Immigration will be a key issue in the run-up to the British referendum on the EU. The UK is not a member of the passport-free Schengen zone, so it retains border controls and checks, and Britain has refused to take part in any EU scheme to reallocate refugees from the war in Syria (though it has separately promised to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020). Furthermore, immigration from outside of Europe is not affected by Britain’s EU membership.
However, citizens from other EU countries have the right to live and work in Britain (just as British citizens have the right to settle elsewhere in the EU). In 2014, net migration from other EU countries to the UK was 174,000 (almost as high as net migration from non-EU countries to the UK, which stood at 194,000). Studies have been published suggesting that EU migrants are net contributors to the British economy, but critics argue that there are other negative impacts from high net immigration, such as social cohesion, strains on education, healthcare, and other public services, and the pricing of low-skilled British labour out of the market.
Have you already made your mind up which way to vote? Do YOU think Britain should leave the European Union? Let us know what you think in the poll below:
We had a comment sent in from Mike in Lancashire, who believes that leaving the European Union would finally help Britain “regain control of our borders”. He argues that Britain could allow highly-skilled labour to come in, but turn away low-skilled workers and those with criminal convictions:
We will regain control of our borders in so far as we can decide who enters the UK and for what reason. We could grant work permits to those holding the skills we desire. We could eject criminals back to their birth countries with greater ease…
To get a response, we spoke to Mike Hookem, a Member of the European Parliament with the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Would leaving the EU give Britain “control of its borders” again?
It’s the only way to gain control of our borders. Starting in 1995 with the Tories removing embarkation controls to the legislation which makes it illegal for us to deny entry to anyone from an EU country even if they are a murderer – which had such tragic consequences for Alice Gross and her family [NOTE: Alice Gross was a 14-year-old British schoolgirl murdered in 2014, the prime suspect being a Latvian builder who had previously been convicted of murder]. The EU now have a common immigration and asylum policy and our border is basically the external border of the EU which may soon include Turkey, if David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn get their way.
To get another perspective, we also spoke to Stephen Kinnock, a British Labour MP for for Aberavon. How would he respond to Mike?
It’s quite difficult for me to answer that question because I don’t know what sort of model a post-Brexit UK will have. But, if we look at the possible models, I think they fit broadly into two buckets. One is what’s generally called the ‘Norway model’ – the Swiss model is very close to it, so let’s for the sake of argument call it the ‘Norway model’. Under the terms of the model, Norway is part of the European Economic Area (EEA) which gives it access to the Single Market, so you have all the economic benefits [of EU membership]. However, part of the deal is that you must also accept free movement of people. So, Norway is actually in Schengen, even though it’s not inside the European Union… There would be no change in terms of control of our borders, so what is the point of Brexit?
The other model is what people call the ‘Canada model’, or it could be China, Singapore, or any country which has a trading relationship with the EU but is not part of the Single Market. Now, you could have far greater control of your borders, and you would not have to accept free movement of people. But, you would lose access to the Single Market and have to start creating trade arrangement with every single one of the other 27 members of the EU, and let’s not forget that accounts for 50% of our trade. And, in each case, every single product would also be subject to a tariff, just as any Canadian product has to pay a tariff usually of between 10% and 20% on any goods they are exporting. Now that would, I believe, lead to a collapse of the British economy, because if you suddenly have to add between 10% and 20% onto every single one of your products that you’re trying to export, nobody is going to be buying your products in the EU, which is 50% of your market. So, yes, you might get control of your borders in terms of immigration under that model, but the downside would be the total collapse of the British economy, which I think is a pretty big price to pay…
How would leaving the EU affect immigration in Britain? Would the UK be forced to sign up to Freedom of Movement rules anyway? Or could it negotiate a better deal than Norway and Switzerland? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!