What exactly does Brexit mean for Nepalis living in the UK?

5 min read
12 Aug 2017
5 min read
1894 words
The 50,000 Nepalis currently living in UK are going through the transition period of Britain leaving the EU. Some of them give their honest views on the referendum

Breaking down Brexit 

In 24 June 2016, I was in an Asian history class in Singapore. But the last thing on my mind that morning was Gandhi. Instead, I and my fellow British summer school students waited with bated breath, sneakily checking our phones under the table as the votes for the EU referendum were being counted. 

The final result was announced: Britain was to leave the EU. Such slight margins of victory for the 'leave' campaign meant the nation was left in a state of sharp division. In May of this year, Article 50 was triggered, marking the start of two years of negotiations between Britain and the EU before the split. These negotiations will cover a number of topics including when the UK can cease payments to the EU, the question of free movement of EU and British citizens within EU countries and whether the UK will remain in the single market and how security and information intelligence will be shared after the split.

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May held another general election in June of this year in the hopes of winning a majority government before proceeding with these negotiations. Her plan half worked--the Conservatives won but had to form a coalition with the Northern Irish DUP party in order to gain a majority. 

May has committed to a 'hard' Brexit. In other words, the UK will leave the single market in order to end free movement on who can enter its borders. The projected date for the end of free movement is March 2019. EU citizens already residing in the UK, however, will be guaranteed security that they can stay. EU law will also no longer reign supreme in Britain.

As the UK's trade policies with countries worldwide have been formed by the European Commission, independent policies will have to be forged anew. Leavers hope that, with this newfound freedom, mutually beneficial agreements can be formed with economic superpowers such as India and China. Remainers, on the other hand, fear the economy will take a hit due to new tariffs on trade with EU member states.  

But what exactly does all this mean for Nepalis living in the UK?
Compared to other Asian diasporas in the UK, the Nepali population is not large, but it is nonetheless significant. It is estimated that at least 50,000 Nepalis currently live in the UK, the majority of them centred in London or elsewhere in the southeast. They range from members of the British Gurkhas and their families to students and general economic migrants working in a variety of fields from retail to nursing.  

Nepalis who have moved and assimilated into Britain share a unique experience--one that begins with the struggle and hardship of immigrant life and blossoms into a sense of belonging. Interestingly, this experience can manifest itself in a number of multifaceted political views, some of which will now be explored in relation to Brexit. 

Brexit timeline

The past

23 June 2016 EU referendum polling day. Around 72 per cent of the population voted, which is a much higher turnout than for most general elections.

24 June 2016 Results of the referendum announced. Around 52 per cent voted 'leave' while the remaining 48 per cent voted 'stay'. 

13 July 2016 Cameron, who argued for remaining in the EU, steps down as PM. Home Secretary Theresa May takes his place. 

29 March 2017 Article 50 is triggered, starting two years of official negotiations between Britain and the EU before the split.  

8 June 2017 Another general election is held. May and the Conservatives win, but not with the majority they had hoped for, forcing them into a coalition with the Northern Irish DUP party.

19 June 2017 The first official talks between the UK and EU begin in Brussels. Foremost on the list of topics are the rights of EU citizens already in the UK, and the Irish border.

The future 

Oct-Dec 2017 The first round of Brexit negotiations should be over. The future of the UK-EU relationship will then be discussed, along with the possibility of a transition deal. 

October 2018 All Brexit talks should be completed, meaning there will be less than 18 months' time in which they must be conducted. 

March 2019 Projected end of free movement, given that the UK leaves the single market.

May 2019 Britain's divorce from the EU should be finalised. 

Voices on the Vote

Rishi Khanal, 38
Mortgage Advisor

I was initially thinking of voting leave, but changed my mind. I think the leave campaign did have some decent points, but their grossly exaggerated claims on how the money put into the EU could better be spent in the NHS made me lose trust. Also, they seemed only to vouch for leaving without giving any clear details on the actual process of leaving. Remaining a part of the EU would have ensured stability, especially with regards to the financial sector and property markets. It would also have meant that the UK would be better integrated with the rest of the world, rather than being an isolated island. I understand why some Nepalis may have chosen to vote leave--they wanted to ensure there would be enough school places for their children and reduce demand on the NHS. But I also think they failed to see the bigger picture. After all, immigrants tend to contribute at least as much as they use. I have personally seen many businesses struggle to find employees, and European immigrants are often willing to fulfil this demand. As for the future, I hope it won't be too bleak. The next two years or so of negotiations may be difficult, but once these are over, I think it will be business as normal.

Binaya Bastola, 40
Store Manager

Voting remain was an easy decision for me. As a first-generation immigrant, I believe everyone should have the right to create a better life for themselves. Britain can only really be called 'Great' if it allows people from economically deprived European countries to fulfil their potential elsewhere. I do acknowledge there are practical hindrances to free movement--the UK is suffering from a housing crisis and the NHS is facing increased demand and pressure. But I don't think this is because of immigrants; I think it's because the current government is misusing resources. For instance, many houses in affluent parts of London are empty because landlords are refusing to rent them out. If the government created initiatives to encourage these landlords to rent, more people could be accommodated. I feel that life for British people will now be limited at best. I am particularly anxious about the implications of Brexit for the younger generations. When we were part of the EU, I was secure in the knowledge that my child could go to another EU state and apply for jobs with ease. Now this will no longer be the case.

Sweeda Luintel, 28
Applications Specialist

I had no reservations in voting remain. One of the main reasons was global terrorism--given recent events, I think it's vital that we can share information pertaining to security with our European neighbours with ease. We also have greater power and influence as part of a collective than we would have alone. I believe those who rail against immigration are blinded by their bigotry and isolationism. There's also a deep irony, as some of these people are immigrants themselves. For example, a person who recently got their British citizenship told me in broken English how she hated immigrants coming over and working with her, because she could not understand their English. That said, while I don't have a problem with people emigrating from European countries to better their lives, I don't think it's the best solution to the social and economic depravity these countries suffer from. If people keep leaving their homelands, how can they possibly expect it to improve? There is conflict within the British Nepali community regarding Brexit. Those aged 45 or over seem to be fixated on the negative aspects of immigration, whereas the younger generations consider other issues as well--finances, security and future benefits. I now feel anxious about the long-term future. Today, the UK may be a relatively strong and affluent power, but what if this reputation is taken by another country in the future? And how easy will it be for ourselves or our children to live and work there?

Nisha Bura, 22
Self-Employed First Aider, Sales Assistant and final-year Student Nurse
If you think about it historically, the EU was formed to encourage economic cooperation and allow unrestricted trade between member states. It seems pretty daunting that the UK would want to leave such an institution. That's partly why I voted remain. Because I'm a student nurse, another main concern of mine was the NHS and staffing levels. Throughout my years as a student nurse, most of the mentors and superiors I learned from were nurses from Spain, Italy and other EU states. British people complain that European immigrants simply "take all of our jobs", but they hardly stop to consider that the immigrants are also the ones taking care of them when they are unwell. I remember a Spanish nurse pointing out the hypocrisy of this attitude: "When Brits go over to Spain to open up resorts or bars, we don't complain. But when we come to the UK to work, we're labelled as stealing jobs." Most Nepalis here, themselves immigrants, understand this point of view and thus voted remain. Then again, the thought-process depends on their social environment and location. The job market in London is flourishing, so people will more often than not get a job if they want one. In places that are less urbanised, such as Yorkshire or Wales, Nepali people often face fierce competition and can harbour resentment if someone from outside of the UK gets the job they were hoping for. These people more likely voted leave.