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Rebordering Britain & Britons after Brexit

S3 E10 Migration and the making of Global Britain

15 Mar 2024

Michaela Benson [MB]: Welcome to season three of Who do we think we are? The podcast debunking taken for granted understandings of migration and citizenship in Britain today. In this season, we'll be considering the role of migration in the making of Global Britain, as the UK redefines its borders and seeks to reposition itself on the world stage following Brexit. I'm Michaela Benson, a sociologist specialising in citizenship and migration and your host. For this season, I'll also be joined by co-host Nando Sigona, whose research expertise includes international migration and forced displacement. Join us as we challenge public and political narratives of migration to and from Britain today, and encourage you to think differently about some of the most pressing issues of our times, charting a new understanding of Britain's migration story after Brexit.


Ida Danewid [ID]: Racial capitalism really helps us see that the contemporary policing of migrants is something that is part of a much longer history in which the racial capitalist state has always sought to control the movement of the displaced and the dispossessed. Historically, there have been a variety of mobility regimes, things like vagrancy legislation, plantation slavery, indentured servitude and, of course, right, contemporary immigration restrictions. But the underlying purpose, despite the fact that in many ways, they're of course very different, but their underlying purpose has been one of the same, and that has been to produce categories of people that can be easily exploited, expropriated and abandoned.


MB: That was our guest on today's episode, Ida Danewid, talking about racial capitalism, and in particular, how this approach helps us to understand the similarities between present-day migration regimes and historical controls on mobility. Ida is a lecturer in Gender and Global Political Economy at the University of Sussex and the author of the new book Resisting Racial Capitalism. And I really recommend that you dip into that to learn more. But back to the episode, this episode is all about migration and the making of Global Britain. I can barely believe it, but it's the final episode of the season. And what a season it's been. Just a recap, we've been looking at migration to and from the UK since Brexit, with my colleague Nando Siona who co-leads the research project 'Rebordering Britain and Britain after Brexit' with me, that we refer to throughout this episode as MIGZEN. We have explored some of the major changes in migration governance from the end of free movement through to the introduction of humanitarian visas. And we've considered the significance of geopolitics as much as how the migration regime is experienced on the ground and within families. And we've looked at what this makes visible about the political and ideological project of post-Brexit Britain. And it's here where we are going to end the season, reflecting on how our understandings of Global Britain change if we shift towards thinking about borders as a site where the state exercise of control over mobility takes place, mobility controls used to produce the exploitable labour necessary for capitalist accumulation. And here's how we're going to do it. Elena explains the political trajectory of Global Britain from its emergence within foreign policy to its implications for migration governance, and she considers the coloniality that may be embedded within this. We hear more from Ida about racial capitalism, and its purchase to understanding migration and borders today, as well as the resistance of the migratized to the violence of these. And Nando and I talk about what a racial capitalism approach adds to understandings of the UK's new humanitarian visas, but also for thinking about the role of migration in making this new political project. But first, it's over to Elena to hear more about 'Global Britain'.


Elena Zambelli [EZ]: "Global Britain" is the term used by the UK Government to describe its ambitions and plans for its role on the world stage after Brexit.  It encompasses foreign policy, international relations—particularly in respect to trade and economics—and geopolitics. Its first uses can be traced back to former Prime Ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson, who led the country in the years following the 2016 EU referendum. ‘Britain is going to leave the European Union,’ May said, ‘But first, today, we’re going to talk about Global Britain, our ambitious vision for Britain after Brexit.’ The term signalled policymakers’ intention to use Brexit as a stepping stone to fulfil the vision of ‘taking back control’ and the accompanying imaginaries of national sovereignty. Plans for the implementation of this new vision ‘global’ vision first appeared in October 2021, nearly a year on from the end of the Brexit transition period. It was outlined in the policy paper ‘Global Britain in a competitive age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.’  In this document, Global Britain is described as ‘an active approach to […] sustaining the UK’s openness as a society and economy, a more robust position on security and deterrence […] a renewed commitment to [acting] as a force for good in the world – defending openness, democracy and human rights – and an increased determination to seek multilateral solutions to challenges like climate change and global health crises.’  While migration is often considered as a domestic affair, administered and governed by the Home Office, securing Britain’s borders and migration governance were front and centre in this document. Its location in foreign policy at this time is particularly telling and offers insights into the shape and contours of Britain after Brexit.  In the context of the ‘imperial nostalgia’ and desires for so-called Empire 2.0 that some scholars have argued characterised Brexit from the referendum onwards, is ‘Global Britain’ a new, post-Brexit invention and aspiration? Or does it rather evoke and hark back to Britain’s imperial past?  A focus on the foreign policy dimensions of migration governance offers insights into the relationship between Britain’s past and present embedded in this new vision.  The integrated review and its implementation through the UK’s border and migration policies are a starting point here. It states ambitions for a fully digital border regime – which, as we heard from Kuba Jablonowski in episode 6 raises important questions for migrants’ rights. It outlines the premise of the points-based immigration system, to allow the ‘brightest and the best’ to migrate to the UK, demonstrating that the UK is ‘open to the world’. But is also includes ambitions to further secure the borders, via increasing provisions for criminalising, detaining and deporting of those arriving in the UK via irregular means. These measures follow a longstanding trajectory—as we will hear from Ida shortly—of racialised controls over mobility in the service of capitalism and colonialism at their intersections.  And it lays the groundwork for the UK to broker its obligations vis-a-vis humanitarian protections via bespoke visa provisions. Measures presented by the Government as evidence of their world-leading practice and track record on human rights. Here the case of the Hong Kongers that we discussed in the last episode is particularly highlighted. The UK’s provisions are explained as evidence of how the British government steps in to support those whose basic freedoms are under threat. Here and elsewhere, the Hong Kong BN(O) visa is presented as fulfilling historical obligations.  Race, migration and diaspora scholars, among others, use the term ‘coloniality’ to describe such temporal and material entanglement of a country’s colonial past with and in the present. This entanglement finds expression in many unresolved inequalities within and across national borders in terms of access to economic wealth, welfare, mobility, and other. It also finds expression in the policies that former colonial powers, such as Britain, adopt to resuscitate or nurture their ‘special relationships’ with their colonies past and present. They also provide further evidence of a post-Brexit process of picking and choosing ‘good migrants’ for ‘Global Britain,’ extending a longer trajectory of sorting and ordering evoking colonial practices of racial distinction, of which we will talk more in-depth in today’s episode.


MB: The idea that Elena closes on of picking and choosing good migrants may seem common sense to you by now, especially if you have been listening to the podcast since we started, but what's the theory behind this? One way of thinking through this is racial capitalism. So it's over to Ida to hear more about this approach and what it offers for thinking about migration and borders.


ID: The concept of racial capitalism is most typically associated with Cedric Robinson's book from 1983. It's called Black Marxism and the Making of the Black Radical Tradition. But I think that's really important to point out that Robinson, of course, wasn't the first to write about this. And his work is in many ways very indebted to a wider tradition of black activist intellectuals that also includes people like WB Dubois, CLR James, Oliver Cromwell, Cox, Claudia Jones, Eric Williams, Walter Rodney and Lorraine Hansberry, right. These are people who've written quite extensively about the relationship between racism, colonialism, and capitalism. There's also very interestingly, a South African tradition of scholarship that includes anti-apartheid organisers and Black radicals like Neville Alexander, who were among the first people who actually used this term 'racial capitalism'. So the basic idea behind the concept is that the history of capitalism is not exclusively the story about exploitation of European male workers, right, which is what many Marxist scholars historically have maintained. But instead my suggestion is that capitalism has historically relied on a range of racialized and colonial regimes of exploitation, expropriation and extraction, right. So here we can think about things like indigenous dispossession, plantation slavery, militarised trading and indentured servitude. Of course, you know, in Marx, and in many Marxists work, there is a kind of recognition that colonialism was central to the rise of capitalist social relations. So Marx, for example, talks about this, through the terminology of primitive accumulation. But importantly, he thought of this as being something that was separate from the actual process of capital accumulation. I think Marx really understands capitalism as being a system that exclusively relies on the exploitation of wage labour. This is in contrast to scholars of racial capitalism, who instead suggest that so called extra economic measures, right, whether we're talking about colonial conquest or land expropriation or dispossession, or enslavement, these things have never just been confined to some kind of pre-capitalist era of primitive accumulation, right, but rather, racial and colonial violence have been and also they continue to remain core features of capitalism. So that's the kind of core premise of this concept of racial capitalism. So there are many things that are focused on racial capitalism. So here we can think, for example of the vagrancy legislation that was imposed on the European poor from the 14th century and onwards, which essentially criminalised free movement in order to create a disciplined and industrious workforce at the dawn of capitalism. Those people who refuse to settle down and take a wage labour could be tortured, they can be enslaved, branded with a V, and oftentimes, they're also imprisoned in workhouses, asylums, and then other cultural institutions, where they were trained to develop new attitudes towards work. These vagrancy laws were also quite prominently used across the settler colonies, oftentimes to coerce indigenous populations into work. And they also formed a foundation of the slave codes across the Caribbean and the Americas, which, in many ways continued to tie black people to the plantations even after the abolition of slavery. Alongside this loss, a number of other mobility controls were also used by states to dispossess, and to coerce the enslaved, the colonised and the poor into work. So here we can think of enslavement, you can think of forced migration, contracts of indenture, penal transportation and the encomienda system. We might not recognise these things as actually being mobility restrictions, but that's partly what they were. The basic point here is that the history of racial capitalism in many ways is a history of a series of unequal and racialized regimes of mobility, whether through vagrancy legislation or schemes of indenture or contemporary immigration restrictions, racialized control of movement has been used to ensure a steady supply of cheap, disposable, and super exploitable labour, right. This is also very importantly true today, as many migration scholars have argued, today's global border regime creates an underclass of undocumented people that lack access to benefits, to labour protections, and civil and social rights. There's a, basically by forcing people to live and to work as so-called 'illegal migrants', borders create a precarious, a vulnerable and a super exploitable workforce, which is central to the functioning of many sectors across the world today, whether it's in the agricultural sector, think here, for example, of the many migrants that pick oranges and tomatoes and other produce in southern Europe, we can also think of the care sector, we can think of domestic work, people that are employed in shipping and other types of logistics. We can think of construction workers across the Gulf States, or, of course, the gig and the platform economy right here in the UK, which predominantly relies on migrant and other racially minoritized workers. Again, the point here is that this is in and of itself, nothing that is new, but it should rather be seen as the latest iteration of a racialized practice of controlling mobility, which has for a very long time been central to racial capitalism. So that's the first thing that I think really comes out of an analysis that centres around racial capitalism. I think the second one, which we should also be mindful of, is that this history also unravels the close link between borders and policing. So in essence, right, the history of mobility control is here revealed to us in part also being history of criminalization. As I appreciate that, oftentimes, we're used to thinking of criminal justice and migration control as being two separate systems that both have their own distinct objects: one supposedly corresponds to international law, and the other one is about the domestic. But in reality, policing and bordering emerge as entwined projects of governance, under the same system of racial capitalism. State institutions that were designed to combat vagrancy, for example, often pioneered the use of incarceration long before the birth of the actual prison. And equally the transportation of convicts to colonies around the world frequently served as a form of punishment. The point is that policing and bordering, or incarceration and deportation were historically not that easy to kind of disentangle and to separate, since they actually emerged together as key mechanisms through which states would attempt to control, coerce and dispossess those that were deemed to be disorderly and undeserving. As Angela Davis and Gina Dent quite cleverly have put it, the prison has in fact always been a border, and the border has been a prison. Very importantly, one thing that really comes out and focus on racial capitalism is the ways in which it really forces us to think differently about questions of migrant justice. So often in the media, but also in the academic literature, right, the violence of migration control is often discussed as something that could be resolved through a kind of stricter adherence to human rights and by the adoption of more humane and compassionate immigration policies. But the problem with these approaches is that they so frequently, they take it for granted that migrant and refugee are somehow timeless and unnatural categories when in reality, they mean a very specific relation of difference and hierarchy that has been imposed by the state. So we see this for example in debates about human smuggling and trafficking where state intervention might be through harsher laws or more punitive forms of border policing, oftentimes are framed as being a kind of solution to migrant deaths. But in reality, right, migrants are forced to undertake these extremely dangerous journeys, precisely because states deny them the possibility to travel in safe ways. And so, an analysis that really starts from the history of racial capitalism depends upon these types of mobility control, it really pushes us to think of state violence as being the source of the problem. From this perspective, what is needed is not just the reform of repressive border policies, or the creation of a more humane system of migration management, but rather, what we should be thinking about is really the abolition of the apartheid-like global border regime, together with the state violence that is necessary to ensure it. And so I really want to underline that this is both, of course, a destructive project, tearing down state institutions and rejecting things like immigration control, detention centres, mass deportation, and other types of state violence, which seek to police mobility, but at the same time, this is also very much an affirmative project of foregrounding other ways of being and belonging in the world, beyond racial capitalism, and its violent types of order. In my own work, I really think about this through Cedric Robinson's notion of anti-politics, but we can find similar ideas in the indigenous concept of 'grounded normativity', or in the decolonial emphasis on delinking and critical border thinking. Across all of these traditions, there's an insistence on nurturing care, relationality and belonging otherwise, beyond the terms laid down by the capitalist, and the border regime. So this is basically a project of creatively building the world anew. Historically, this project has, of course, been led by the displaced and the dispossessed themselves, right, including by so-called vagrants, by fugitives, and migrant workers. And that is obviously true today, as well. As in my book, I look at a range of movements and collectives that are doing this important work. So I think, for example, with Gilets Noirs in Paris, I look at Migrante in Berlin, and I also think about the Anti Raids Network in the UK. One of the things that's really interesting about many of these groups, is that they directly challenge the neocolonial forces of plunder and war, that drive migration and that compel people to leave their homes in the first place. Border abolition here emerges as a project that demands an end to the racialized policing of mobility, as well as the abolition of land grabbing, resource extraction, structural adjustment programmes, austerity, militarism, and other forms of dispossession and expropriation that actually drive mass displacement. Ultimately, for me, in thinking of these movements, and in the context of historical and contemporary racial capitalism, it becomes possible to see the struggle for migrant justice as being part of a much bigger project of liberation and world-making, which is characterised among other things by the freedom to leave and the freedom to stay, and by the horizon of having a world, of having a home in a world without enclosed borders.


MB: You're listening to Who do we think we are? Presents ‘Global Britain,’ a podcast all about migration and citizenship in the UK after Brexit, hosted by me, Michaela Benson and my co-host Nando Sigona. If you like what you've heard, follow and rate us on your preferred podcast platform. This means that you'll be the first to hear when our episodes drop, and it also helps more people to discover the podcast. What I really found interesting about Ida's contribution was this focus on racial capitalism, which of course is the approach that she adopts there to make sense of borders as state violence. And from that, her extrapolation for us to think differently about migrant justice. And I think what this really adds is thinking about a longer trajectory on controls of movement, as we also find in the work of people like Nandita Sharma, or Radhika Mongia. An approach like this allows us to go back further in time and to see connections with other controls on mobility. So I really appreciate that kind of historical positioning, I suppose, of controls on mobility and drawing out those kinds of connections. And it really helps us I think, to see how the dispossession and expropriation that we might understand in previous periods of history, connect with questions about who moves where, and on what terms today. But what about you, Nando?


NS: I think what really made me think listening to Ida's discussion about racial capitalism was this idea of thinking of regimes of mobility in plural, and the way that different forms of control and regulation of movement of different groups and communities of racialized, minoritized communities interact into producing and supporting and sustaining specific mechanism of power relations and exploitation, extractions. So the point here is to try to understand then, in what ways those regimes of mobility change over time, and in what ways in their interaction, they produce specific effects, and also, more importantly, I think, always try to find the space where we can, how can we think, at social change? How can we think of solidarities within this sort of understanding.


MB: I think that's really important is, but that idea of these kind of multiple regimes of mobility. And the points at which racialization, or particular groups become racialized within that is kind of quite important, because it leaves us with an understanding not of a kind of a stable hierarchy that carries on through history, but rather, this idea instead of these resonances, I suppose, where some groups are more likely to be racialized within that regime, within that hierarchy than others are. And I think we've seen some really interesting things, particularly post Brexit in that project of Global Britain that Elena described to us so clearly, that are worth teasing out a little bit, haven't we?


NS: Yes, definitely. And what we also saw is that there is, it's not just about exploiting and, and sort of constructing precarious and vulnerable migrants that can be sort of fit within the economy, it is also creating reliable workers, reliable in a sense for in terms of supporting and sustaining the logics of the status quo. So it's really important to think about the system that regulates their mobility, and their settlement in Britain, not just in terms of putting them, constructing them as exploitable migrants, but also in the sense of creating hierarchies within the migrant population within the societies where they sit. So they are basically in a way connecting to the history of the colonial histories, they are constructed almost as the good migrants and the good workers for Britain, as we have written in the past. So it's about to understand this regime of mobility as producing the social hierarchies that then enable the country to function.


MB: I mean, I think it's really interesting. I was just thinking and I'm just gonna throw this in. This is one of the things about that post-Brexit migration regime, one of the ways in which it's sold is around creating a level playing field. Okay, so this idea that, that anyone, irrespective of their nationality has a right to apply to move to the UK, I suppose very, very broadly. But it is that hierarchisation seems utterly inescapable. And we're seeing it play out in such clear ways in those post Brexit developments. So I think, you know, it's a kind of a just a reflection that I thought was worth just bringing in.


NS: Yes, I mean, it's not just in terms of as you say, not the new sort of fairer system as Priti Patel first and then Suella Braverman have been talking about, so this new system as 'don't discriminate in favour of anyone', but label everyone who fits the criteria to arrive, is producing inequalities is producing hierarchies nonetheless, despite that, sort of the way they're framing it. It's also interesting to see because in the schemes and the visa system that is in place, produce through the different criteria for eligibility, regulation, cost, create the people that migrants that come in specific position within societies. And we've seen for the Hong Kongers, or the Ukrainians how, despite we use the term 'humanitarian protections', to define both schemes, they are actually very different in many ways.


MB: Definitely. And I mean, I think it's worth just just going into that here just for the purposes of those who may not have listened to our previous episode, but also for thinking about how we tie those things to these understandings that we get from a racial capitalism approach. So when we're thinking about the Hong Kongers, and we're thinking about that, that special visa that's been that was launched in 2021, probably for those that you've listened to before, this is, you know, this is well known now, because I've spoken about it so many times. But when we start to understand those that argument around racial capitalism, we see how this population has basically been moved around in that hierarchy. In 1962 they get told, okay, you're citizens, but you are not allowed in, you know, you have to have a work permit to come here and work. And then 2021, they're told, well, actually, we're gonna give you a special route, where you can come to the UK and and it's sold very specifically to the British public, by politicians in their rhetoric and discourse as fulfilling a historic obligation to people who were formerly colonial citizens. Now on the surface, that sounds pretty generous. But when you recognise that backstory too, you start to realise how actually these people have been moved around in that system. And you might ask the question of, well is it so generous for a population who formerly had free movement within the British Empire, until 1962, to suddenly be told, well, you can come, and you can come on these special terms. So I think that on one level, when we open that up a little bit, particularly through a lens of coloniality, that's what we open up to view. But when we start to think about this also, in terms of a racial capitalism approach, we might want to ask the question about how this then repositions them in that hierarchy of people who are undoubtedly migratized. And it might also help us to think about how they're positioned in a hierarchy around labour, for example, in a context after Brexit, where we're struggling with labour market shortages.


NS: I mean, it's important actually, that the coloniality lens in a way also bring back another perspective. And this is the idea that we didn't, for example, the space of the British colonial empire, the mobility, sometimes even forced mobility of colonial subjects was very much used as a way of managing and sustaining the colonial and imperial project itself. You know, we remember, you know, I often tell my students well, it is not just by chance that parents of Rishi Sunak, or Suella Braverman or Priti Patel, all came from Africa, despite the fact that they have origin in Indian subcontinent, you know, they are the product itself of the mobilities of the Empire, they were serving in different ways and different roles in the hierarchy of the Empire, which was also based on the fact that people from India were assumed to have, to be better bureaucrats, to be better civil servants than the African subjects of the empire. And so it's quite interesting to see again, how within the regulation that are constructed through the immigration regime today, there are groups that are privileged over others. Some people will say that Europeans up until Brexit were put in a position of privilege as a result of the freedom movement, and there are different political reasons why that's the case. And now we see a shift after Brexit towards other nationalities.


MB: I think that's a really good point, Nando, and unfortunately, well, fortunately, unfortunately, that's a history that I share with our, with our politicians, because indeed, my ancestors in Hong Kong were from the Indian subcontinent. And they were administrators. And I mean, that's what it says on the available birth certificate. So the men in that family were administrators. So you can see how that played out in that particular colonial setting as well. But I suppose what becomes more complicated to explain, for me anyway, has been how we think about the Ukrainian schemes in this context.


NS: The Ukrainian scheme is presented as a humanitarian scheme, with - obviously we wrote a report that was published recently, and it's available on the MIGZEN website, where we explain the peculiarities and eligibility criteria that supported this specific visa scheme. In terms of when it was set up was launched soon after the beginning of the war on Ukraine, the Russian invasion, and as a response to the needs to provide support and accommodation for Ukrainians that were forced to flee their countries. The point here is that the creation of humanitarian scheme is very important. In a sense, it also is a way not just to help the people that flee from war, but also in, in a sense of positioning the United Kingdom and the European partners as sort of vis-a-vis the enemy, the Russian in this case. So in the sense of we support the refugees of those who have been forced to leave as a result of the war, in a sense, try to build on this some kind of moral high ground vis-a-vis in the context of the conflict, but also position, the UK as a kind of privileged partner of Ukraine, I mean, this is something that also emerged very clearly in interviews we did with the Ukrainians in Britain, where they were referring for example to the role that Boris Johnson and the British government plays at the beginning, the closeness between the British and the Ukrainians at the beginning of the war. So the support for the refugees is part of a bigger picture here, as well. It's a way of understanding also how Britain intend to try to position itself within Europe in relation to the EU, in particular, and but also within, in the world.


MB: I think what's interesting here as well, though, when we're thinking about the Ukraine visa schemes, is if we're going to think about that longer history, and we're going to think about kind of racial capitalism is to do some careful tracing of where the Ukrainians have been positioned historically, particularly within the European labour markets, where quite often they have been a reserve army of labour. You know, I mean, this is this is my very, not almost on the back of an envelope evaluation, but one that probably deserves a little bit more attention, which is, of course, in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, when the UK set up their European Voluntary Workers scheme, they sent officials and agents around the refugee camps of Europe, around the displaced people of Europe. And really, they brought a very large number of Ukrainians to the UK through that scheme. And the role of those people was essentially to undertake labour in areas where there were shortages, because of the issues around labour postwar. And those tend to be in what the government will probably now refer to as low-skilled professions, manual labour, those kinds of things. And that history is not restricted to the UK either. Just one example of how a community, a country, a population, on the peripheries of Europe, became, became a source of cheap labour in the immediate aftermath of that, and I know that this is framed as a humanitarian scheme. But I do think that we also have to think about what labour opportunities have been available to people who've come to the UK through those schemes, and repeatedly, work with both the Hong Kongers and the Ukrainians who are here on humanitarian protections, has highlighted that these people are often working in areas of the labour market that they don't apparently need skills for, but also which are far below their qualification level. And I think that, you know, obviously, I'm very well aware that this is a broader conversation around the deskilling of people who are migratized when they come into a country, but I think that that's worth reflecting on in respect to thinking about racial capitalism as well.


NS: One other way of looking at this is also that while these are presented as humanitarian schemes, the right to work is part of both of them from the beginning. You know, just imagine it just to compare what happened for example with asylum seekers in Britain. There has been a long-standing debate that's going on for years about granting the rights to work for asylum seekers and the government continued to refuse it even if you had a point in which there were a large majority of the applicants who will then get refugee status and they will try and struggle to enter the labour market. In this case instead we have two humanitarian scheme which are very different because one is a pathway towards long term settlement, the other one is just temporary, in which access to the work and to labour market is actually embedded in the scheme from the very beginning. And this is also where it can help us to understand, a look at the schemes within the bigger picture is also important. Because if you look at the data, for example, on long term migration trends, since Brexit for example, you will see that as we have discussed other times, that the Europeans that were feeling a lot of the sector of the labour markets in the particularly in the low skilled sector, but also the middle range ones, have disappeared from the from the British labour market, especially in terms of the newcomers. And so this new new arrivals that came through the humanitarian schemes, it also added, in a sense, are important to fill those gaps.


MB: Definitely. And I think that even that kind of Right to Work starts to show us something about that post Brexit migration regime, doesn't it? And it's not peculiar to that post Brexit migration regime. But it's an important thing to highlight, which is what we're seeing, even in respect to these humanitarian visas is a significant stratification of rights for those who are in the UK, with some form of visa or some form of legal status around that. And I think for me, what it really highlights is, as they, as the government have kind of been like sorting out who they're gonna give what to in terms of rights, you start to see a little bit of a reshuffling of that racialized hierarchy managed through the migration regime as a form of control of mobility. So if we understand coloniality, for example, in a very basic sense of, you know, imperial logics, were all around sorting and classifying populations, you start to see how the regime at large is thoroughly embedded with these colonial logics.


NS: Yeah, I think one element that is important in this emerging migration regime that we're seeing in the post Brexit period, is the extent to which the right to stay in the country is closely aligned with the needs of the labour market, but also the system of sponsorship, sponsorship that applies not just to the migrant workers sort of in the strict sense, but also, for example, to in the case of the humanitarian visa for the Ukrainians, you know, they come through a sponsorship system through community or private sponsorship. So subjects, it makes very much a migrant worker that is here just to fill a gap in the in the labour market, and not necessarily at the bottom of the labour market, but still is constructing the subjectivity is as closely dependent on the needs of the labour market. No? It is actually the opposite that, in a sense, was constructed through the EU freedom of movement, in his later incarnation, the idea that EU citizens have the freedom to settle and live in other European Member States as citizen rather than just as migrant workers.


MB: Yeah, that's a really interesting reflection, I think, especially that comparison between what's going on now and what the freedom of movement regime looked like in respect to thinking about labour markets and the organisation of the labour market in respect to those. But I wonder about the longer history there as well, because I think that we can get stuck in the presence a little bit, can't we.


NS: So, what we've seen by looking through a kind of racial capitalism lens, but also through the lens of coloniality that we mentioned before, is that immigration controls, different forms of regimes of mobility, produce the stratification within society, but also, they create specific niche and separation and create basically, different groups as specialised within the labour market, what I mean is, but also they put themselves within a spectrums of freedom of movement, in a kind of a broader sense. The idea is that not everyone has the same rights and entitlement, not everyone has the same ways of making right claims or possibility, or their condition for staying may be more or less restricted or short in terms of time. So this system of stratification makes, creates a very complex condition for example, the creation of opportunities for building alliances, to build campaigns to, to, to advocate for the rights of migrants, because basically is producing a kind of an atomization of positions within society, of the membership within society. And this is something that we have seen also, historically, in many ways. If you go back to the history of that regime of mobility within the British Empire at different stages, you will see how forced movement groups or the slavery or the forced mobility of groups from one area to another was constructed, often strategically as well, not just have a way of exploiting and extracting, but was also a way of divide and rule, so as a political tool in managing the colonial project itself.


MB: I think that's really important. And I'm kind of asking myself in my head and have been since we started this discussion today about whether we just need to shift towards thinking about, you know, borders working as controls over mobility and the exercise of state power through those in that way rather than actually taking the rather more sanitised approach to thinking about migration, which of course has a particular contemporary resonance. And I'm thinking also of work by Satnam Virdee on those processes of dividing and rule in Jamestown, for example, where he's plotted out quite carefully how different people, differently positioned in terms of the type of labour they were expected to provide, were given different sets of rights and also different privileges as well as part of that. I think this lens is really helpful for thinking about global Britain, which is what we've been trying to do over the course of the season, because it helps us to see that there's nothing particularly new about the global in some respects, although it has a perhaps quite contemporary iteration, I would say. And through our project, which has been looking at Rebordering Britain and Britain after Brexit, the way that we framed it over the course of the project, the redesigns that we've had to do, the turns that we've had to take to reflect those changes in the mobility regime has really started to draw out some of those contours. And we've been able to see first-hand the racialization that is built into that system, and the colonial entanglements that are front and centre within it. What do you think? Nando?


NS: Yeah, I think when we started, we were very much focusing on understanding how Brexit had changed migration and the migration regime. But in a way, what really changed migration, the migration regime and the politics of migration is not Brexit itself, Brexit in a way is a rupture is a moment in which there has been a shift a shift in the, in the hegemonic project of the British establishment in a way, a re-directioning, a rejection of the previous ideological project of Britain as part of the European Union. And then what emerged from this Global Britain project that we have been discussing over the course of these 10 episodes in a way gave us a framework within which to understand how migration, what role migration can play or in what way migration and migration governance is used to, to create this Global Britain and but also in which way this ideological project of Global Britain directs the way that the country use migration or use migration in this process. For example, we talked about the visa liberalisation vis-a-vis some countries to which we would like to have trade deals with or closure vis-a-vis others. We talked about immigration enforcement and deportation on the other end, as well, how they're changing in response to the current sort of vision for this country. And this is where the fact that we have managed to work with different communities, from the Europeans in Britain, to the British in Europe, to the humanitarian visa holders, from Hong Kong to the Ukrainians, it helps us really to see the different ways in which this Global Britain project is affecting and constructing specific migrants subjectivities in, in Britain since Brexit.


MB: I think for me, the other thing about the project that helps to open up some of this to view is in how we approached thinking about, you know, as you've already described, thinking about Brexit as a rupture. But we went beyond looking at the implications of Brexit for British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. And we looked very carefully at what had happened to the overall flows in terms of migration. And that then became a route in to thinking about what was going on. And for me, that really helped us to think through the ramifications of that rupture for the migration regime, but also what it means for how we approach thinking about migration to and from the UK after Brexit. And I think this is really important. And it goes back to that very early paper that we wrote in the project, the four of us, you, me, Elena and Catherine, where we kind of reviewed the state of the art in research on Brexit and migration. And the way that that was framed at the time, or the way the field was emerging at the time, really did stay in its silos. So it stayed in the silos of EU free movers, who were losing their rights, who were losing their sense of settlement and belonging and identity in a lot of cases, or were unsettled by that process, versus a body of work that was still ongoing, where people were documenting the so called hostile environment and bordering and its impact on migratized populations or particular populations disproportionately within that, and I think that taking the view that we've been able to do through the project has really helped to break down some of those silos and to start to see some of the connections between them. And to draw out those kinds of hierarchies a little bit more and the reshuffling of those hierarchies around questions of race. And around, although we haven't done it as explicitly yet, as we may do around questions of class as well, which I think's really important for making sense of this as a process, which is deeply informed by racial capitalism, and by coloniality in lots of ways. So I think those are my kind of closing comments on migration and the making of Global Britain, which, of course, is the title of our episode today. For any final final thoughts, Nando.


NS: I think that this the podcast itself has been an a very interesting process of knowledge production around migration, Brexit, the meaning of Global Britain and the way Global Britain has reshaped migration to this country, for also building on our own experiences and experiences of the many people we spoke to, we surveyed over the course of the last three years and has really very much opened new directions for research that we will pursue in the future.


MB: Definitely. And just a final shout out to those of you listening out there to say thank you very much for sticking with us over the course of the season. At some stage in the future, I think we'll be back with a fourth season. Not quite sure when but just watch this space. Thanks for listening.


NS: Thank you.


MB: Thanks for listening to this episode of Who do we think we are? It's then the final episode in our season co-produced and co-presented by me and Nando Sigona, where we focused on Global Britain. The season has been produced as part of the research project ‘Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit’, and that's funded through the Economic and Social Research Council via their Governance after Brexit initiative. You can find out more about the project at That's A special thanks to our guest on this episode, Ida Danewid and to Emma Holton at Brilliant Audio for her production and post-production support. Also, we'd like to shout out to George Kalivis for the cover art and social media assets, and to Catherine Craven and Elena Zambelli for their research support over the course of the season. You can check out our show notes for further resources and transcripts at And if you like what you've heard, please do take a moment to follow and rate us on your preferred podcast platform or reach out to us. But that's all for now. Keep an eye on our social media channel to find out when we'll be back.

What’s the significance of migration for the making of ‘Global Britain’? And what are the theoretical and conceptual tools that can help to unpack this question?

In this episode, we turn our attention to the value of racial capitalism for understanding migration to and from the UK after Brexit. Elena Zambelli explains what we mean when we talk about ‘Global Britain,’ its political trajectory, and the role of coloniality within it. Ida Danewid, Lecturer in Gender and Global Political Economy at the University of Sussex joins us to offer insights into the relationship between racial capitalism, migration and borders. As she highlights, mobility controls produce the exploitable labour force necessary for capitalist accumulation and how those migrantized resist state violence. And co-hosts Nando Sigona and Michaela Benson consider what a racial capitalism lens adds to understandings of the UK's new suite of humanitarian visas, and more broadly to the role of migration in the making of Global Britain. 

You can access the full transcripts for the episode, further resources and active listening questions over on our website: Who do we think we are? 

In this episode we cover …

  • Global Britain
  • Racial capitalism
  • The coloniality of migration and citizenship

Active listening questions

  • What is racial capitalism?
  • What does a lens onto racial capitalism reveal about the work of borders and migration controls?
  • Does racial capitalism change your understanding of UK’s migration regime after Brexit? In what ways?

Find more about …

What’s the expansion of Europe’s border regime got to do with the migrant ‘crisis’ in this article by Ida Danewid and in her book Resisting Racial Capitalism

The role of geopolitical considerations in shaping hierarchies of migrants’ un/deservingness in today’s Britain in this blog by Nando and Michaela

And for more on Racial Capitalism, visit the Global Social Theory website.

Our podcast picks …

De Verbranders, a podcast all about Europe’s borders and resistance to them

This episode of Eisa podcast featuring Ida

Migrations: a world on the move, and in particular their episode on global racial justice

How to cite this episode:

Benson, M., Sigona, N., Danewid, I. and Zambelli, E. (2024) Who do we think we are? Presents ‘Global Britain’. S3 E10 Migration and the making of Global Britain [Podcast] 14 March 2024. Available at: (Accessed: add date here)

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