Migration Watch’s Manufactured Spin Fans the Flames of Anti-migration Hysteria

Migration Watch UK (MWUK) might identify as an ‘independent and non-political think tank’, but their unhinged ramblings that inaccurately presage a flood of migrants flocking to Britain at every turn has become gospel truth to far-right politicians and the press. Migration Watch can do no wrong in the dutiful eyes of the media as their economic illiteracy, shady history of racial and LGBT prejudice and their knee-jerk emotive rhetoric are heralded as academic truth with little-to-no repercussions.

Taxpayer Paranoia and Manufactured Spin

Undoubtedly, Migration Watch’s greatest achievement lies in their ability to spin wild and paranoid thought into credible and expert fact.

To take just a handful of examples, Migration Watch claimed in 2010 that the public purse and the UK’s education budget was being stretched thin due to high levels of immigration. By 2013, they were arguing to reduce welfare benefits for EU migrants since the UK’s supposedly generous system was acting as a ‘pull’ factor to low-income Europeans. Yet in virtually the same breath as accusing migrants of draining resources, MWUK decided migrants were actually stealing jobs instead and were damaging employment prospects for British youth.

However, whether “outright stupid” or “wilfully misleading” as an author of Free Movement said, Migration Watch overlooked the contributions migrants made through tax – a rare schoolboy error among statisticians and economists. What’s more is that a mere 4.21% of the 2.2 million EU citizens in the UK at the time were claiming in-work benefits, hardly enough to argue ‘benefit tourism’ was even an issue in the UK. In their unemployed youth report, MWUK further failed to collate their data in relation to local populations, rendering their results inaccurate once more.

Yet Migration Watch hadn’t accidentally scored a hattrick on the anti-migration myth sheet: deliberately tarnishing figures to suit their anti-immigration narrative is an all-too-frequent reoccurrence.

In 2014, Migration Watch tweaked facts from the report ‘Fiscal Effects of Immigration to the UK’ which was conducted by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) to argue that migrants cost Britain £3,000 a year and have racked up a bill of over £22 million a day on the taxpayer since the 1990s. However, the CReAM report actually proved migration was an overall net benefit to the UK, prompting the report’s co-authors, Professor Christian Dustmann and Tommaso Frattini, to condemn MWUK’s report as it was

“based on a serious misinterpretation of the methodology we have used in our work”.

Channel 4 similarly found MWUK could only arrive at such a conclusion by changing “part of the methodology” and by assuming “that migrants pay no businesses taxes”.

Despite the scathing criticisms, the press continued to launch its assault against immigration by framing inaccurate MWUK reports as scholastic candour. The Sun, Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and even the BBC fell victim to MWUK’s lies, publishing a series of conflicting headache-inducing articles that only polarised the public’s view even further. The National Institute of Economics and Social Research (NIESR) published a report to bury MWUK’s shoddy assessment on youth unemployment, the director of which at the time, Jonathan Portes emerging as a frequent critic of Migration Watch, accusing them of “playing fast and loose with evidence”.

However, despite attempts by NIESR and the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to tone down the scaremongering, the damage had been done. It’s no wonder British voters are intolerant towards immigration: Migration Watch’s relentless indoctrination has infiltrated every nook and cranny of the media.

Jonathan Portes of NIESR turns to critique Migration Watch on his personal Twitter account.

Racial Prejudice and LGBT Indifference

Yet Migration Watch’s fact-bending may have been forgiven if it wasn’t for their shifty xenophobic views and prejudices.

In 2005, MWUK Chairman, Andrew Green, lamented in a letter to the Sunday Times over the “70% net inflow” of African and Asian citizens, not because he had concerns for the economy or for overcrowding the country (for a change), but because of the AIDS and “distant cultures” such citizens supposedly brought with them. According to Green, the UK was ill-equipped to integrate diverse cultures. He argued that catering to those suffering from HIV puts a “financial burden on the nation” and sparks “danger to public health”. Green ultimately argued all African arrivals should be tested for HIV, a view corroborated by none other than former Ukip leader, Nigel Farage.

If there was any room to manoeuvre to save face here, hopes are obliterated by Migration Watch’s co-founder, Professor David Coleman. Although Coleman teaches demography at Oxford University, he faced protests from his own students “in light of his well-known opinions and affiliations relating to immigration and eugenics” – a claim which he vehemently denies. However, his prediction that the UK’s ethnic minority population would double was dashed with a hint of alarmism while his work towards lowering Ethiopian birth rates and hiking European births “chime[d]”, as one Guardian journalist wrote at the time, “with eugenicists beliefs that ‘better’ stock should have more babies, ‘worse’ stock should have fewer”. He was ultimately defended and cheered on by the fringe fascist group, the British National Party (BNP) – which says it all. The MWUK website does still have Coleman listed under their advisory board, but notes wryly that he is a consultant “on demographic matters but does not speak on [MWUK] behalf”.

The British National Party [https://www.thecommentator.com/article/3116/british_national_party_warns_beware_ukip_zionists]

As if that’s not enough, Andrew Green couldn’t help but offer his 2 cents on the subject of LGBT asylum seekers. After decades of the Home Office telling gay and lesbian asylum seekers to essentially conceal their sexuality to avoid persecution in their home country, a landmark Supreme Court ruling overturned the practice. Andrew Green was one of few who refused to celebrate the decision:

“An applicant has now only to show that he or she is homosexual and intends to return and live openly in one of the many countries where it is illegal, to be granted asylum in the UK”.

Insensitivity aside, his claim couldn’t be further from the truth: LGBT asylum seekers have many humiliating and invasive interviews to attend to qualify for asylum with many genuine individuals being deported right back into the arms of torture, corrective rape and death after being unable to prove their sexuality to a Home Office official. Migration Watch would know this if they weren’t so blindsided by their own propaganda.

Hard Brexit Stance

Other outlandish remarks slipped out from behind Migration Watch’s mask include unwavering support for a hard Brexit, a perspective certainly at odds with their peers and the beloved economy they claim to protect.

Regurgitating some of their older content, MWUK claimed the post-Brexit immigration plan will see EU migration rocket by 100,000 a year which puts – you guessed it – around 6 to 9 million British jobs at risk. Unlike others, MWUK at least retracted this report upon realising their grave miscalculation: they had thought foreign workers would be able to swindle a Tier 2 Visa earning £21,000 when the requirement is – and always has been – £30,000. They still stood strong with the view that remaining in the single market would see EU migration at high levels though, prompting Ukip to revel in the findings with its immigration spokesman John Bickley saying, “Today’s report from Migration Watch makes it crystal clear that remaining in the EU’s single market will mean the continuation of uncontrolled immigration” and a “population explosion of 12 million in 25 years, equivalent to the entire current populations of Bulgaria and New Zealand”.

Former Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, lambasted back:

“[it is] no surprise that Ukip’s favourite thinktank is pushing for a hard Brexit that would rip out the single market, costing jobs and risking the livelihoods of thousands of British people.”

June 2016, Nigel Farage presenting the infamous ‘breaking point’ poster [https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-06-24/how-brexit-campaign-used-refugees-scare-voter]

It is truly a miracle how Migration Watch has not only gained but clung onto such a reputable status for so long – especially when their methodology doesn’t fall far from the tree of Mystic Meg, only their crystal ball rarely shows good fortune. If unemployment hits a record all-time-low, then migrants will harm job prospects in the distant future. If the economy is booming and Britain Never Had It So Good swings back around, be warned for swathes of immigrants wait just around the corner to claim settlement rights and sponge on the welfare state. It’s bizarre. Not one report celebrates what immigration has brought to the UK or the damaging effects emigration has on the economy instead. As Ian Dunt, editor of Politics.co.uk said,

“Migration Watch doesn’t produce academic research. It produces whatever logical contortion is required to turn facts about immigrants into a weapon to beat them with.”

Migration Watch has evidently played a vital role in fanning the flames of hostility towards migrants, and judging by the evidence it seems that they probably wanted to. Although not entirely to blame for the ‘hostile environment’, their anti-immigration hallmark has made its way into Parliament on numerous occasions and certainly influenced policymaking. Their marriage to the press has only allowed their spin to snowball out of control and birth the ‘fake news’ Frankenstein monster that stands before us today, where evidence is a matter of opinion to be disputed and statistical fact open to scrutiny.

Migration Watch now has a moral responsibility to turn down the heat and neutralise the mess they’ve helped create, at the very least curbing the knee-jerk reactions that spread like a contagion of Chinese whispers before they have the chance to reel it back. Real people are affected by these mistakes and misgivings. And when troubling times are already gripping the nation with the population in utter turmoil over Brexit, inflated immigration reports are only pouring petrol on the fire.

Header image credit: https://www.humanosphere.org/world-politics/2016/06/brexit-supporters-wrong-uk-benefits-migration/

Written by
Olivia Bridge