This article was originally published on Brexit Central
The latest research from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford shows a ‘substantial majority’ of the Great British Public want immigration numbers reduced. One third of Britons want immigration reduced ‘a lot’. Brexit represents a once in a generation opportunity to create a fairer immigration policy, suited to the needs of the United Kingdom, with a tighter control of the numbers.
Borders are the necessary prerequisite for any nation. A liberal democracy must have an immigration policy which honours the culture and values of that nation while welcoming the benefits and skills immigrants can offer.
The importance of maintaining cultural integrity is often over-looked, but is unquestionably pivotal. The Migration Observatory research shows the ‘type’ of immigration is important to Britons, with a clear preference towards immigrants with closer cultural ties to us, compared to those with looser ties – so-called ‘social-distance’.
Open borders enthusiasts try to paint this picture as a somehow racist stance, or an ‘ethnic hierarchy’. Such claims couldn’t be more wrong. The UK has a long-standing history – and a lot more in common – with the racially diverse Commonwealth than with the vast majority of EU nations. In fact, the ‘ethnic hierarchy’ argument is much more easily placed upon the European Union which – despite vast differences between Member States – allows free movement of people amongst large white majority nations.
There are obviously practical concerns also, especially in the case of the modern welfare state. Nations must be even more stringent to prevent excessive strains on institutions like the NHS and social security systems. The NHS is a national health service, not an international one. It relies on the vast majority of users having paid into the system throughout their life.
The EU referendum result was to a large extent, in my view, determined by the widespread and historically ignored concerns of Britons over immigration. For decades the political establishment has engaged in a policy of mass immigration, with mainstream parties refusing to offer the public a credible alternative. As a consequence, the Great British public saw the referendum as their only opportunity to speak up and ‘take back control’ of the issue.
This was for good reason. The fundamental rules of the European Union dictate that Britain must have totally open doors to around 446 million people from the rest of the EU. The internal immigration policy of Brussels could not be more extreme. Any rational, level-headed person can see the inevitable pitfalls of uncontrolled immigration which does not account for skills. Even Lord Rose, the former head of the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign, famously admitted wages for British workers would increase if EU immigration to the UK was controlled.
Research from University College London and the Bank of England shows mass immigration has the largest negative effects on the wages of semi-skilled and unskilled workers.
There is also simply the moral issue. Why should European citizens get a free pass to the UK when Commonwealth citizens – with whom we have much deeper cultural and historical ties – have a considerable number of hoops to jump through?
Admittedly, non-EU immigration is a fully British prerogative. However, it is utterly unfeasible to offer different terms to the rest of the world while our hands are tied by ‘free movement of people’ with the vast majority of Europe.
The most important step Britain must take, is the ability to actually control our own EU immigration policy. This is impossible while Britain remains a member of the EU, and more precisely, the Single Market. It is unfortunately widely expected, according to reports, that Britain will offer the EU a ‘very similar’ immigration deal to ‘free movement’. This would obviously do nothing to address the substantive issues the ‘free movement of people’ poses, and would be yet another case of kicking the can down the road.
Only once Britain has ‘taken back control’ of EU immigration can we properly change non-EU immigration, which currently accounts for the majority of immigration into the UK. ‘Social distance’ must be part of the criteria. We should only welcome those with the capacity and legitimate intention to integrate and play a full part in our society. Skills must also obviously be of paramount importance.
Immigration must also stop being the automatic go-to for labour issues. More comprehensive training initiatives of native Britons should first be put in place in areas of shortage and unproductivity. Jumping to more immigration to solve skills shortfalls does nothing to resolve the long-term problems.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s policy of looser rules for skilled immigrants is inherently lazy if it is not also accompanied by training regimes for Britons to fill the gap in the long-run. Why, as Labour’s Caroline Flint asked in Parliament last week, are we training fewer doctors per head than Holland and Ireland? And why, as reported last week, are four in ten newly-trained GPs leaving after only five years – which is not only a huge waste of money in training them, but also leaves a huge gap in necessary medical care in the NHS?
In addition, some immigrant workers understandably send the majority of their money back to their home countries instead of spending it here – estimated to be worth up to £16 billion per year. This is obviously far from ideal.
An immigration system which favours skilled workers with closer ties to the UK, while keeping a tighter control of the numbers, will inevitably generate greater social cohesion. Communities which were once divided by uncontrolled, mass immigration can be united.
In the process to Get Britain Out of the EU, the Government must ‘take back control’ of immigration. Failure to address the immigration issue now will lead to further electoral shocks in the coming years. We can only kick the can so far down Britain’s roads.
Joshua King is a Research Executive at grassroots, cross-party campaign Get Britain Out.