Voters In EU Referendum Should Not Base Their Decision On Immigration
By Teni Shahiean of OTS Solicitors
Former foreign secretary William Hague, has urged voters not to make their European Union referendum decision on the basis of controlling Immigration.
He stated that unity and economic factors where more important than Immigration and that voters should be focusing on these issues.
In a speech given on 8th June 2016, Mr Hague stated,
"The idea that we can leave the EU without any serious economic consequences for jobs and businesses in Britain, and somehow have more money to spend on the NHS and other services at the same time, is a total fantasy, and people need to know that before they vote."
So why is the issue of Immigration so important? And should it be such a deciding factor, especially for Leave supporters?
Immigration – The Leave Argument
Immigration is at the core of the Leave campaign’s strategy and polls over the last few days have shown that it is the single most important topic pushing the UK towards Brexit. This is resulting in a rush on requests from EU nationals living in the UK, to law firms and the Home Office for permanent residence Cards and British Citizenship applications.
For those who want to leave the EU, the issue of Immigration encapsulates the argument of why Britain is better off out. Losing our sovereignty, an inability to control our own borders and lack of influence in the policies delivered by Brussels can all be given as reasons for the increase in migrants coming to the UK.
Do British people have good reason to feel this way?
When the EU was enlarged in 2004 to include 10 new members, the Government stated that there would be an average of 13,000 migrants a year that would move to Britain from the newly extended bloc.
In truth, the figure was more than 10 times that.
Many believe that one of the basic principles of a democratic government is that the people get to decide who lives in the country and enjoys the benefits of its citizenship, opportunities and culture. Whilst inside the EU, and forced to abide by the doctrine of free movement, the British Government has very little control over which EU citizens can move here.
In November 2014, former Tory Prime Minister, John Major was dispatched to Berlin, the true “heart of Europe”, to argue for Britain to enjoy some flexibility on the issue of freedom of movement.
Citing numerous ways in which it has flouted its own rules, Major told his German audience that the EU “can pass a camel through the eye of a needle” when it served the purposes of Germany or France and it was Britain that now needed some room to move. “Our small island,” he explained, “simply cannot absorb the present and projected numbers at the current speed: it is not physically or politically possible without huge public disquiet.”
Needless to say, Mr Major came back from Berlin empty-handed.
By leaving the EU, lobbyists for Brexit argue, Britain can once again make its own decisions about who enters the country, how long they can stay and the contribution they must make to society. By introducing an Australian-style points-based system, EU migrants and non-EU migrants will be treated equally.
But is this the reality? Can Britain really leave the EU and walk away from compulsory free movement of people?
Immigration – The Remain Argument
Migrants, including those from the EU, have been good for the UK economy – despite the negative press they get, the numbers don’t lie. The OECD says Immigration accounts for about half the UK’s growth since 2005 and that immigrants have filled no fewer than 2.2m of the new jobs created in that period.
It adds that EU immigrants have contributed slightly more on average than have people from outside the EU and that, since the vast majority of the migrants are working, they have made a net contribution to Britain’s public finances. One in seven new businesses are started by migrants and there is scant evidence that they push wages down and unEmployment up.
The fact is, the Remain camp has been conspicuously quiet about the issue of Immigration. Instead, they prefer to talk about it indirectly, in terms of the economy. One of the strongest arguments they have is that for Britain to keep its free trade agreement with the EU, it must kowtow to its fundamental principle of free movement of people. This principle, along with free movement of goods, capital and services is designed to balance the opportunities and advantages between the richer and poorer states within the EU. In the earliest days of the Common Market, the principle was relatively uncontroversial and there were no large flows of migration. But there is no doubt that the admission of the poorer, ex-communist countries changed all that.
Regardless, the Remain campaign has forced Brexit supporters to admit the inconvenient truth that the only way for Britain to “gain control of its borders”, is to leave the EU free market and its 500,000,000 consumers that it has been cultivating since the 1970s.
The Leave camp also acknowledged that any moves made by an administration following a Brexit against EU nationals residing in the UK without permanent residence or British Citizenship would be echoed across the Continent, affecting the estimated 1.2 million British expats who have made a life there.
Look outside the Immigration issue
The implications of leaving the EU spread well beyond the issue of Immigration, and by only focusing on this, voters are at risk of missing the bigger picture.
If Britain leaves and wants to remain in the single market it has to accept free movement of EU citizens – it’s that simple.
If Britain chooses to leave the single market, the Government will be far too busy soothing a panicking market and casting around for bi-lateral agreements to stave off economic chaos to give EU migration much thought.
If Leave supporters want to leave because they believe British sovereignty is curtailed by EU membership, or the country cannot negotiate successful trade deals with India and other emerging markets because it is tied to Brussels slow, lumbering bureaucracy, then let those reasons be debated and discussed.
Because the so-called ‘Immigration issue’ is not a true referendum matter. It is a smoke-screen, used by certain lobbyists to inflame peoples’ prejudices and fear.
Unfortunately, so far, the tactic seems to be working.
OTS Solicitors is a fully regulated, highly regarded law firm, based in the centre of London. To make an appointment with one of our Immigration solicitors, please call out office on 0203 959 9123.