The debates around Britain’s position in the European Union have been dominated by discussions about immigration – now the key battleground for both the leave and remain camps.
Those (discounting the left wing Brexit or Lexit advocates) arguing for Brexit have been talking up how Britain needs to regain control over its borders (something it had allegedly relinquished to the EU) and put an end to uncontrolled migration to the UK. This is the view advocated by Boris Johnson, who, along with Michael Gove, has put forward a “tougher” post-Brexit immigration policy inspired by the Australian points based system. Both Tories argue that Britain will be in a far better position to control levels of immigration with a points system that prioritizes higher skilled labourers.
In their statement, co-signed by other Brexit advocates, they argue that such a system is the only way to “restore public trust in immigration policy”. Such claims are likely to be popular in an increasingly divided debate where anti-immigrant rhetoric resonates with many after years of foreigners being singled out as the sole cause of economic struggles and declining public services (rather than the harsh austerity implemented by the Conservative government). Yet such statements are political pandering at its worst – never grounded in any reality (Johnson did not indicate what the levels of immigration to the UK would be under his proposals).
In fact, if you look at the figures, much of the immigration to Britain comes from outside of the European Union, thus it would continue regardless of the referendum result – non EU-migration accounts for 45% of total migration to the UK with EU migration making up 42% of the total.
In 2013, immigrants from China, Spain, India and Australia made up the four largest groups coming to the UK. Poland came in at fifth but clearly this shows that the myth of Eastern Europeans flooding the nation is grossly exaggerated and innately political. A points based system isn’t going to stop the UK letting people from India, China or Australia in – such arguments are more about Boris Johnson positioning himself as the next leader of the Conservative Party by increasing his profile off of the back of anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Johnson of course knows, as the former Mayor of London, how important immigration is to the capital city, to the government and to businesses. Businesses want staff to work for low pay in poor conditions and often the best placed people to do this are immigrants, rather than British citizens. As long as this is the case Britain will always have a relatively open policy towards immigrant labour. Such a reality is far from ideal, as many foreign workers do not have good work conditions or many rights – which is why they are desirable to businesses – but it shows that the rhetoric surrounding anti-immigration is a smokescreen.
Many sectors are already very reliant on foreign labour, most notably the NHS with 11% of all staff and 26% of doctors described as “non-British” and the Tory Government’s own reports show that Britain has become increasingly reliant on migrant labour in various industries, particularly ones we’d deem as “low skilled professions”. In 2013 it was shown that migrants account for twenty per cent of workers in “high skilled” fields such as oil and gas extraction, aerospace manufacturing and computer, electronic and optical engineering – Britain and the British economy is dependent on migrant labour.
That being said, the view put forward by Boris Johnson & Co is capitalism at its purest: in their world migrants are here solely to fulfill a function within the economy, rather than adding to and becoming a part of British society.
Yet the point remains that regardless of whether Britain opts for #Brexit or not, the number of immigrants making these isles their home will remain more or less the same as this country needs and wants immigration to help service the economy.
Of course, we’ll still see the continued deportation or incarceration of some migrants, as has always been the case despite the UK being a part of Europe, but migration will continue and it will continue to be inhumane and capitalistic.