The current Conservative government led by Prime Minister, David Cameron, campaigned and was elected on a manifesto pledge to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands per annum. The chance of any UK government fulfilling that or any similar policy aim while Britain remains a member of the European Union is close to zero.
This is not only because of EU freedom of movement. Arguably of even greater importance are the shackles that supranational EU policy-making imposes upon disciplines and departments as diverse as trade, aid, foreign affairs and defence.
Population growth in excess of 300,000 people per year, driven mainly by inward migration in excess of 600,000 people per year is unsustainable. This is true from an ecological perspective as much as from any other; Britain simply does not have the resources—the “carrying capacity”—to accomodate and absorb that many people over such a short period of time.
Polling data shows that most of the electorate would like inward migration reduced. The next question for any responsible government must surely be, “How can we achieve that policy aim while also balancing other concerns, such as maintaining a stable economy?” The answer, as with any major change, is one step at a time.
First of all, it is important to note that immigration and asylum are separate areas of policy. The two are too often conflated and confused, especially by the legacy media, which makes promoting alternative policy choices harder than it should be.
Upon leaving the EU, the UK would almost certainly agree transitional arrangements with the remaining EU Member States. That would most likely mean repatriating the entire EU acquis—body of EU law—and stepping out of the EU’s political and judicial arrangements into an EEA type of relationship.
That may involve rejoining EFTA or it may not. Either way, such a deal would protect jobs and investment at the point of exit.
The EEA agreement is Single Market membership—on the same terms as Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein—without the Common External Tariff or the Common Commercial Policy, which binds EU Member States to the EU’s “common position” in international trade talks and on global standards-setting bodies.
Free of those encumbrances, the UK would be able to deal direct with partner countries at the world level, sitting eye-to-eye with the EU, the USA and the other big players in the WTO, Codex, UNECE, the IMO, etc.
An EEA type deal would mean accepting freedom of movement as the short-term price for leaving the EU in a manner that is economically secure. However, freedom of movement within the EEA is not the same as freedom of movement within the EU.
The EEA agreement has a unilateral “emergency brake”—Article 112 and Article 113—akin to the one that Cameron tried but failed to negotiate. Leaving the EU would also put pressure on our massively dishonest government to address the “pull factors” which incentivise immigration, such as councils not properly enforcing occupancy rules. Reducing inward migration is in no small part a matter of political will and a vote to leave the EU would send a clear signal.
Leaving the EU would also give the UK the opportunity to play an active role in helping to address the “push factors” that are the real root of the problem. The developing world needs both prosperity and peace. An independent UK with an integrated trade, aid, foreign and defence policy, committed to reducing immigration, could work to bring stability and wealth to other parts of the world, repudiating predatory and self-defeating EU trade practices, such as signing one-sided deals with emerging economies. Unrestricted free trade for underdeveloped countries is simply not appropriate. Emerging industries need protection before they are fit to bear the brunt of competition from developed and highly efficient European industries.
The EU also has a tendency to add unnecessary and unwelcome political clauses to trade agreements. What do you suppose is more important for growing Africa’s wealth and prosperity, gay marriage and green energy targets or affordable energy and gainful employment?
An independent UK could work to find solutions to these global problems, rather than being but one voice among the EU-28.
The exact form Britain’s post-exit immigration and asylum policies would take would be a matter for national democratic debate, as would trade and, to a much larger extent than they are at the moment—given the greater policy agility and autonomy the UK would gain outside the EU—aid, foreign affairs and defence.
Those conversations will not happen unless Britain first leaves the European Union.
There would be trade-offs whatever policy is adopted, but outside of the EU those decisions would be taken by people who are accountable to the British electorate. That is the key reason Britain should leave the EU.