Britain’s puzzling attitude towards immigration has another contribution to its history with the Migration Advisory Committee publishing a report on the impact of Brexit on the UK labour market which calls for no special immigration rights for EU citizens after Brexit. The report, which was commissioned by the Home Office in August 2017, does suggest that it should be made easier for high skilled workers to move to the UK, but calls for an end to freedom of movement, in a call for a Canada-esque system.
This report published by an independent committee, coincidentally falls into line with the proposals hinted at by Theresa May that she does not want preferential treatment for EU citizens than non-EU citizens. This is despite the fact that the MAC also concluded that European migrants contribute £2,300 more to the economy than the average adult. As well as this, the report states that on average there is “no evidence that EEA migration has reduced employment opportunities” for people born in the UK, nor is there evidence that suggests EEA migration has reduced wages for UK born workers, which will be much to the dismay of the migrant bashing right. Migrants are also to have found to pay more than they take out and have a positive impact on productivity. The report concludes that generally, the impact of immigration has been largely negligible, with the only real impact over the past fifteen years being a slight increase in population.
In what is seen as bad news for universities, the Committee had already stated last week that it will advise that international students should not be removed from future immigration targets to fall in line with the Conservatives plans to reduce net immigration to the tens of thousands. This is mainly due to the technical difficulties in putting such a plan in place. Their interim report in March also said that business leaders were “fearful” of future immigration proposals and that employers found EU workers more “eager” and “reliable.” However, due to the repercussions of the 2016 Referendum, net immigration figures are at their lowest level since 2012, with a 33% decrease in EU nationals coming to the UK to look for work.
The fact that immigration holds such a centralised debating point is no doubt down to the platforms given to the likes of Nigel Farage, who it appears is freely available to discuss immigration on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. This is even though he has failed on seven occasions to be elected as a member of Parliament and is not a leader of any political party. The unchecked and unaccountable xenophobia and racism that targets immigrants coming into the country has paved the way for political disasters such as Brexit. Those on the right have long used immigration as an excuse to vent their ignorance, and often long to hark back to some imagined past where Britain was glorious.
However, it was in fact during what the right will see as Britain’s golden period, the “Age of Empire”, that Britain had absolutely no rules on immigration. Throughout the majority of the nineteenth century the executive had no statutory power to prevent people from coming and staying in Britain, and from 1823 Britain did not expel or prohibit a single refugee. For most Britons this was a source of considerable national pride. Naturally members of the then Liberal Party were prominent in the defence of the immigrants, but the view of Britain as a refuge and haven for the oppressed and persecuted stretched beyond this and was a widely-held political and cultural tradition.
Comparatively, both eras were periods when liberalism had to ride waves of nationalist and conservative populism and these similarities stretch to the rhetoric used amongst commentators and politicians. A combination of challenges to Victorian stability and sense of social harmony caused a feeling of insecurity and self-doubt across the country. Many felt that Britain was under threat, and that immigration freedoms were leading to her becoming the ‘dumping ground of Europe’. In such periods of heightening patriotic fervour, pride to Empire, and xenophobia, insecurity and negative stereotypes prospered. Overall, Victorian self-confidence had begun to wane during the late nineteenth century, and the press and politicians searched for a scape-goat, of which they found many. This was espoused through the cheap newspapers on sale across the country, most notably the Daily Mail which was established in 1896.
To survive this nationalist populism, a ‘new Liberalism’ emerged which increasingly came to believe the state was necessary to promote freedom and protect liberal values and institutions. took on an approach of reform through further state intervention, and eventually passed a very diluted and ineffective immigration bill in 1905.Contemporary liberalism on the other hand is faltering massively and does not appear to have the platform or voices to rebuke the right that is so urgently needed. This void is not currently being filled by the mainstream media, making the job of the growing band of independent news sites ever more important.