Brexit dark days coming, warn Britain’s ethnic communities
Bradford feels forgotten by rest of Britain and now sees Brexit as an elitist thing
Abu Hanif opened a shop after he had to close two takeaway restaurants when he could no longer find chefs. Photograph: Jennifer O’Connell
“People here are fed up. Nobody cares about Bradford. All the wealth is being hoarded in London,” says Imran, from behind the counter of a corner shop on the Great Horton Road.
He is despondent about Brexit. He didn’t vote first time around, but recently his friends have been sharing news about Brexit over Whatsapp. If there’s a second referendum, he’ll vote Remain. The people of Bradford voted 54 per cent in favour of leaving. He says they were “concerned about day-to-day living – lack of jobs, lack of opportunity, crime. You’ve seen all the empty shops.”
Whether Britain leaves or remains now, he says, “nothing will change in Bradford.”
The view that Bradford has been forgotten by the rest of Britain is one you hear repeated again and again here. The city, despite the Victorian architecture that hints at its reputation as the former wool capital of Europe, is trying hard to shake off its down-at-heel image. Investment – some of it from the EU – is being poured into the university, and there are ambitious plans to revive the city centre. But even in the late afternoon, the streets are quiet.
Bradford is often cited as a shorthand for the failure of multiculturalism, due to perceptions of simmering ethnic tensions between the white English and the South Asian populations. At nearly a quarter of the 500,000 population, it has one of the largest Muslim communities in the UK. But those tensions have largely dissipated, locals say. Now, when people talk about immigration, they are talking about recent arrivals from Eastern Europe.
Ibrahim Hanif and his brother, Rahim, are hitting the Great Horton Road for something to eat. They were born in Bradford to an English father, and a mother from Pakistan. The Leave vote was fuelled by anti-immigration sentiment towards Eastern Europeans, Rahim says. “We have all these Polish people and Czech people coming here, and they come here and they work hard. So why shouldn’t they come?”
Javaid Iqbal, a legal case-worker with Shire Family Law in Bradford, says, “The way Asians felt, and were viewed by the white community, 30 or 40 years ago, is the way eastern Europeans are feeling now. At street level, you can see the immigration ripple effect. Forty years ago, you had a shop that was owned by Smith and Sons. Thirty years ago, it was Hussain and Sons. Now you’ve got the eastern Europeans owning the shops.”
Part of the Leave vote was a rejection of that. “It’s an ironic kind of racism.”
But he believes the view of Brexit in the area has changed. It’s now seen as “a London thing, an elitist thing”.
Finola Conaly-Davis is a citizen of multicultural Britain: Jamaican heritage, Irish name, a job teaching maths to students for whom English is a second language. Like the majority of the people I meet in Bradford, she supports Remain. She says she is in favour of a second referendum, because lots of people have changed their minds or didn’t vote. Brexit will mean “more restrictions, less opportunity”.
Another teacher, Maryam Rafique, is angry, saying “two years of to-ing and fro-ing was a waste of time, and money.” She wants a second referendum, like “Ireland were given a second chance”.
Labour councillor David Green, believes “a withdrawal on a no-deal Brexit will hit Bradford incredibly hard”, particularly at this early stage of its revival.
There are other, more worrying implications for Bradford. “There has been a rise in hate crimes, but while Bradford is not unique in that, it is more likely to suffer that, because it does have such an ethnic and cultural mix.”
Iqbal says he has spoken to Eastern European families considering leaving because of Brexit, but not due to any negative feeling they’ve experienced. They’re concerned about rumours that post-Brexit you’ll need to have a £30,000 a year salary to stay in the country. “And as sterling has weakened, and their currency has become stronger, it’s not economical to stay.”
Alex Moga, from Romania, runs a recruitment agency in Hull for people from Eastern Europe and Portugal who want to come to Britain and work. He believes that people don’t understand how reliant the UK is on a flow of labour from Eastern Europe.
The agency brings in butchers, construction workers and engineers to work in Britain and Scotland. “They need Eastern Europeans. There might be 20 British people on a site who are the managers, supervisors. All the rest are immigrants: Polish, Portuguese, Romanian. If you take them all out, the site will be shut down.”
He’s unhappy with the quality of English workers. “All the time [they] let me down. I give them a job, but they come one day, two days, to work. And then it’s goodbye.”
The people he brings in from continental Europe, “they want to work. So long as you give them fair money, fair price and a fair job.”
Brexit has created a lot of fear among his workers. “They’re asking me, ‘Alex, what’s it going to be like in 18 months . . . will they send us home’? To be fair, nobody knows what’s going to happen. For sure, some change is coming.”
But then he says something unexpected. “My personal opinion about Brexit: let them go out. I came to UK working as a truck driver. It was nice, the pay was very high, I made a lot of money.” But since the borders opened to Eastern Europe and “everybody came in UK, everything is down.”
It’s harder to make decent money now. “Let the people who are here and working stay, send the rest home.”
Employment issues are also preoccupying the owner of the Halal butchers on Beverley Road in Hull. The shop has been open for six weeks. Abu Hanif opened it after he had to close two takeaway restaurants when he could no longer find chefs. You can’t train English people to cook Indian curry, he explains.
“When Theresa May was Home Secretary, she changed the rules and regulations about chefs coming from non-EU countries, so you needed to pay them a minimum of £29,750. I can’t do that. It just doesn’t make any sense. Theresa May did that to us. She destroyed my life.”
Curry houses contribute over £4.5 billion to the UK economy. “The English national dish is chicken tikka masala,” he adds, to a burst laughter in the shop.
He blames Theresa May for “destroying the industry”. Indeed, a recent report by the British Hospitality Association and KPMG warned that by 2029, the restaurant industry could have a deficit of more than a million workers.
So he closed the restaurants, picked himself up, and is starting again. “I’m not going to leave. I live here. I’ll die here. But I am deeply against the Brexit. No-one can succeed alone. You need friends.”
A customer comes into the shop looking for cardamom seeds. As he goes to serve her, he says again Brexit is a disaster about to happen.
“I just bought a 400-litre chest freezer for my shed to make sure we don’t run out of food. Dark days are coming.”