Thursday, 9 June 2016

#EUref - The Immigration Question

There is no doubt that Immigration and its control is a major issue for the UK:
  • The extra people are putting enormous strain on the UK's infrastructure and public services.  Schools, NHS, and especially housing.  There are many others.
  • Immigrants are taking jobs from manual workers, and under-cutting self-employed tradesmen, potentially putting them out of business.
  • Immigrants bring in different cultures that tend to congregate in ghettoes, just like Brit Expats do abroad. Immigrants can bring different attitudes, especially to women, which have long been left behind in UK culture. We don't want any of that. (I'd distinguish here "culturalism" from "racism".  I have nothing against people from any race who embrace British values and way of life.)
So is Brexit the answer?

The Benefits of Immigration

Conversely, immigration gives a number of benefits to the UK:
  • The diversity of cuisine and other cultural delights are largely a result of immigration.
  • Poeple who have travelled hundreds or thousands of miles tend to be more ambitious than those that stay put.  Immigrants are prepared to do the more menial jobs, and are often harder-working than the indigenous population.  As a result large employers, including the NHS, are keen to continue to benefit from keeping the current rules on immigration.
  • Would the catering trade collapse without a steady stream of young immigrants to cook and serve? You go to any restaurant or hotel and ask the staff where they come from. You'll likely find more than 50% are young and from abroad.
  • A larger working population boosts the economy.  That means more tax receipts, which are reckoned to be several times the net cost of EU membership.
  • A larger economy also means that the UK's total borrowings as a percentage of GDP naturally falls, even if running a small annual deficit with borrowings continuing to grow. (This was the underlying principle of Gordon Brown's chancellorship - grow the economy faster and the Government can spend more, as Borrowings as a % of GDP needn't increase.)
  • Conversely a small contraction in the economy due to stopping immigration could push the UK into recession, when there are so many other negative pressures. We wouldn't want that.
To be fair, many Brexiteers aren't saying stop immigration. They want control of the borders, such as adopting an Australian-style points system as to who to allow in.  That's not unreasonable. But is it desirable?  

The Advantages of Free Movement of People

People from elsewhere in the EU are free to live, work and retire in the UK under the principle of "Free Movement of People" (FMOP).

That has applied for decades within the UK. It means that if the work is in the Midlands, the North or the SouthEast, people can move from elsewhere to support and drive that success.  It's a form of intra-UK immigration that puts the same sort of strains on the local infrastructure of the booming areas.  Yet nobody to my knowledge has suggested putting any constraints on free movement within the UK. Have they?

The European picture is just the same, but on a larger geographical scale. Good on those who move to the UK to seek better pay (as many Brits have done abroad over the years).

And good luck to the British expats who have decided to settle on the Costa Brava and such places rather than Bournemouth. Actually they'll need good luck. It sounds like they would be able to stay there after Brexit. But if Brits in future cannot move freely to Spain, for example, who will current residents (or their executors) sell their homes to? Certainly demand will be lower, and other nationalities may not take up the slack without a significant fall in those property prices. Bad news for expats and their offspring.

Which leads on to a key point.  If the UK were to impose strict immigration controls on other EU nationals wishing to come into the UK, then the only expectation would be this would be reciprocated.  Brits would no longer be able to freely, work, live, travel or retire elsewhere in the EU. Is that what you want?

Existing air travel freedoms may well continue after Brexit, but will the routes continue to be commercially viable if people can't so easily travel? I foresee a shrinkage of routes and freedoms that those bring.

The Nub Of The Problem

The key is that immigration itself is not the problem, but that immigration is currently well in excess of emigration.  The relative strength of the British economy is not only attracting immigrants, but encouraging Brits to stay, especially young Brits who might have sought their fortune abroad.

The issue is therefore how to better control "Net Immigration".

The recent re-negotiation with the EU, led by David Cameron, didn't get very far on the subject. Restricting benefits isn't a major limiter when people are coming to the UK for jobs not benefits. Though the removal of a safety net may deter some. It's a start.

Some further solution  is needed.  Perhaps an extention of the application of the "Emergency Brake" principle, whereby any EU country can limit immigration in some way if net immigration gets too high. After all, the number of EU nationals who want to come into the UK will far exceed those Brits wishing to move around the UK.

What Would Be the Effect of Brexit?

As discussed here, there are two fundamental forms of Brexit:
  1. Full Exit demanded by Europhobes. This would dispense with FMOP but leave the UK without a free trade deal with the EU in the short term. Economic madness.
  2. A quick move into the European Economic Area (EEA) like Norway, suggested by the Europhobe-Lites. Free trade would continue but almost certainly with the continuation of FMOP, at least for workers. The freedom for Brits to move freely around the EU would probably mirror any restrictions placed on EU nationals into the UK. Probably not good news.
The unwelcome economic consequences of leaving the free market mean that any sensible UK government, of whatever hue, would have to adopt the EEA route after Brexit. That would almost certainly mean no change to FMOP, and therefore no additional control over immigration from the EU. The recent re-negotiations have suggested FMOP is sacrosanct in the European free market. Until and if the EEA indicate that FMOP might be negotiable, we have to assume FMOP isn't negotiable. Anything else is wishful thinking.

So it looks like Brexit will mean no change to FMOP. Immigration is therefore a Red Herring, as discussed further here..

What Other Answer to the Immigration Problem?

I don't suggest any restrictions on Brits moving around the UK.  But the sheer numbers of other EU nationals who may come to the UK mean that some control on their movement is necessary.

There needs to be something put in place, perhaps an effective "Emergency Brake", that limits immigration from the EU whilst not affecting the ability of Brits to move around the EU. This was indicated as a possible concession during the recent re-negotiations.

The UK has the advantage that it is outside the "Schengen area", and maintains passport control at its air and sea borders (though not the UK/Eire land border any longer). Passport control can be used to exercise immigration control.

I asked at the start whether Brexit is the answer?

I don't see Brexit as the means to achieve any further immigration control, as explained above. I believe we need to Remain in the EU to negotiate better controls but also for many other reasons. A solution needs to be found as an EU member, perhaps as a reward for staying in rather than threatening exit, given the EU has indicated a further concession on FMOP is possible.

We can but hope. It's over to the post-referendum UK Government to negotiate it.


  1. Balanced and interesting article, the constant parallels drawn to Australia by Leave are fascinating. Having lived in Sydney, it's the most multi-cultural, vibrant city imaginable. Melbourne too. Perhaps not what many Leavers are imagining?

  2. Here's a view on Immigration by someone advocating #Remain to join the EEA under EFTA: