A major claim of the Brexit campaign is that Brexit shall enable us to control our border better than we currently do.
I’m aware of Western Europe’s aging demographic. I’m aware of China’s even more distressed aging demographic (caused largely by the consequences of the “one-child policy” coming home to roost). These demographic profiles alone cause me to doubt severely that restricting immigration might necessarily serve UK’s economic interest.
Pressure group Migration Watch has a section about the EU referendum. Unlike the Project Fantasy wing of the Brexit campaign, Migration Watch is fairly technical about how EU membership impacts immigration rights. Questions 10 & 11 in particular recognise the additional steps for UKGov to enable some control over inward immigration, re-iterated in a briefing paper specifically related to immigration policy of a Brexited Britain (para 17). The group studied the EU-Canada Economic and Trade Agreement to measure a comparable treaty for a Brexited Britain, to see how feasible such a deal might be (whether it is actually comparable is open to question: Canada is thousands of miles away from Europe).
Where Migration Watch looks weak is in its targeting of “unskilled” labour. I would be happier to buy this argument if Migration Watch could prove that Britons sought to take jobs that immigrants eventually take. I’m thinking of the numbers of Eastern Europe voices I hear in Boston, Lincs. The major employer in that area is agriculture. Mono-culture farming requires unskilled manual labour. Even if Britons were allegedly willing to do this work, there are likely to be insufficient numbers of them to do such physical work.
I’m also sceptical about the consequential and opportunity costs of immigration controls on skilled labour. Two examples:
- The National Health Service seems to rely absolutely on immigrant labour for front-line services of all skill sets. How workable is an NHS with a big chunk of its front-line staff missing?;
- A viable pool of talent needs to draw from elsewhere without limitation. If barriers to entry exist in one area, the talent pool will drain from that area, and emerge as a spring elsewhere. The story of tech industries establishing initially in UK provinces (where commercial rents were at the time cheaper), only to re-locate to London area (“Silicon Roundabout”) tells this story well. Industry was unable to recruit sustainable when based in the provinces, because the would-be employees wanted to stay in London; to leave London would be to leave networks for future opportunities. That’s how fragile talent pools can be. And if applies in UK, it will also apply beyond national borders.
I’m also sceptical about the enforceability of border controls. Do we yet know how many illegal immigrants are unaccounted for in UK? Even if we did, do we yet know what to do with them?
To my mind, effective border controls in UK is problematics for two main reasons:
- erecting a huge wall around UK is slightly impractical (aside from anything else, it wouldn’t get planning permission, except at Jaywick, Essex).
- genuine questions about the competence of the Home Office’s policy formulation methods and administrative accuracy. Joined-up thinking is not a particular talent of UKGov generally. For the Home Office in particular, even a former Home Secretary referred to his own department in 2006 as “not fit for purpose”. What has changed since then?
It’s not even as if the European Union could help with immigration either, even if it wanted to. The so-called “European Migrant Crisis” demonstrates that all governments signed up to human rights cannot effectively say “no” to anybody who claims asylum.
Not that governments want to turn away immigrants anyway! They knew they can’t afford to do so.
For example, at the outset of the European Migrant Crisis, a casual observer could hear the barely-contained sounds of glee coming from the German government at the prospect of young, skilled, taxable immigrants wanting to live and work in Germany: what an easy cure for the demographic crisis! (Apparently, the German for “phew!” is “Puh!”) Within weeks, the same government had to be seen to “impose” “controls” (note use of quotation marks) so as to present a narrative to other European nations that Germany wasn’t being too greedy, in the name of European solidarity (that word again!). At the same time, the narrative presented to the German demos was that all this immigration was urgently “humanitarian” to the face of the German demos (helped by pictures of dead babies on European beaches), who I perceive still today don’t really grasp the depths of the demographic timebomb in which they live.
So, in all of the above, it is nigh impossible to see any nexus between a nation’s membership of the European Union and the emotional issue of immigration.
Let’s look at the issue from another direction, a bit blue-sky. What might a useful immigration policy look like?
I reckon a better policy would be to ensure that all people in the UK justify their existence financially and economically via their tax return (under UK’s current self-assessment regime). This requires no points-based immigration system at all, and requires that the state makes no discriminatory choices about “preferred professions” (given UKGov’s ability for poor choices, why would we trust UKGov to pick the right “preferred professions”?). The policy would have a dramatic effect if a history of tax returns was a fundamental qualification for welfare payouts (and, yes, I’d apply this qualification to the British as well). Its effect could be pervasive if one was able to vote in national Parliamentary elections if and only if one was “ordinarily resident” in UK for income tax purposes (again, evidenced by a history of tax returns). Compliance is always easiest if the subject sees big benefits resulting from compliance. Relevance to the European Union? None whatsoever!
So. on balance, my view is that immigration has no relevance to the voter’s choice in the referendum.
For the record, I had figured this all out before the Dutch Prime Minister joined in feet-first with Project Fear. As if that is going to influence me…