Priti Patel’s cynical campaign might have changed the Brexit result but its promise cannot be forgotten

The tangled web of Britain’s exit from the European Union is no closer to being unravelled. At its heart lies the omnipresent issue of immigration. However one cuts it, the issue of ‘who, what, where and how’ relating to the movement of people is the ultimate billion pound question.

One of the most seductive claims by the ‘Leave’ campaign was on ‘EU versus Commonwealth’ immigration. As cynical and divisive as that abhorrent ‘breaking point’ migrants poster was, this was divide and rule as its finest. Leading the official ‘Remain’ campaign’s community engagement, I was repeatedly informed of events where black, Asian and ethnic minority citizens were told, ‘vote for us and we will stop this unfair immigration system’. Some prominent government ministers were often at the forefront of these initiatives.

The secretary of state for international development Priti Patel was the poster woman for the ‘save our curry houses’ campaign and a leading light for the Leavers ‘you are okay, but we do not want that lot’ messaging. One activist told me he was at a community event where Patel apparently stated, ‘if you vote to come out of the EU, we will make sure your auntie and uncle can come to the United Kingdom’.

The sheer dishonesty wafted over believers’ head’s like the aroma of a chicken tikka masala. Non-EU immigration is solely in the government’s gift before, during and after any Brexit deal takes place. Even a cursory glance makes clear that the government restricts immigration from Commonwealth countries because it chooses to, not because it is bound by any EU body to do so. It has become more difficult in recent years because of Patel and her party, not Brussels. Free movement was blamed for the restrictions placed on skilled chefs from south Asia, limitations on spouses and the unfilled potential of ‘our’ special relationship.

Sadly some, in particular Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, lapped this up. Labour peer Nazir Ahmed went on BAME media championing Leave and his Tory upper house colleague Sayeeda Warsi came out as a Leaver. Muslims for Britain was set up and specifically targeted Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities citing discriminatory immigration policies as a key campaign plank.

Estimates from the limited data available show up to a million BAME people voted Leave. This includes 27 per cent of black African and African Caribbean and 33 per cent of Asian voters. A significant number in anyone’s books, and decisive.

Fast forward a year and there is no mention of Commonwealth immigration.

The EU migrant bashing taking place during this tug-of-war negotiation period is rooted in the Leavers’ initial campaign and its cheerleaders are tightly holding on to their red, white and blue pom poms. The hopes of the south Asian diaspora lie in ruins and their visions of extended family reunions banished.


Amina Lone is a councillor on Manchester city council and worked for Stronger In. She tweets at @Amina_Lone