavers and Remainers. The accusation of racism levelled exclusively at Leave voters is plainly part of a campaign to vilify Leavers and Brexit, using anti-racist language for political ends. If he is serious about combating racism then he should campaign for the right to freedom of movement for all, not just white EU citizens. That would include fighting against Fortress Europe.
dont go to France then.i lived 19 years there, 1987-2006 i had people in administration ignoring me because they said the ‘couldnt understand my accent’ though i was in sales in france and had lived there decades. i had civil servents asking for ‘extra ‘ documents that were unecessary for native french (in E.U period) refused jobs and lodgings due to a ‘foreign’ name, employer insisting on a ‘residents permit’ when it was not necessary as it was possible to work on a E.U passport and i had been there 10 years, given the sweeping up job as you are English, but were hired as a diesel fitter, remarks about your accent from police and bank staff, being ‘corrected’ on the french grammar whilst being served in bars and restaurants, getting remarks about ‘joan of arc’ ‘rubbish english food’ ‘ driving on the wrong side of the road’ ‘english that carpet bombed their towns in ww2′ ” sank the french fleet in Mers-el-Kébir’ i can go on and write a couple of pages on the subject.
-If you are not thick skinned enough to take these things, just move elswhere. i did, reluctantly i returned to the UK only because its impossible to find any job at 40 in France (age descrimination) and being a ‘foreigner’ doesnt help.
This is not a brexit thing, or UKIP or whatever the left wing accusers and fascists may say- it goes on everywhere. to turn up in someone elses country and not have the language skill until 4 years down the line is hard, and even decades after you will sometimes feel like a ‘furriner’ (the expression used by the thick remoaners to imply leavers as ‘thick xenophobics’) deal with it, shape up, or ship out.
Because you had an unfortunate experience in France does not negate the experiences that current EU residents in the UK are discovering. It will take generations for such prejudices to break down – and you are to be praised for continuing for so long under some difficult circumstances. France is strange in this respect – the closer to Paris then the more I have found that the kind of experience you describe is to be found. In the south it takes another form – slightly amused that you have the misfortune not to be French, but very affable with it. I have had similar experiences in Italy, with much patience and kindness shown to resident foreigners in rural areas and less patience in the big cities. Spain can be similar though, interestingly, in reverse – the big cities.are far more open and cosmopolitan while a growling prejudice seems to reside in more rural areas. Portugal is very open to EU migrants (I won’t say the same about ex-colonials) and many officials make an extra effort to assist the foreigner among them. This may well be due to them having a high number of emigrants in their population so they see both sides of the equation. The country where I have worked where I received the least resistance, however, was Denmark. Not one moment of awkwardness that I wouldn’t have experienced back in the UK.
when i returned to the UK in 2007, it was indeed a different place to 20 years previously
In France, i had lived for 19 years, and 5 years at least i had spoken no english whatsoever.
when in rome etc.
One of my jobs before i emigrated was in Newbury, in a large manufacturing company, amercian owned now, but with over 50 years in the industry.
– part of my job was to check deliverys, as i was waiting for parts to arrive so i could continue my job.
I noticed on the door of the Goods in a sign.
it was the times the goods in are accepted in 4 or 5 foreign languages.
I questioned this, and the reply was that unless the sign was there, the delivery drivers wouldn’t understand what times to deliver.
– in all the countrys i have worked in, or even visited, i have never seen that.
You are expected to be conversant in the language of the host country, and especially if you are employed there- its a strict minimum- and believe me in France, it wouldnt even get put up in foreign languages.
– the crux of the problem lies there, for many people.
feeling like a foreigner in your own country, and measures taken to assist those who should speak the language, yet don’t and at the same time the same migrants aid pay compression and job scarcity.
myself, after having some very difficult times in France when seeking employment due to its scarcity, i was appalled that such mesures were taken to help those who should speak English- yet don’t and are employed in the UK.
“One of my jobs before i emigrated was in Newbury”
– i emigrated to australia 4 years ago..
I am sorry that you had such a bad experience in France. Amazing that you survived 20 years of it, then.
France may well be a peculiarity of its own. It is certainly unique – just like every other country. Curiously enough, I was passing the TIR depot in Leixões, Portugal, only this morning and noticed that directions and information were given in six languages. That seemed about right. (In Spain, the signs often include Arabic as well). There is hardly a public or major private entity in Portugal that doesn’t have at least two languages available. Three is frequent.
Yes, to hold a job here you’d need to speak the language – though how well depends on the job, of course. For many unskilled jobs, 100 words of the language will do (tested a as basic requirement for most languages). Many immigrants at this level learn on the job. It’s a good way to learn a language (if somewhat idiosyncratic).
I have to admit that, apart from at Channel ports, in the UK I never, ever see signs in any language except English. It always strikes me as very uncosmopolitan and inward looking. I am so used to seeing many languages displayed that seeing only English looks very strange indeed.
– yes indeed.
it’s amazing what you can deal with when you actually like a country, and be in denial when all the cards are stacked against you.
– stores delivery times. goods inwards will only be received from 8.00-12.30 is hardly ‘100 words of understanding’ on the door of a local and specialist manufacturing company.
-if you cannot understand that, then how would ‘ in the case of a fire, the assembly points are’- or even ” hard hats must be work at all times’ be translated in every company in the UK? a good friend of mine was a bus driver in bath, and for a long time british bus drivers couldnt be found who would work for 7.00 gbp hr flat rate inc. weekends so polish bus drivers were imported to do the jobs. And so it was. several drivers were actually caught with over the legal limit of alcohol during random breath tests and suspended immediatly. this was contested successfully- and overturned, by those incriminated as the notice stating the blood/ alcohol level was not written in polish in the staff room.
I find it normal that a international transit point for commercial goods has multilingual signs, and well if you don’t even have a basic grasp of the local language you shouldnt be employed in the 1st place over locals who would be looking for work. It won’t pass in japan, china, korea, brasil,or a host of other countrys..
This article makes many serious and alarming assertions without one shred of evidence apart from a personal anecdote about an ‘older British lady’ on a train. The author should think carefully about the consequences of making such unfounded assertions, based on rumours and hearsay, on the very people he is concerned about. IF EU citizens feel less welcome, it is partly because of articles like this.
The article talks about generally accepted problems faced by migrants rather than anecdotes, but if it is anecdotes you want then I have some. I am British but I live in Portugal with my Portuguese wife. Since the referendum – after decades of zero problems in visiting Britain – we have been harassed, shouted at and spat at. We even had our car nearly run off the road in Devon by a van full of jeering ‘lads’ who saw our foreign number plate. We always used to speak Portuguese when shopping, even in the UK (the vocabulary comes quicker than in English!) but we have been taken to task, quite aggressively, in supermarkets for ‘speaking foreign’ so we don’t do that any more. My wife is now very reluctant to go to the UK again. Many of my friends who are either not British or are married to non-Brits have similar stories. These are not big stories that reach local, let alone national papers. These are daily grievances which we have to absorb. In early 2016 I had 15 friends working in the UK who were not British but from other EU countries. They were happy there and expected to stay for a long time. Now, 12 of them have left. What does that tell you?
How laughable. You guys complain about EU citizens being stigmatised off the backs of nothing but anecdotal evidence, whereas you turn a blind eye towards institutionalised discrimination by HMG and the Home Office against non-EU nationals seeking to work, live and study in the UK.
Explain to me how is it fair that both a non-EU and EU citizen are foreigners in the UK, and yet one group doesn’t enjoy visa-free access for education and work, doesn’t enjoy the right to claim benefits and student finance from the state, and the other group does? Quick question, is it because the majority of EU citizens admitted into the UK are Caucasian in race, whereas the majority of non-EU citizens aren’t? You accuse Leave voters for being xenophobes, so explain to me what justification exists for a double-track immigration and visa system for foreigners of different origins in the UK when the UK so proudly claims to “welcome the best from all over the world”, where White Europeans get it easier than people from other continents?
-copy/ paste Australian immigration policy. It’s all there and nearly perfect. No need for a wheel invention comittee. You can’t call it racist xenophobic or whatever label you want to put on it. Sponsor, full police record checks(+12months even suspended=Barred) full medical (Inc HIV-any issue=barred) Job on skills in demand list that cannot be filled locally, cannot change job sector other that that on the visa, 4yrs on working visa, then you can apply for residency if criteria met, citizenship= +8years on visa, any crimes or breaches of visa (working in other job sector/cash in hand) =visa cancelled.. It’s pretty good, plenty of backpackers come to work on farms for about 80-100 quid a day.
I have been living in the UK for over 10 years now and migrated from Poland. My passion was music and I decided to move here because I loved the culture and the music scene. I was 17 at the time, came to UK alone, did my A-Level’s and also graduated from a university with a music degree (currently still paying back the student loan). Two years ago I went through the process of naturalisation partially due to fears of Brexit and also because I felt like I adapted enough to become a citizen. I have to say that over the last two years I started to feel like something has changed. Since the brexit vote I feel more socially isolated then I ever did. I’m starting to wonder if it’s simply me growing up and not seeing the issue in the first place, or if treating EU migrants as second class citizens became more socially acceptable. This article touches on many aspects that I experienced. I also started to realise more about the class system in Britain, I think it’s something that not many EU migrants realise when they move here. I love Britain for all the opportunities that it offered me and I’m glad that I decided to move here when I was young. After graduating I worked in a school as support staff and even though I wasn’t treated even and work was extremely tough I learned a lot through the process. A year in my career at school I wanted to progress with my freelance career, but I decided to keep on working full time in a public sector until I got my citizenship, I was afraid that I would get rejected. My work has now escalated and it proves that If you work hard you can still make it, even if there’s discrimination, it’s just another stepping stone to overcome! I know that I will never be a British born and I respect the vote of British people to leave the EU. As a Polish person, I know what it means to lose independence. In a way I’m glad that some things are becoming more honest and people are actually saying how they feel in the UK. On the other hand, I worked really hard during my whole time here and now I fear that I will be discriminated or I will never be able to buy a house. I recently had to move out of my flat and finding a new one has became harder then ever and the rent can be a lot! After sending many applications I can now recognise by the way someone is looking at me if they will even consider my application. I just don’t know if I belong here. Most of my life I worked for a lower rate then any of my true British friends, but now I know that it all depends on who you meet and who runs the business. Britain is so diverse, people are different and perceptions are different. If you’re struggling in a low paid job and your an EU migrant, I suggest looking elsewhere because who you work for can really make a difference.