Immigration: Is this really all we’re arguing about?

Two interesting things happened in January:

1. Migration Watch — a “migration-sceptic” think tank — published its research on what would happen to immigration if the UK left the EU and struck the famous “better deal” wanted by Vote Leave and UKIP. In other words a better deal than either the Norway or Swiss Options.

2. Steve Woolfe, UKIP’s migration spokesman, gave a speech to British Future about his approach to immigration and UKIP’s appeal to Britain’s ethnic minorities.

And both were very illuminating.

Migration Watch’s key finding was that net migration into the UK from the EU/EEA could reduce from about 180,000 to 65,000 after Brexit. The media headlines this morning are therefore exclaiming that we might “slash” net migration by 100,000 if we left the EU.

Sounds a lot.

But hang on a sec. Net migration to the UK is currently sitting at circa 340,000 per year. The report is therefore saying that net migration will still stand at c.240,000 per year in the event of a “better deal” at the point of Brexit. That equates to roughly the average annual net migration figure between 2003 and 2014. Yes, the same amount that caused all the froth over immigration in the first place.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

And when your chin has been lifted from the floor, now consider what Steven Woolfe said in his speech. The thrust of his speech (here) is that Commonwealth citizens — from India, Pakistan, Australia and so on — can find it very difficult to get into Britain while nationals from EU /EEA countries can glide in. He was noting the basic unfairness of it but also the regular UKIP theme that this policy is shutting out very good and skilled people from the Commonwealth, who we may owe a greater historic, moral and cultural duty than we do to EU/EEA nationals.

As Jonathan Portes then pointedly tweeted the next day, “Brexit will allow large *increase* in immigration from outside EU, UKIP’s migration spokesman argues”.

After a question from myself, Portes further added, “Needs to be substantial if his [Woolfe’s] appeal to those supposedly losing out [Commonwealth citizens] now means anything” And “To be clear, it’s a perfectly respectable position. Clear some people don’t understand it.”

Indeed they don’t.

Because after factoring in Migration Watch’s mooted decrease in net migration, one must now add in Woolfe’s extra Commonwealth migration. It therefore becomes possible to imagine a net migration figure towards 300,000.

340,000 versus c.300,000.

And just to remind you, this is after striking the ever-elusive “better deal” with the EU at the point of Brexit (and after rejecting an EEA position “because it does little about free movement”).

Is this really all we are arguing over?

It would appear so.


The Case for the EEA option is here.