What does Brexit mean for Africa?


People of African descent have a long pre-slave trade history of living in Britain, particularly London. According to the Museum of London, archaeologists have discovered household effects with “representations of Sub-Saharan people dating from Roman times”. Further, in the 16th century, the rise in the African population in London and fearmongering saw Queen Elizabeth I call for the arrest and expulsion of “Negroes and black Moors” from her kingdom [this was never actually legislated or acted on]. The tricontinental slave trade [between Europe, Africa and the Americas] and the expansion of the British empire saw the emigration of African slaves and slave traders involved to Britain. Slaves were ferried to London, Liverpool and Bristol- the port cities. Upon the abolishment of slavery, some Africans found steady employment whilst some faced poverty due to lack of marketable skills, racial segregation and inequality of opportunities. Throughout the 19th and 20th century, Africans and Caribbean steadily immigrated to England, climbing up the social ladder and supporting the British military during the Wars. After the WW2, there was a mass migration of African-Caribbean people to Europe and North America; due to losses during the war and consequent labour shortages, the British government encouraged this migration from its Commonwealth and other countries under the British empire. The 1948 British Nationality Act gave British citizenship to all commonwealth citizens giving them full rights to enter and settle in Britain. There were plenty of job opportunities in post-war Britain and though these were attractive, many Afro-Caribbean people faced extreme racism, racial segregation and prejudice. The Brexit “Leave” campaign brought to light racist and xenophobic undertones in the modern British society. This is despite the fact that research shows that immigration has boosted the British economy.

According to the Labour Force Survey, the migration of South Asian people preceded that of Afro-Caribbeans. Migration from West Africa since the 1960s far outnumbers that of Southern & East Africa which began to pick up in the 70s and peaked in the 2000s. Migration from the North of Africa has remained at a record low throughout. Asylum migration has also contributed to the growth of numbers of Africans in the UK; Somalia has had the highest numbers of asylum migrants. Currently, asylum migration makes up 7% of the net immigration figures according to the Office of National Statistics. The UK’s immigration policies have a history of coming off as quite anti-immigrant, this sentiment was often expressed in the Leave Brexit campaign. This year Liz Truss, the Justice Secretary, unveiled plans for a fast-track appeal system facilitating the removal of failed asylum seekers and foreign criminals within 25-28 days. Regarding foreign criminals, this affects those who are at the end of their prison sentences and have been recommended for deportation. Earlier this year, the Home Office’s policy of deporting foreign criminals without letting them exercise their right to appeal against deportation [whilst in the UK] was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court. The June ruling concerned the deportation of Kevin Kiarie and Courtney Blyndloss, a Kenyan and Jamaican respectively; the Court stated that they would face financial and legal “insurmountable difficulties” when attempting to plead their cases after being deported. The Court asserted that this ruling was based on human rights concerns, especially the rights to family life and private life. Byndloss’ leading counsel said that this power was exercised in cases concerning 1,175 foreign national offenders between 2014 and 2016; only 72 appeals out of these were filed by the end of 2016. The Supreme Court cited that, as of 13 February 2017, all the 72 appeals were unsuccessful due to challenges faced when appealing from abroad. 

The Labour and Conservatives parties often found themselves on opposing sides regarding Britain’s exit from the European Union after the referendum was held. Though Theresa May and a majority of Tory MPs backed the Remain campaign, the Conservative party now seems to have thrown its weight behind leaving the Union: only one Tory MP voted against the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The Labour Party too strongly campaigned for Britain to retain its membership in the Union; after the referendum, the party stood by the nation’s decision to leave. However, their respective terms and aims of leaving the EU remain disparate. Neither party detailed its policy on immigration, especially concerning non-EU immigrants. The Conservative party, in its manifesto, commits to reduce the annual net migration to less than 100,000 but the impact this will have on non-EU migration is yet to be ascertained. According to the Office for National Statistics, the current annual migration to the UK is estimated at 273,000. Further, the Conservative party vowed to toughen requirements for International students’ VISA applications to study in UK Universities as well as work in the country after graduating. As students are included in the government’s net migration numbers, the party’s vow to reduce migration directly affects prospective International students. 

Due to the close ties between the UK and [some] African states, Britain’s exit from the European Union directly affected African currencies and economies. The trade deals between African states and the UK negotiated through the EU may have to be renegotiated; with the growth of the continent’s strengthened relations with states such as China, India, Brazil and the USA, post-Brexit Africa may see the continent forfeiting renegotiations in favour of new, better deals. It is, however, too early to tell. Uzo Madu, a British-Nigerian analyst concludes that an examination of the impact of the EU policy in Africa shows that there isn’t much in Brexit for Africa. The answer to whether each should return to their respective Afro/Caribbean country cannot be given a blanket answer. Afro-Caribbean culture is an essential part of British history; for many, the island is the only home they fully identify with. Brexit presents an opportunity for the country to channel its efforts towards a more integrated community where the racist and xenophobic undertone of (some) supporters of the leave campaign do not lead communities to question their place in a multi-ethnic modern-day state.