Damien Egan, the Mayor of Lewisham talks about Brexit’s effect on the borough
Brexit. It’s been dominating UK politics and the news since the referendum almost two years ago. However, there is another issue that’s keeping local government busy and is not receiving the attention it needs – ensuring our communities remain open and safe for all, particularly in the face of the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ approach to immigration.
Lewisham has a proud history of welcoming people from across the world, and many different backgrounds.
More than 170 languages are spoken across the borough, which is the 15th most ethnically diverse in the country.
Our diversity is our greatest strength. You only need to take a short walk through Lewisham to see that we are stronger when we come together and learn from each other. I’m proud that Lewisham is recognised by international organisations as one of the most integrated places in Europe.
Since the UK voted to leave the European Union, we have seen a rise in hate crime.
Some people now feel they can get away with intimidating anyone they see as different to them, both online and in person.
Lewisham has a proud tradition of standing up to intolerance and oppression, from challenging the National Front in the Battle of Lewisham 40 years ago to welcoming the Windrush Generation into our community.
However, racism and hatred still rear their ugly heads so our fight continues.
Unfortunately, the Government is failing to do the same and has created a hostile environment where immigration is viewed as a threat.
The result of this callous approach is that we are seeing people who have contributed so much to the UK, from the Windrush Generation to EU Citizens, being forced to apply to remain here. That is unacceptable.
One of the key commitments Lewisham Labour made at the local elections last May was to make Lewisham a Sanctuary Borough, welcoming those fleeing violence and persecution in their own countries, and protecting the rights of all migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
That is why we are expanding our refugee resettlement programme, with a target of welcoming a further 100 refugee families from Syria and other areas of conflict.
I’m proud that this will make us London’s lead borough in refugee resettlement. We are also doing all we can to support the thousands of EU Citizens who live in Lewisham and remain uncertain about their future.
Almost 70 per cent of residents voted to Remain in the referendum, so working towards an open Lewisham in the face of Brexit is all the more important.
Brexit will hit the poorest and youngest in our community hardest, and it is creating huge anxiety for many of our residents. That’s why Lewisham council is calling for a referendum on any terms of Brexit, with an option to remain.
As Mayor of Lewisham, I am determined that our borough remains a welcoming place of safety for all.