Public Affairs Networking

By Tim McNamara, Chief Political Correspondent

Today (18/12) is International Migrants day as designated by the United Nations. Of all the contentious issues surrounding EU membership, the subject of immigration is currently ‘top of the political charts’.

The think tank Migration Watch UK along with Richard Desmond’s Daily Express – aided and abetted by other right-wing national newspapers – have contributed to making immigration a highly contentious issue that UKIP exploits daily. Headlines about scare stories concerning immigrants have been the staple of some parts of the print media for many years now.

One of UKIP’s key policy claims is that only through leaving the EU can the UK regain control of its borders and halt alleged uncontrolled immigration. Nigel Farage often cites that “over 400 million EU citizens have the right to move to the UK”. Unarguably a fact, but one that is highly theoretical: in reality, a flagrant use of empty rhetoric. Extrapolating from the size of the EU population to a potential pool of immigrants is cheap politics likely to pander to xenophobic elements.

Nigel Farage should remember that until the 1960s all Commonwealth citizens had free access to the UK labour market, yet very few arrived uninvited. Of those who did, it was West Indian migrants who kept London’s hospitals and infrastructure afloat. The NHS continues to rely on trained non-UK workers to keep the nation healthy.

Too few people involved in the debate want to talk about migration in the round as a pertinent subject. After all, emigration is the other side of the same coin. The binary effects of migration are rarely discussed and often ignored.

Anti-immigration campaigners often talk about the number of eastern Europeans that ‘arrive’ in the UK. Yet there are fewer Poles in Britain than there are British residents in Spain. Many UK citizens are also highly mobile and would baulk if immigration controls were applied to them in other countries.

Immigrants from other EU countries are net contributors to the UK’s Treasury putting far more in than they take out. Research by The Migration Observatory statesNo evidence shows that access to the specific special non-contributory benefit income-based Jobseekers Allowance could be considered a significant driver for EU migrants in the UK.” Which can also be found here.

A UK citizen who was no longer an EU citizen, would lose the Treaty-based automatic freedom to reside in any part of the EU, nor to work anywhere in the EU, nor to transfer capital freely to or from the EU, nor to buy ‘a place in the sun’ in other parts of the EU. Or even to claim benefits from other EU member states.

And then there are the UK state pension payments: inflation-proofing only applies to UK pensioners who live in the European Economic Area or in 15 other countries, but not in many Commonwealth states. If pensioners have moved to countries with a reciprocal arrangement – such as in the European Union or the United States – then they receive pension increases. But if pensioners live in places without any such agreement – such as Australia, Canada and South Africa – their pensions are frozen at the level of when they move overseas.

Customs controls and immigration controls would inevitably be more arduous as Brits would be non-EU citizens just like, for example, Chinese, Arab or US citizens. It is far from certain that the EU would automatically grant the UK a visa waiver scheme swiftly after the UK turns away former friends by repudiating the EU treaties. Neither would individual national departments – e.g. French or German Customs and Immigration services – be in any mood to give Brits preferential treatment.

At present, there is much conflation between EU and non-EU immigration – even though immigration should not be regarded as permanent, with many migrants returning to their home country.

Immigration from many of the newer EU member states (e.g. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria etc) is very mobile. Significant numbers stay in the UK for less than a year before returning home. Those that remain for more than a year are also very likely to move about and often return to their home country, either permanently or for long periods.
Others point to the high level (proportionally) of births of non British mothers in the UK as a stark indicator about demographic change in the country, yet the statistics fail to reveal how many of these births involve British-born fathers who have relationships with the self-same immigrant mothers.

Yes, tensions exist where the number of EU migrants are disproportionately large (e.g. parts of East Anglia) – yet this is often a result of UK businesses demand for labour that can’t or won’t be met locally. Thankfully, these areas are few and far between and in no way are they representative.

Often the issue of migration is of greatest concern where there are low levels of immigration. 37.2% of London’s population is foreign born (IPSO-MORI, January 2014), yet UKIP support is at its lowest in London. The same survey revealed – “……our new analysis of the 2010/11 Citizenship Survey, focusing on the White British population, shows there is an interaction between views of immigration among this group and the ethnic diversity of neighbourhoods. Generally speaking the White British population in areas with the lowest levels of ethnic diversity would most like to see reductions in immigration.

The survey went on to state “So, for example, in the 10% least ethnically diverse wards, the proportion self- identified as White British who think that immigration should be reduced a lot is 64%. This falls steadily as ethnic diversity rises, so that in the highest 10% of wards it is 44%.

Legal immigration encourages mobility and returns as people are secure knowing they can come back to the UK if necessary. Illegal immigration forces many to stay in the UK as they don’t want to risk being refused entry if they return home for a holiday or semi-permanent stay at home.

In 2007, counter-intuitively, Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “Two thirds of yet another record level of arrivals come from outside the EU. They could and should be subject to much tighter controls.” He added: ”This gives the lie to claims that nothing effective can be done about immigration because of our membership of the EU.

In 2010, The Guardian quoted official statistics that showed 2.6% of the UK population came from other parts of the EU whilst 3.9% cane from outside of the UK. The same survey showed that eight EU member states had a larger percentage of EU migrants than the UK.

In 2012 the same newspaper quoted “The International Passenger Survey estimates shows India as the top country for people coming to the UK with 11.9% of all immigrants. It’s followed by Pakistan, (5.8%), Poland (5.4%), Australia (5.2%) and China (5.2%).” This hardly fits in with a picture of the UK being swamped by EU immigration.

It would be interesting to conduct research into how many immigrants ‘stick’ in the UK rather than return to their place of origin. I would argue that EU migrants are more likely to return home (merely due to geographical proximity) permanently or semi-permanently than migrants form India, Pakistan and China.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released the latest data for net immigration into the UK for the year ending June 2014.

Net Migration by Region:

All Citizenships British Non-British EU Non-EU
Immigration 583,000 83,000 501,000 228,000 272,000
Emigration 323,000 133,000 191,000 86,000 105,000
Net Migration 260,000 -50,000 310,000 142,000 168,000

These figures take no account of illegal immigration, so the figures for non-EU immigration are understated. The figures for EU immigration are probably overstated: since free movement of persons is a basic EU right, there cannot be illegal immigration of any significance. Furthermore as the UK does not have exit border controls, many EU migrants return home without being recorded.

As the Financial Times highlighted (22/10/14), “It is demonstrably true that immigration into the UK has increased significantly. Yet the UK accepts more non-EU migrants than any other EU member state. The UK accepts almost three times more migrants from outside the EU than any other member state, as applications to enter Britain last year surged to their highest level since 2010.

Nearly 2.4m resident permits were granted by EU member states to non-EU citizens in 2013 – of which 30.7 per cent went to people heading to the UK, according to the latest figures from Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Commission.” This means that the UK has granted EU resident permits to nearly a third of all immigrants into the EU. Because of free movement rules the self-same immigrants have the right to move to any part of the EU.

Other apocryphal fears about EU migrants claim that they are a burden on the taxpayer and are drawn to the UK by the ‘high level of benefits’. Anybody who has to survive on UK level benefits knows instinctively that benefit shopping is a myth with very few exceptions. Jon Danzig’s blog revealed that “research by the Nuffield Trust, for example, demonstrates that immigrants from EU countries are mostly young, fit and less likely to be ill or to have started a family. Consequently, they pay taxes and national insurance contributions yet they make considerably lower use of our health service, costing a smaller amount proportionally to the NHS than Britons“.

Danzig went on to cite, “Another study by the Nuffield Trust found that up to 40% of the increased use of Accident and Emergency Departments come from the over-85s, who are 10 times more likely to end up in A&E than people in their 20s, 30s and 40s (the age group of most immigrants)The increase in A&E is far more likely to be due to the difficulties patients find accessing their local GP surgery.”

Conversely, the burden on the Spanish health system by UK ex-patriates is quite substantial. As many are pensioners their health needs are far more complex than the younger profile of EU migrants to the UK. The UK does make a financial contribution to the Spanish government but it in no way covers the full costs of treating British residents in Spain. On the balance of probability, EU migrants to the UK cost the state far less than Brits living in Spain.

Immigration is undoubtedly a complex issue that rouses strong views. It is also a political vehicle for populists ready to play fast and loose with voters’ fears and perceptions. The debate deserves to be better conducted than it is at present, with parts of the print media particularly responsible for one-sidedness.

The current climate of fear stoked up by UKIP and their fellow-travelers is a gross distortion of the facts surrounding migration as it affects UK citizens. It appears that some Brits believe they should be able to live and work anywhere in the world they please but want to have a hardline on migration to the UK.

A citizen of the UK, on the outside of the EU, would find the world a very different place if they wanted to live and work abroad. Unless they were highly talented or possessed very good skills, they would find work permits very hard to come by across the globe. Certainly the comedy, Auf Wiedersehen Pet would not be able to be recreated in its original location.


  1. Great to see a comprehensive discussion on this hot issue. Congrats Tim. Looking forward to seeing more.

    Comment by bill martin on December 23, 2014 at 8:36 am
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