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Migrants and the internal divisions of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is not homogeneous, as was perfectly illustrated by the results of the 2016 Brexit referendum. While at the national level 51.9% of eligible voters voted to leave the European Union, in Scotland 62% of citizens voted to stay in its structures. In no administrative region in Scotland the majority was in favor of Brexit. Similarly, though not as spectacularly (55.8%), the supporters of staying in the EU won in Northern Ireland. The most noticable difference was on the Anglo-Scottish border, where in the Carlisle district 60.1% of votes was to leave, and right next to it, in the Scottish Borders, 58.5% of the population voted to remain in the EU. London voted differently than most of England (in the City of London over 75% of voters were in favor of staying in the EU), In the province it was completely different. The North of England also voted differently than the South.
Interestingly, the results of the Brexit referendum show that identity factors played an important role, which in a country like the United Kingdom where at least four nations live, is especially noticable. If only Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales had voted, the UK would remain in the Union. The most populous England decided to leave for the rest of the country. The need to leave the Union was biggest among the English, whose identity is primarily English, and less British, while those who declare themselves primarily British, and less English, were more likely to chose to remain in the Union.
The internal divisions in the country were overlapped by the attitude towards migrants, which became one of the key topics of the referendum campaign. The slogan “take back control” was very much concerned with the control of immigration. Organizations such as UKIP argued that the mass and uncontrolled influx of immigrants contributed to an increase in unemployment and lower salaries, which was especially popular with small entrepreneurs who, paradoxically, most often used the work of migrants themselves.
The issue of migration is closely related then to internal divisions in Great Britain. While in England the European Union has often been portrayed as “the others”, in Scotland it is dominant to portray the Scots as one of the nations of a united Europe opposed to the English. In Northern Ireland, on the other hand, the issue of Brexit is very closely linked to the conflict between loyalists and those who want unification with the Republic of Ireland. This is clearly visible when analyzing the results of the referendum. The overlapping of the religious division between Protestants and Catholics results in the fact that often Catholic Poles are automatically identified as supporters of the Republicans. Migrants sometimes do not understand the specificity of the sectarian division in the region and the fact that, for example, some bus stops are “assigned” to particular groups. Sometimes it becomes a cause of aggression.
On May 13, 2021, an incident occurred in Kenmure Street in Glasgow where the Home Office tried to evict two illegal immigrants from India. Passers-by reacted with a protest, singing and shouting “Leave them, they are our neighbors!”. The Scottish police did not support the Home Office’s activities, and Nicola Sturgeon in a Twitter post condemned the ways in which the British Home Office operated. The incident sparked a media storm that, with the defense of migrants and asylum seekers as a starting point, moved to defending Scotland’s independence in politics towards migration issues and not only.

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Unresolved issues around Brexit

At the session of the Polish parliamentary commission for liaison with Poles abroad on 24 February 2021, deputy vice head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Paweł Jabłoński informed about latest data on the EU Setllement Scheme. He declared that out of 903 thousand Polish citizens who applied for settled status, 662.800 thousand were approved and 164.220 thousand more obtained pre-settled status. There were also 6,162 new British citizenships granted to Poles between 30 June 2019 and 30 June 2020 (gov.uk). Number of granted citizenships severly fell during the lockdown in spring 2020.

Number of application nearly reaches estimated number of Polish citizens actualy residing in the UK, but as Jabłoński said, that there is however a group of several thousand or mayble more who have not sent the application. Among this group there are some who for various reasons were unable or unwilling to do so. Many of those are people affected by homelesness or without any valid ID document – Polish nor British.

On 15 March 2021there was a Zoom conference organized by the Social Scientists Against the Hostile Environment group (https://acssmigration.wordpress.com/) on “Brexit, citizens’ rights and the hostile environment: Uneven stakes, unheard voices and unresolved issues beyond the headlines”. The speakers were describing the uncommon cases affected by Brexit, including Roma citzens of Central and East European countries who migrated to the UK after 2007, children of non-EU citizens born in a European country who later moved to the UK or people who lack mental capacity.

Among all these groups there are people with Polish citizenship who have not made their application for settled status. Brian Dikoff presented a paper on the EU Settled Status Scheme and EEA citizens living with mental health issues giving several examples of people whom his organization helped. These cases are escaping the system and their legal status could be questioned if they do not manage to apply by 30 June 2021. There are some non-governmental organizations, like the Migrants Organise (https://www.migrantsorganise.org/), which are trying to help these people with making their application on time.