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As we are continually swept towards Britain’s catastrophic exit from the EU, the public remain as perplexed as on the day of the referendum result in 2016. The nation’s current sorry state of affairs would leave our past selves recoiling in disbelief: Boris Johnson is (barely) standing as Prime Minister, the unnerving prorogation of Parliament transpired, and it seems likely that we are about to come crashing out of the EU with no deal. It sounds like the perfect set-up for a dystopian novel – and on the subject of which, Brexit’s threat to the publishing industry and our creative industries across the spectrum is one we must not let slide.
One troubling implication of the Brexit saga thus far is its breeding of a malicious anti-immigration rhetoric which continues to incite intolerance towards some of the most ambitious, talented individuals this nation has to offer. Remaining firmly at the forefront of the narrative, the perpetuation of immigration myths seems an indisputable reflection of the global rise in Far-Right movements. Such damaging fabrications arguably have one purpose: to create an environment of hostility that ought to deter migrants from both working and living in Britain.
Those who spout anti-multiculturalism sentiments often fail to consider the abundant contributions migrants make to society – benefits that far exceed economic input. In their ‘State of Hate 2018’ report, Hope Not Hate argued: ‘The divisive and xenophobic rhetoric of the Leave campaign during the EU referendum set a tone for anti-immigration hate, which legitimised and galvanised prejudice beliefs’. In allowing misinformed prejudices to reign over the Brexit debate, often disregarded is the fact that migrants, both EU and non-EU, allow many of our industries to thrive – including the creative sector.
The publishing industry relies upon migrants to remain relevant, innovative and prosperous. The influence that writers of an immigrant background have had on literary fiction in the UK is unparalleled. From Caryl Phillips to Oyinkan Braithwaite (whose second novel My Sister, The Serial Killer made the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 shortlist and was longlisted for the Booker Prize 2019), both first and second generation migrants defied and stirred the traditional literary canon, blurring its confined lens.
Arguing the necessity of migration for creativity, Jo Wallace, creative director at Publicis London, writes, ‘When we get excited by an idea it’s mostly because it’s different. It’s new. Something foreign which translates into logical magic. It’s the juxtaposition of unexpected things that creates a tension which hooks us.’ If Britain fails to attract migrants post-Brexit – which its current rise in xenophobic hate crime and increasingly rigorous immigration policy would certainly ensure – we can wave goodbye to our longstanding reputation as a cultural hub of talent.
Absent of the varied perspective and unique experience that shape an author’s work, Britain’s book industry may regress to a mere echo chamber for an exclusionary, homogenous narrative; inevitably promoting voices of the same narrow background. And not only does this issue of representation affect writers in the UK, it is in fact one which permeates the entire book industry.
The lack of diversity within publishing roles is alarming; Spread The Word published a research paper titled ‘Writing the Future’ in 2016, expressing their concern towards the industry’s poor inclusion of minority ethnic employees. Warning that the UK’s publishing sector appears ‘increasingly mono-cultural and parochial’, Spread the Word suggested that ‘the book industry risks becoming a 20th century throwback increasingly out of touch with a 21st century world.’
This absence in diversity is only set to spiral post-Brexit as Priti Patel, the current Home Secretary, has pushed for an immediate end to free movement – contradicting prior promises that EU nationals may continue to live and work in the UK until January 2021. This imminent end to free movement would demand that EU nationals, too, are subject to a rigid, bureaucratic nightmare. The path to a Tier 2 work visa, let alone British citizenship, is destined to become one migrants no longer wish to tread.
UK immigration policy is already a complex web of character scrutiny, high costs and extensive requirements for non-EU/EEA citizens. Once this brutal policy is similarly thrust upon EU migrants, a particularly infuriating requirement is the salary demand for a Tier 2 ‘skilled worker’ visa. Under this visa, £30,000 is the minimum salary threshold for migrants who wish to live and work in the UK (with the exception of those whose prospective role features on the government’s extremely limited ‘Shortage Occupation List’ and public service workers).
As of yet, there have been no proposals of exemptions for creative workers. To give some perspective on the absurdity of this threshold, authors in the UK earn an average annual salary of £10,500. Such unreasonable criteria is enough to leave deflated any aspiring international creatives who wish to settle in the UK.
As the Creative Industries Federation investigated, of 250 businesses working within the creative sector, 75% reported that they employed EU migrants – two thirds stated they could not fill those jobs with British workers. The correlation here is clear; migrants are essential for the creative industry to flourish. To determine ‘skill’ by a salary figure is to entirely overlook and undermine the expertise and impact of creative workers including freelancers, authors and front of house staff who are essential to its functioning, to name just a few.
We ought to celebrate and embrace migrants – both EU and non-EU – not impede them with a convoluted, impossible-to-navigate visa system. Not only should Brexit implore us to re-evaluate our future immigration policy approach to EU migrants, it should similarly apply to all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers across the board. We need to renounce this grossly bigoted preconception of migrants as ‘others’, as people taking rather than giving.
Brexit often feels like both a symbol of and catalyst for Western prejudices and paints a horrifying picture of the chaos which will ensue as a result of the championing of far-right voices, the drowning out of truth and the elevation of thinly veiled racism. This has no place in a cosmopolitan world. What Brexit really ought to affirm is our dire need to dispel cruel myths and to quash unreliable narratives sparking harmful misinformation on migrants. Evidently, such untruths have detrimental consequences.
Holly Barrow is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration lawyers that provides Legal Aid support for asylum-seekers and refugees.