On Immigration


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.

3 thoughts on “On Immigration

  1. Can anybody get the Vote Leave shower to stop screwing up the Brexit campaign and read this. Surely the people backing VL can apply some pressure & common sense.
    Immigration is an issue but DEMOCRACY and an ORDERLY EXIT are the MAIN ISSUES.


  2. Any chance you could explain what you meant when you said that “shackles that supranational EU policy-making imposes upon disciplines and departments as diverse as trade, aid, foreign affairs and defence” could be “of even greater importance” than EU free movement in preventing the UK from achieving Cameron’s inexplicable immigration targets. The connection is not obvious to me from what you have written here.

    The implication of what you seem to be saying is that even if the UK had somehow managed to secure exemption from freedom of movement rules while remaining in the EU, it would still be impossible to reduce immigration to the levels Cameron unwisely promised because of…some other aspects of EU policy that you have not called out explicitly. Could you be more explicit please? (As it happens, I think there are economic reasons we can’t afford to lower immigration that much, and that the ‘tens of thousands’ target will prove elusive even if we leave the EU. But obviously, since I think the problem will remain even if we leave, my view has nothing to do with “shackles” of “supranational EU policy”. We’ve stymied ourselves with a combination of tax regime, retirement age, and exceedingly generous promises to pensioners–problems we created without the EU’s help–that are fundamentally unsustainable with our aging population of UK nationals, especially given the increasing costs of end-of-life healthcare, and we now rely on an ever increasing flow of young migrants to be able to afford this particular self-inflicted policy combination. So while I agree that even without free movement there’s no clear path to reducing our dependence on immigration, I don’t see any obvious way in which leaving the EU will change that.)

    Also, you directed me here from twitter, and I was hoping to find an explanation of why you think heading “into an EEA type of relationship” is the “most likely” first step after brexit. But here, as on twitter, you have asserted this view, but supplied no accompanying explanation, so I’m afraid I’m none the wiser as to why you think this. Could you elaborate on why you think this is the most likely direction?

    On a related note, do you have a view on why the official leave campaign has explicitly rejected this. (I’m aware you think this is of little consequence since Parliament is under no obligation to do what the Leave campaign says. Nevertheless, whether Parliament honours it or not, the electorate has been told explicitly that an EEA-like arrangement is not what they are voting for. Why would the official Leave campaign say that if an EEA type of relationship is, as you say, the most likely direction?)

    Finally, how consequential do you think EEA articles 112 and 113 really are? They oblige members to “remedy the situation” – in fact Article 112 indicates that the only actions allowable under these articles are ones strictly necessary to remedy the situation (i.e., to return to a condition in which safeguard measures can be removed). Likewise, it requires that the duration of such measures be the minimum required to return to the status quo. Since these measures can only be used temporarily (under agreement with, and under frequent review by the EEA Joint Committee, with those reviews demanding a timetable in which the measures will be removed), the long run condition of EEA membership would be that freedom of movement will apply. So although these safeguard measures do, in a pedantic technical sense, justify the statement that “freedom of movement within the EEA is not the same as freedom of movement within the EU” it seems like a minor distinction, because these articles only permit temporary exceptions, under extraordinary circumstances, subject to EEA Joint Committee approval. The ‘business as usual’ state would be free movement exactly as we have in the EU. So it would be more informative to say that “freedom of movement within the EEA is the same as freedom of movement within the EU, apart from under exceptional circumstances, in which movement may temporarily be suspended.” What have I missed?


    • Your comment is nearly as long as my post!

      The point I was making with respect to policy choice is that outside the EU the UK would have more policy choice. Trade and aid are of vital importance in terms of addressing immigration.

      More here…


      I do not agree that we “need” high levels of immigration. But that is neither here nor there with respect of the EU referendum. That too is a choice and as with anything there would be trade-offs depending upon whatever path we decide to pursue.

      The EEA agreement is inadequate in many ways, but only if you think of it in terms of it being our final settlement. As a temporary staging post while Britain rebuilds its national policy-making framework, the EEA is perfectly acceptable.

      Leaving the EU would necessarily be a process. The referendum itself is about democracy, accountable government and the freedom to make those policy choices.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s