Steve Woolfe, a UKIP MEP who has that particular party’s migration spokesperson role (which is the UKIP equivalent of getting shadow chancellor), said at an event yesterday that:
“EU freedom of movement has led to unsustainable levels of European migration to Britain. A major consequence is that in trying to reduce net migration, the government has discriminated against citizens outside of the EU. The losers have been mixed-race communities in the UK, the Commonwealth and our trading partners in the East and West. The BME community in Britain want a fair, sensible and compassionate migration policy – and only if we leave the EU will we get it.”
Leaving aside the fact that a UKIP migration spokesperson is not the best conduit into the BME community, this is a key consideration for both sides of the EU referendum debate. I can see the campaigning logic of Woolfe’s position – basically, get those from immigrant backgrounds whose roots are in non-EU countries to feel like membership of the EU stacks the immigration deck against people of their nationality. Will it work?
Thankfully, there is some data to pull upon here. The Runnymede Trust did a report in December 2015 on this very topic. There’s some polling data included in it, taken right after the general election, so it is dated. But nonetheless what it revealed is that in the summer of 2015, Asian voters were 53% REMAIN, 40% LEAVE – Black voters were weirdly, almost exactly the same number 53% REMAIN 41% LEAVE. It should be noted here, the Remain numbers come when you add two categories together, those being “Stay in the EU but I want to know the conditions” and “Stay in the EU no matter what” (the Leave numbers are from two categories that are the exact flipside of those). I can’t find any more recent polling on this (would be interesting to see if they’ve changed since), so given what we have, BME voters tend to be, on the whole, slightly (but only slightly) more pro-Remain than the population as a whole. So it seems that the Leavers are targeting BME voters more in hope than expectation.
The Remain crowd should not be complacent on this front, however. It is easy to see how the UKIP line about the EU being part of a big pro-white immigration conspiracy could have traction if it is pumped out long and hard enough. I would hasten to add that someone other than UKIP (anyone) saying it might make it more salient.