Migrants in the UK deserve rights. Let us vote

Ana Oppenheim

Many Labour members were shocked when a spokesperson confirmed this week that the party would not be seeking to protect freedom of movement in the Brexit negotiations. Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s previous statements about not being “wedded” to European free movement, about the need to end the “wholesale importation” of migrant workers, and even despite the 2017 manifesto clearly stating that freedom of movement would end with Brexit – plenty of us struggled to accept that a party led by lifelong anti-racists would be ready to sell migrants’ rights down the river.

Each of these announcements especially came as an unpleasant surprise to those of us who are ourselves migrants. Many of us who have woken up early in the mornings and travelled to marginal constituencies to campaign for our party, who dedicate regular time and effort to keeping our Labour and trade union branches going, also have foreign passports. As a response to the announcement, a number of migrant Labour members took to Twitter to share our stories of the hashtag #WeAreLabourToo.

We desperately need a Labour government for many of the same reasons British nationals do: we are sick of Tory austerity, never-ending NHS queues, poverty pay and rip-off rents. On top of that, we’ve had enough of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ agenda, anti-migrant rhetoric and racist policies. We put our hopes in Labour – and yet, our interests are once again sacrificed in the name of answering the concerns of real or imaginary voters. This is despite a policy of closing the borders not being backed by evidence of migrants’ negative impact on jobs, wages or public services; and despite it being so clearly opposed to the egalitarian and internationalist values that our party is supposed to stand for. We’ve had enough.

Now here’s an idea: what if migrants were allowed to vote? The proposal might seem radical at first, but it’s far from unreasonable. Foreign nationals in Britain work and pay taxes, rely on the UK’s public services, have to obey the same laws that UK citizens do. Many of us have built our lives here and would be more than happy to get a British passport – if it wasn’t for the terrifying amount of paperwork required, the fact that most of us don’t have a spare £1,200+ in our accounts to cover the application fee, and that many of our home countries don’t allow dual citizenship.

The EU referendum was a particularly striking case where those with the most at stake had no say in the outcome. As a consequence, over three million European nationals (and over a million Brits in Europe) have now spent nearly three years in limbo, worrying about our basic rights if Britain leaves the EU. If a snap general election does happen, which looks more likely every day, once again migrants will be among those most affected by the result. There is no good reason to exclude us from democratic participation.

That’s why I’m glad that four Labour MPs – Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Clive Lewis, David Lammy and Stephen Doughty – have already given their backing to the Let Us Vote campaign, seeking to extend the franchise in UK elections and referendums to all migrants. I am hoping that our whole party will soon follow. The campaign, launched by the3million, British in Europe and Another Europe is Possible, today starts the fight for the rights of all UK residents, as well as all UK citizens living abroad, to be given the vote. Altogether, we estimate that something like 10 million people are currently disenfranchised.

Labour should represent all working people, regardless of our accent, the colour of our skin or the logos on our passports. We live here, we work here, we organise here – so let us vote here, too. Maybe then, politicians will finally stop using us as bargaining chips, and start seeing us as people.

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