Immigration and Brexit: should we be making room or closing our borders?

Immigration and Brexit: should we be making room or closing our borders?


This blog isn’t one sentence old, and yet I already I feel like I owe an apology.

Why? Well, because I have resurfaced a sorry image to accompany this blog that, for me anyway, represented an historic moral low-point in British political campaigning. Its ethically-absent self was first presented to the public on the 16th of June 2016 (not on the side of a bus on this occasion) – just six days before the momentous EU referendum was due to take place.

In my defence, I’ve chosen it for a reason. It powerfully encapsulates what many commentators believe to be the crux of why so many Britons exercised their democratic right in voting to leave the European Union: concerns about unrestricted immigration (which is a polite way of expressing it).

Our educational sessions equally echo this conclusion as it transpires immigration is central to the young people we meet, both in their analysis of the Brexit vote and when discussing the respective merits / faults of our post-Brexit future. Therefore, it’s the focus of today’s blog.

Courage, everyone. This isn’t an easy one.

Context

Our opposing further reading is probably a good place to start. It helps to inform deeper analysis.

Suffice to say however, that in the years leading up to the EU referendum, the latter of our two articles was closer to the pulse-of-the-nation. Sensationalist headlines focusing on ‘benefit tourism’, ‘NHS burdens’, ‘crime explosion’, and ‘British jobs for Britons only’ were commonplace. But were they / are they sincere? And, to what extent will departure from the EU allow greater scope for tackling potential migration concerns?

Clarity

Everyone knows that raw data can be moulded and shaped like clay on a potter’s wheel to reveal whatever the potter desires, however if we keep it simple there’s truth to be found. Let’s run to statistical objectivity thanks to the frisky number-crunchers at the Office for National Statistics and their quarterly report. The graph below is the most recent data available showing migration up to March 2017. What does it show?

  •  Net migration is consistently (and sometimes staggeringly) higher for non-EU nationals than it is for EU nationals.
  • Up until 2005, net migration of EU nationals was fairly negligible and couldn’t have contributed significantly to population concerns.
  • Currently, there is a notable dip in migration of EU nationals post the EU referendum.
  • The ONS also state here that of the 230,000 EU nationals to arrive in the year ending March 2017, 146,000 have already secured employment upon arrival or are studying in the U.K. This equates to 63% of total arrivals.
  • The clear majority of those arriving to work are doing so in areas of ‘skilled employment’. Home Office immigration statistics that address sectors of work can be found here.

 

Breathe. What all those raw figures mean however is very much up to you and likely to reinforce whatever political subscription you already possess (it certainly does with the political elite). That being said, I do believe there is value in tackling misconceptions were they so self-evidently lie; this is abundantly clear in the case of ‘benefit tourism’, the fear that EU migration leads to hordes of idle, exploitative Europeans arriving to clog up your G.P waiting room with strange languages. This simply isn’t true. Furthermore, that for every job taken by a migration (not specific to EU migration) means a British citizen misses out; this is labelled the ‘fixed job fallacy’, the idea that there are only ever a certain number of potential jobs available and that migration occupies rather than creates jobs. Also, not true.

Conclusion

Well, analysis aside, we are where we are. So, what will post-Brexit EU migration look like?

Again, that depends (which is rapidly becoming my favourite thing to say). If during the Brexit negotiations, access to European markets mean an irrepressible link to the right of EU countries to work in the U.K, it is feasible that the British government may agree to those terms. Equally feasible however, through negotiation, is that trade and customs agreements are forged that don’t stipulate an open labour market.

It would appear that the balance rests in whether the government believes that migration is a positive or negative force. Which is interesting, because whilst successive governments have promised to slash the numbers of immigration to the U.K, very little substantive legislation has been passed to this effect. In fact, immigration targets have been consistently and wildly missed year on year. Maybe this discretely nods towards an area that popular opinion differs from Britain’s best interests.

I promise the next one will be far more succinct, involve less maths and more potential band names.

Finally, in other Brexit news, whilst my colleague and I have been secretly planning a Brexit-themed comedy double-act in darkened pub rooms, it appears we have been beaten to the punch. Read here for a catalogue of the best Brexit orientated jokes from this year’s Edinburgh fringe. 

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