Naked Politics Blogger
Dubbed by the Financial Times as the ‘world’s most complex divorce’, many people: politicians, pollsters and stock market traders alike are stunned by the 51.9% vote cast for Brexit. The majority of Britons who voted to leave would have placed their concerns of uncontrolled immigration from the EU at the top of their lists with issues surrounding our sovereignty coming in second place. Notably, many areas in England and Wales voted to leave, whilst Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain highlighting a clear divide which has already sparked fears over the possibility of a disunited kingdom suffering from referendum fever.
Away from the cosmopolitan capital in the prosperous South East, there is an underlying feeling of discontent and frustration, which is especially predominant in Labour heartlands residing in the North of England. In times of austerity resulting from Tory cuts, immigrants are in many cases unfairly targeted as the scapegoats for the shortage of jobs and chronic deficiency of housing. The lack of investment by the government on the expansion of school places, roads and other types of infrastructure have meant that public services are being put under immense strain to effectively serve an increasing population.
Research has shown that EU immigrants who have arrived since 2000 are on average better educated than “native” British people, with a higher percentage holding a degree of some sort. A8 (accession 8) immigrants aka Eastern European migrants have been the group receiving the most blame for ‘stealing jobs’ from British people, but in truth they have been essential to filling in lowly-skilled jobs such as cleaning that are perceived to be too demeaning, degrading and dirty by the average Briton to do. Simple economic theory suggests that an oversupply of labour leads to the bidding down of wages, particularly for jobs that have fewer barriers to entry in the form of qualifications and training. On the contrary, any wage suppression on lowly skilled jobs due to immigration specifically from the EU has been shown to be rather limited by several studies. Alternatively, both the 2008 financial crisis and a weak economic recovery have been found to be the key contributors to a reduction in wages. Contrary to popular myth, EU immigrants actually pay more in taxes than they take out in welfare and use of public services. A rising population caused by immigration increases demand for goods and service, therefore causing an increase in the derived demand for labour, which in theoretical terms means that immigration may actually increase employment rates in some circumstances.
Though the statistics show that EU immigration has overall had a positive impact on the UK economy, a substantial proportion of the working class feel the complete opposite, especially in neighbourhoods experiencing an influx of EU migrants. From this premise, it is clear that there is a divergence between what is going on at a macro level and micro level, as in some areas, particularly in urban dwellings, there have been cases of immigration putting additional pressure on oversubscribed school places and contributing to longer waiting lists for medical appointments. Yet this does not represent the situation on a national level.
Those in the leave campaign have repeatedly hammered the possibility of implementing an Australian style points-based system on EU immigrants with the addition of a third tier route for unskilled migrants. A similar 4-tier system already exists in Britain for non-EU immigrants with pathways in place for ‘high-value migrants’, i.e. entrepreneurs, investors, skilled workers with a job offer in the UK, students and temporary workers. An applicant must achieve a certain number of points in order to gain entry clearance. Having more qualifications, better English language skills, sponsorship, available funds and high expected future earnings will enable the applicant to gain more points.
However if Britain does want access to the single market, then like Norway and Switzerland it may be forced to maintain the free movement of EU citizens, which was exactly what many voters wanted to reject. Whether the UK can adopt a blanket approach in migration policy to both EU and non-EU migrants will depend upon the negotiations that will be taking place after article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has been triggered. German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has made it clear ‘that the negotiations will not be run on the principle of cherry-picking… whoever wants to get out of this family cannot expect that all the obligations fall away but the privileges continue to remain in place.’ It is plainly in the EU’s interests to deter other countries within the union from being tempted to follow Britain’s footsteps in jumping off the bandwagon through making the process of leaving as difficult and crudely speaking, painful as possible in order to prevent further disintegration.
Now that the UK is set to leave what some believe to be a ‘sinking ship’, we all must now look to the future and sort out our country’s priorities, whilst also making sure to remember all of the positive contributions immigrants have made to our nation, in order to stamp out the ugly xenophobic streaks that have recently surfaced.