England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Crisis-ridden Tories declare war on migrants and refugees

By a Socialist Alternative member

Sunak’s general election campaign has already started. The line of argument is reminiscent of the right-wing official Leave campaign in the run up to the Brexit referendum. Right-wing populist slogans of ‘getting control over our borders’ and xenophobic propaganda with fake concern for ‘democracy’ (when neither Sunak or Truss came to power through a General Election) and swamped services, couldn’t be more cynical. 

The 2019 three word slogan “get Brexit done” is replaced with “stop the boats” and “cut net migration”. Once again, immigrants and asylum seekers are used as a political football to distract from the many crises taking place in Britain 2023 under the Tories. 

The recent plan to attack immigrants and asylum seekers also comes at a time in which different factions of the Tory party can already predict the expected loss in the next general election, and are preparing their campaign for the Tory leadership contest. 

Sunak is extremely unpopular, even more so than Liz Truss, and has a record low approval rating of minus 25%. Between October and December this year alone, polls estimate the Tories lost over half a million voters and that only 59% of those who voted Conservative in 2019, are planning to do so in the upcoming general election. 

His attacks also come in this context of Sunak attempting to avoid being outflanked from the right by hawkish Suella Braverman and her fellow right-populist Tories, who wanted Sunak to go even further with introducing an ‘Australia-style’ cap on annual net migration.

Divide and rule

Once again, immigrants are being blamed for strained services, worsening wages and ‘undercutting British workers’. The deterioration in living standards in Britain and the collapse of essential services is a result of decades of cuts, privatisation and low wages – not workers from other countries. The austerity policies of the Tories, alongside the refusal of the government and the bosses to increase workers’ wages in line with inflation and to restore real wage cuts over the last decade, are to blame.

Sunak has already attempted to divide public sector workers and immigrants when he declared in July this year that the 6-7% pay increases to some groups of public sector workers will be funded by increasing charges for visa applications and the Immigration Health Surcharge (a fee all immigrants need to pay to access the NHS) from £624 to £1,035 per year. 

Attacks on ‘legal migration’

The recent attacks include increasing the Skilled Worker visa wage threshold from £26,200 to £38,700 per annum, while 70% of workers in Britain earn less than this figure. If this is the wage the Tories set as necessary for not relying on state support, why don’t they adopt this figure as the living wage for all workers? 

Teachers, health and care workers are exempt from this, as their wages are notoriously lower than the threshold. However, a crackdown on workers, predominantly those in the care sector, is planned through stopping visas for their ‘dependents’ (spouse and/or children). Such appalling attacks come from the attitude of seeing migrant workers as commodities that can be moved around without any care for their needs and well-being. 

A similar change was recently applied to International students. These are not just inhumane and cruel policies, but also an attack on workers where there are already significant levels of labour shortages. So contrary to the Tories’ argument, they will actually worsen the crisis in overstretched public services for all workers who need them.

A crackdown is also planned for family visas. British citizens and residents would need to prove wages and a secure job (permanent contract) of over £38,700 – an increase from a threshold of £18,600 – to reunite with overseas spouses and children. This is an atrocious attack on family reunion that will result in the uprooting of families as the vast majority don’t meet such a threshold. This is potentially against the Human Rights Act 1998. 

Rwanda Bill

In the same week, the Tories have also announced their new sickening version of plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. 

In April 2022, a treaty between the Tory government and the state of Rwanda was signed. Under such agreement, the Home Office can deport asylum seekers to the country, where their asylum requests would allegedly be processed. The Supreme Court outlawed this plan as Rwanda has a poor record of torture, political murders and 100% rejection of asylum claims from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen. In 2018, at least twelve asylum seekers in Rwanda were killed by the police for protesting for changes to the food rations allocated to them. 

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the government will attempt to introduce the ‘Safety of Rwanda Bill’. It states that Rwanda is ‘a safe country’. It excludes the courts from challenging this false premise and gives ministers alone the authority to decide whether to comply with blocking orders from the European Court of Human Rights. Such policies that could potentially end up with opting out of the ECHR puts the Good Friday Agreement at risk, and can lead to further escalation of sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland. 

This again plays into Sunak positioning himself as ‘delivering’ on reactionary racist policies to ‘stop the boats’ and ‘control our borders’ to outflank the hawkish right of the party and play on the same sentiment of the hardline Brexiteers of putting up a fight against the European Union. Both the EU and Westminster have anti-refugee policies. The many deaths in the Mediterranean sea are not an accident, but are a result of the absence of safe routes and use of brutal tactics to push asylum seekers out. 

In the first place, the legacy of colonialism and capitalism have created wars, extreme poverty and climate change responsible for droughts and unbearable living conditions, which are some of the factors that are driving people to desperately risk their lives and flee their homes for safety. 

Organise to resist anti-migrant attacks

Such atrocious policies continue to play into the Tories ‘culture war’ rhetoric that seeks to turn people against the most oppressed sections of the working class. It must be opposed actively by all trade unions, communities and left campaigns. 

There must also be a call for Labour to commit to repeal these anti-working class and xenophobic policies if it’s elected in the coming general election. Such a demand can help organise for the necessary fightback under a potential Labour government. When previously in government, Labour introduced a hostile environment towards asylum seekers and migrants through introducing limits of movement on immigrants outside the EEA and prohibiting asylum seekers’ right to work while their claim is being processed. 

Starmer’s opposition to the policies, saying it is “unworkable” and “expensive” is not based on any principled disagreement. In reality Labour would like to see a more ‘efficient’ form of brutalising and scapegoating refugees and those seeking a better life. Therefore we must start organising the struggle now, and not wait for a Labour government.

Socialist Alternative calls for the closure of all detention centres and an end to criminalisation of refugees. This must be tied to socialist policies that enable a programme of mass investment in services, job creation and house building for all, on the basis of democratic public ownership of the key sectors of the economy. It is essential also to guarantee the right for all to work, to be paid the rate for the job and to join a trade union. 

The fight for refugee rights is inherently linked to the need for a socialist change. Only a socialist future offers hope of an end to the war, persecution, climate catastrophe and poverty that forces people to flee.

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