Over the past few years, successive UK Governments have developed and enforced an increasingly restrictive immigration regime that “often makes it impossible for people who move here to build a life here and it frequently punishes them for even trying”, as the Joint Council of Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) recently concluded.
If the Conservatives retain power in the election on Thursday and “get Brexit done”, another important hurdle to putting up barriers and strengthening the hostile environment for immigrants and refugees in this country will fall away. Millions of people will be affected by this, including the UK’s own citizens.
After Brexit, the Conservative party intends to end free movement arrangements with the EU and introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system. The new system will distinguish between “high-skilled, skilled and low-skilled workers” adopting the most relaxed arrangements for the high-skilled workers and severely limiting migration of the low-skilled workers. It also plans to introduce an “Electronic Travel Authorisation” (ETA) system for all non-visa nationals, along the lines of the US ESTA visa-waiver entry permit. This system would require all visitors to the UK to fill out an online application before being permitted entry.
If the Conservatives retain power in the election on Thursday and “get Brexit done” […] millions of people will be affected…
The proposals lack detail but the Conservative party has argued that these measures are aimed at strengthening borders and improving the UK’s security. But the security argument is a false one; the new measures would not be necessary if the UK remained in the EU and therefore stayed in the system of EU security and justice, which gives it real-time access to a host of critical databases and the European Arrest Warrant. As the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, pointedly observed: leaving the EU system “will undermine the ability of our police and border agencies to apprehend terrorists and organised criminals.” There is no need to strengthen borders and build walls in an increasingly interconnected world as long as countries work together to fight crime and protect their citizens.
…the security argument is a false one; the new measures would not be necessary if the UK remained in the EU…
The reality is that the measures proposed by the Conservatives are unlikely to make the UK a safer place. Even if they did, they are not proportionate; they would negatively affect many businesses and other organisations as well as the lives of millions of innocent people both in and outside the UK, by further isolating the country from the rest of the world. For example, businesses (both big and small) but also universities, research institutions, NGOs and other organisations across the country would no longer have easy access to the vast pool of talent in the EU. Many EU citizens have already left and fewer are coming (see the latest ONS statistics)
This migration trend is likely to continue and will also have a significant impact on the public purse. A Migration Advisory Council report (commissioned by the Home Office in 2017 and published in 2018) concluded that EEA migrants contribute “much more” to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services. The UK has an aging population. The simple – and perhaps inconvenient – truth for some is that the UK needs these migrants.
The proposed travel restrictions would also make it harder for business men and women, academics, researchers, volunteers but also friends and acquaintances to come and visit their counterparts, peers, fellow-researchers and volunteers, and their friends and acquaintances in the UK. This will make it more difficult for people to build, strengthen and maintain professional and personal relationships across borders. The restrictions will also put the UK tourism sector at a significant competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis this sector in other countries that impose no or weaker restrictions on visitors.
The simple – and perhaps inconvenient – truth for some is that the UK needs these migrants.
There is, however, also a significant risk that other countries, including the EU27 Member States, will retaliate and toughen up their entry and settlement requirements for British citizens making it more difficult for these citizens to travel, holiday, study, seek medical treatment, work and live abroad. ONS data shows that nearly 785,000 British citizens lived in the EU (excluding the UK and Ireland) as long-term residents (1 year or longer) on 1 January 2017 with Spain, France and Germany being the most popular countries. There were also 729,000 visits made by British citizens to the EU for between 1 and 12 months in the year to June 2015 (according to estimates of Short-Term International Migration).
An immigration policy that further isolates UK businesses, organisations and citizens from the rest of the world in such a profound way sounds highly unattractive. This country and its people surely deserve better.