Migration: Time to tear up Leave’s last card

Nigel Farage told the TV debate audience on Tuesday that, under his proposed immigration points system, more black people would be allowed into Britain. The following morning, when grilled by Piers Morgan, he said:

What I would like is us to return to post-war normality. For about 60 years, we had net migration into Britain between 30,000 and 50,000 people a year.

Now there could be a bit of a problem with this. It depends on how you define black but I’m guessing most of the people from sub-Saharan Africa would fall into that category. Last year, net migration from that region was 21,000. Allow for people coming from the Carribean and you’d already be around half way to Nigel’s target. If he’s said that more black people are going to come in, that doesn’t leave much room for anyone else.

Meanwhile Priti Patel has been promising Asian voters that, after Brexit, more people from India and Pakistan will be allowed in, thereby solving the curry crisis. That’s going to be even more tricky, though, because net migration from the Indian subcontinent was 35,000 last year. The only way both promises could be kept, while staying within Nigel’s target, would be to completely exclude anyone else. Australians, Americans, Europeans, Chinese? Sorry, no room!

It’s all very silly. A cursory glance at the immigration figures shows that these claims are incompatible. This is what comes from telling different groups of voters different stories about immigration. The wonderfully vague promise that Brexit means ‘controlling our borders’ works like Zac Goldsmith’s election leaflets; one group of voters is encouraged to believe it will make it easier for their relatives to come to the UK, while another is persuaded that it will roll migration figures back by two decades.

The claim that the UK doesn’t control its borders is also absurd. Last year, over 2,000 EU citizens were refused admission, along with 15,000 from outside the EU. That’s why there are thousands of people camping in France trying to get to the UK. If we didn’t control our borders, they would be over here.

But what the Leave campaigners mean is that, because of our EU treaty obligations, we are obliged to let EU citizens into the UK unless there is a very good reason, usually based on national security, to bar them. It is true that the UK government can’t put a limit on the number of EU migrants.  The trouble with this argument, though, is that the UK government hasn’t even been able to limit immigration in the categories which are under its direct control.

It said it wanted to reduce net migration to under 100,000 but net migration from outside the EU is still double that. Or, to put it another way, Even if there had been no migration at all from the EU, the government would still have missed its migration target.


Chart via ONS.

As Migration Observatory explained in 2011, it was always very unlikely that this target would be met. There are international treaties which mean that restrictions to migration for work and family reasons can only go so far. Even if the UK left the EU it would still be bound by these agreements. The World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), for example, obliges the government to allow companies to transfer employees between countries. Because so many multinationals have large operations in the UK, this country has the second highest number of migrants on intracompany transfers in the OECD. Last year, they and their dependents numbered just short of 60,000. It is true that the UK currently allows more people via this route than the GATS agreement demands but restricting it too far would not go down well with employers. The same is true for all non-EU migration. The recent rise in numbers has mostly been due to migration for work, driven by employer demands.

Much is made by Leave campaigners of the Australian points system but the UK effectively has something similar for non-EU migration, which quite clearly hasn’t reduced by anywhere near the amount the government pretended it would. An even tougher migration policy, post Brexit, would almost certainly lead some companies to move their operations elsewhere. An HR director I was talking to recently told me that he had very good reasons for keeping his R&D operation in the UK but that if he couldn’t recruit from the EU or elsewhere, he would have to move it to somewhere in central Europe. There is no guarantee that all the jobs currently done by migrants would stay in the UK. If the migrants can’t come to the jobs, the jobs might go to them instead.

Migration is not a bug, it’s a feature. An international economy like Britain’s, containing one of the world’s major global cities, is bound to attract a lot of migrants. When compared to the size of its population, though, the UK’s migration flows are not especially high. They are similar to other large European economies and some way lower than those of Australia and Canada, the countries whose immigration systems the Leave campaigners say they want us to adopt. Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 18.50.20

Chart via OECD International Migration Outlook 

A certain level of immigration, then, is a characteristic of mature economies everywhere. It is one of those things that comes with globalisation and world trade. That is why the government has found it so difficult to reduce even the non-EU migration under its direct control.

The likely impact of Brexit and the restriction of immigration from the EU is that the shortfall in skilled workers will simply be filled from elsewhere. The mix of migration would change but the totals probably wouldn’t. It may be, as Nigel Farage said, that more black people would come into the UK. It is very unlikely, though, that there would be much of a reduction in the overall number of migrants. Reducing net migration to under 100,000, let alone Mr Farage’s 50,000, would have a serious impact on businesses and universities. Turning off the labour supply of an international economy which has been built on the assumption of a certain level of immigration is bound to have severe economic consequences.

The UK in the 2010s is a very different country from the UK in 1990s. Let’s stop pretending it can go back to 1990s migration numbers. Net migration under 100,000 is just not going to happen, not unless we turn the British economy into such a basket-case that no-one wants to come here any more, and there can’t be many, even among the most fanatical Brexit supporters, who would want that.

Most of the Leave campaign’s claims have now been well and truly trashed. Immigration is their trump card. It’s time to tear that one up and throw it in the bin too.

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28 Responses to Migration: Time to tear up Leave’s last card

  1. telescoper says:

    Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:
    From the same sources as yesterday’s reblog, here’s an important post about immigration.

    I’ve long felt that there is a big problem with immigration in the United Kingdom. There simply isn’t enough of it!

  2. This is not a black issue – though many want to turn it into one – usually the Remainians of questionable morality that want to pretend the Leave side are racist driven.

    For the intellectual among you, this is about problems worsened by the massive numbers of extra people and democracy.

  3. P Hearn says:

    Well, that’s Leave done with then.

    The next issue has to be how we can build a new house every few minutes to accommodate what is an unstoppable tide of immigration. We need a huge number of homes to address the current backlog, then perhaps another 200,000 per year to provide decent homes for those coming in.

    My first suggestion is that we get many thousands of builders from overseas to come here and lay some bricks. That’ll fix it.

    • Colin Lawson says:

      UK built more than 300,000 houses per year in the 1950s – so no problem to do this again. But yes will now need thousands of builders from overseas to help build them. No builders from overseas – no house building boom whether or not we are in the EU. We need a housing boom whether or not we are in the EU so we need migrant workers whether or not we are in the EU.

      Better to stay in the EU and work with our friends across Europe to mitigate, alleviate and if necessary limit migration to acceptable levels. But remember unsustainable trends are self correcting our aim must be to ensure that this is a civilised, humane and economically viable process.

      Under Johnson, Gove et al the process would be a free for all in an unregulated global market as we fight our way to the bottom in their rush to destroy our employment rights and wages.

      • Is this at the time when the idiots were building on flood plains – like building more decks on the Titanic knowing it is going to sink.

        They still haven’t learned and continue to do it now – clearly they should be put into care as they must be a danger to themselves – like they are to us.

        As to staying in and to “limit migration to acceptable levels” – you are not seriously saying that these populations in countries getting a fraction of our incomes can be persuaded to stay in their own country.

        Do you work in the building trade?

        We have to get out – all of our problems are made worse by being in the EU.

        BTW: I never blame immigrants who are only doing what many of us would do (go to better country) – or say they caused the problems – for those that slur & misrepresent me.

        We have made our kids lose out being in the EU, as firms and government would rather take skilled workers from a vast supply of immigrants than train British young adults.

        The EU is an anti-democratic scam – allowing poorer incompatible countries to join. We were never going to flood Poland – though many of our jobs have gone there.

        Cameron wants Turkey to join, the latest March 2016, and the EU are over a barrel. Even if they do not join soon, they all want it..

        This refugee problem is tiny to what is to come.

        People only have to look at what is happening: skilled & semi-skilled Brit wages held down – less housing & jobs available to Brits – Pension Pyramid Scam (immigrants get old too) – worsening food/ water/ energy security – more crimes – greater congestion – more NHS overstretch…

        Even the NHS do not train British nurses nowadays – it was a propaganda lie that Brits did not want to be nurses – the NHS prefer to take trained nurses from poorer countries.

        The financial gain they say we have is fiddled as it does not include all costs e.g. crime.

        Even if we could built 100,000 homes every year it still would not be enough for 300,000+ extra immigration – we would need the infrastructure to support it.

        Also my wife and I walked into a council house when we were first married before mass immigration started – we know young Brits cannot get social housing any more.

        BTW: We can vote the Tories out – as you say they will take advantage and Labour would have to reverse changes. People will learn that Tories only care for the rich.

  4. davecl says:

    Reblogged this on Disturbing the Universe and commented:
    Brexit claims on immigration gyration do not stack up at all when you look at the figures

  5. David says:

    I was a ‘heart says leave , brain says stay’ voter but after seeing so many rabid , almost schoolboy, attacks on cherry picked brexit campaigner comments I’m beginning to listen to the heart much more .
    As one of the much derided ‘angry boomers’ from the last nonsense , who was approaching the vote with a calm concern for the future of the U.K. and ALL those in it , Riks constant ranting is successfully driving me towards a vote that I’m not at all convinced of .
    The previous blog and even this ones absurd even insulting caricature of people born during the 40’s and 50’s as all of a kind , Dads Army types , full of resentment and anger towards ‘change’ and , to quote Corp Jones , ‘fuzzy wuzzies’ is just that , absurd .
    We’ve also had the usual crop of conspiracy theorists here lashing out when a little calm introspection wouldn’t go amiss .
    At the start of this national debate all sides pleaded for a non inflammatory and reasoned campaign . I’m watching from the other side of the world just a tad disappointed in the ‘discussion ‘ particularly the remainers , thankful that I’m not being constantly bombarded with some of the classroom nonsense flying about .
    Rik if you can , have the confidence to emphasise the remain case without resort to knocking down
    absurdities from some the leavers . We’re quite capable of that ourself .

    • Domdom says:

      How fickle to make your decision on the basis of one article that annoys you! Slightly scary that you are so easily swayed. Methinks you were always for out. It has to be said that boomers are probably going to have the highest turnout at this vote but the reality is that later generations will live with the consequences.

    • yorksranter says:

      I don’t understand this. You want to vote GO because the go campaign keep getting caught talking rubbish? What, because you’re sorry for them?

  6. Jim says:

    “The UK in the 2010s is a very different country from the UK in 1990s”

    And were we ever asked if we wanted our country altered so drastically?

    • billbedford says:

      Was there ever a time when our country has not changed so much?

    • Nutster says:

      Change will happen in the UK regardless of the impact of being in the EU. The Uk is always changing and needs to change and adapt to different circumstances including worldwide economic and social situations. The financial downturn happened everywhere, not just Europe. It would be extremely naive and down right dangerous to believe we can keep doing the same thing the same way ad infinitum and is the reason for the collapse of many economies and businesses (BHS is a prime example, as is Zimbabwe). Failing to change and sticking your head in the sand is a recipe for disaster. The EU cannot be held responsible for every change you don’t like in the world. Don’t forget that greedy bankers in the UK as well as other countries created the Crash in 2008. I don’t think anyone ‘asked’ for that.

    • gunnerbear says:

      ““The UK in the 2010s is a very different country from the UK in 1990s”

      And were we ever asked if we wanted our country altered so drastically?”

      Absolutely not….and still Labour won’t talk about immigration……

      • Grindles says:

        Not everything is the fault of immigration. The world has moved on since the 1990s and the UK has had to change and adapt. If you are still harping on about immigration you’ve sadly missed the point completely. Please bear in mind that since the 1990s we have had to deal with increased terrorist attacks (not the fault of the EU or immigration) as well as global financial collapse (also not the faulty of the EU or Immigrants). The world moves on and you can’t expect the government to check with us if that’s OK – but you have a choice as to whom you prefer running the government and making the changes. We as a country voted in Blair who took us into a war and Cameron who has cut public services and safety nets for our most vulnerable as well as starting to slice and dice the NHS. That’s not the fault of the EU or immigration either!

      • yorksranter says:

        Yes. They’re called general elections. We have one about every five years. Labour was reelected twice with large majorities. What is your point?

        • Jim says:

          I don’t remember Labour mentioning in any of their manifestos their aim to import several million immigrants to the UK.

  7. Bob says:

    David Cameron, who is a Remain campaigner, said that he wanted to reduce immigration to under 100000, a farcical and unworkable target in or out, which he pulled from thin air.

  8. Danny A says:

    Free movement of labour and open borders is one thing.
    Allowing countries to act in the interests of their own citizens (i.e. discriminate between citizens and non-nationals) is another.
    This to me is the fundamental flaw with the EU as constructed. The executives of the nation states cannot discriminate their own citizens from citizens of other EU states. The EU commission acts in the interests of “Europe” but there are no “European citizens” to which the commission is directly accountable.
    The destabilizing effects of migrant (and capital) flows, typically encouraging divergence of economic outcomes between sending and receiving locations, are not counter balanced. Effective counter balancing would require fiscal transfers which would be politically indigestible,
    The only logical direction is to a full federal union but I cannot see this as politically achievable or tolerable.

  9. “Much is made by Leave campaigners of the Australian points system” – That’s because the word “Australian” makes us think of white, English-speaking people. It’s a pretty obvious dog-whistle. I’d have more respect for the Leavers if they proposed that we adopt a Japanese-style immigration policy. At least that would be a honest reflection of their beliefs.

    A genuine points system, geared to facilitating the immigration of the skilled workers our economy lacks, wouldn’t actually reduce immigration. This is the key point that Leavers ignore. Migrant flows are determined by demand not by supply. The reason most Syrians want to go to Sweden or Germany is not because they grew up on Bergman and Fassbinder but because they know their chances of employment will be better. Likewise the poor sods in bivouacs outside Calais trying to get to the UK. The increase in immigration after the 2004 accession was a sign of the relative health of the UK economy as much as our “openness”.

    The only guaranteed way to reduce immigration in the short-term is to trash the economy. There is a chance this will happen if we vote Leave. Over the longer-term, an ageing society means that a points system would actually increase immigration, not reduce it.

    • George Carty says:

      Why don’t the Leavers openly advocate a Japanese-style immigration policy? And incidentally, mercantilist trade policies a la East Asia as well, plus maybe even a one-child policy given that their main argument for stopping immigration is that the UK is already overpopulated?

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