I live in the UK by virtue of my citizenship of an EU country.
I also support Brexit.
And I think immigration in general is a good thing.
How do I reconcile all of this?
My view is that all people, including the people of the UK, should have a choice about who they let in and who they don’t.
The UK has exercised that choice to welcome people from all over the world for centuries, long before the EU and European freedom of movement were even dreamt of.
When Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables in Guernsey, having fallen foul of the Emperor Napoléon, or when Emile Zola fled to London, to escape the opprobrium of the French establishment after his support for Capitaine Dreyfuss, it wasn’t thanks to EU freedom of movement. It was because the British chose to let them come here.
The British, though sometimes a little stiff or reserved, are a fundamentally welcoming and fair people. If you give them the choice, they will choose to continue welcoming immigrants like me from Europe and the rest of the world, as they have done for centuries.
As someone who appreciates the principled, reliable manner in which the Brits gave me a chance to make a life here, I was absolutely livid when those who supported Brexit were called racist or ignorant for having the audacity to ask for a choice as to who they let into their country. I blew my top. The Brits have been good to me and I feel a deep gratitude to them. I’m disgusted that the Remoaners should insult them in such a condescending way. Just who do they think they are?
The Brits are not stupid. They know that a certain level of certain types of immigration is in their interest. By giving them the choice over how many immigrants and what type of immigrant comes in, and on what terms, you will take the angst and resentment out of the immigration debate.
Only full control is real control
Opponents of Brexit respond that, as part of the EU, the UK could insist that EU citizens needed a job, or proof of means, to acquire UK residence.
But that is only partial control. While the UK is in the EU, if a company wants to offer an EU citizen a job in the UK then the UK cannot, under any circumstance, stop them from doing so. It therefore has no say as to whether that EU citizen can reside in the UK or not. Compare this to the United States and Australia, two very successful economies: any foreigner who wants to work there, from any country in the world, has to get a work permit. The UK does not, with respect to EU nationals, have the full control over its borders that the USA or Australia have over theirs.
The fake Remoaner immigration paradox
Once the British are given this full border control, I believe they will use it to allow in the immigrants they need to support their economy. Some Remain supporters seem to find a contradiction in this.
Their view is:
- If, thanks to your new powers under Brexit, you prevent immigrants coming in, you will damage the economy.
- But if you accept we need immigrants and you therefore let them in, then you have exactly the same immigration situation you had before Brexit – so it’s pointless.
The aim of this blog is to offer a rigorous rebuttal of this phony paradox.
Requirements of the answer
For this to be a rigorous rebuttal, two conditions must be fulfilled:
- Demonstrate that the immigration laws made possible by Brexit can bring about different immigration outcomes from those which obtain at the moment, and offer UK legislators choices in their immigration policy they didn’t have as part of the EU;
- Demonstrate that the UK government, post-Brexit, can exercise those choices to pass legislation which allows employers to operate without shortage of suitable staff.
Labor market situation (pre- and post-Brexit)
To demonstrate this, we first need to establish a few basic premises about the UK labor market:
- Some industries, such as healthcare, IT and finance, have domestic labor shortages;
- Some industries, such as retail and manufacturing, have domestic labor surpluses;
- The distinction between domestic shortage and overall shortage is very important. You can have a shortage of domestic workers, but a surplus of workers overall if the total of immigrant plus domestic workers is greater than the total numbers of jobs in a particular activity. In that case, there will be unemployment and pressure on wages, despite the shortage of domestic labor.
Next, we need to note a few basic points about control over immigration pre- and post-Brexit.
- Any worker from the EU is allowed to work in the UK. The UK may be able to stipulate (as mentioned above) that no EU national can reside in the UK without having a job or means of support, but if a European has a job offer they can move to the UK (note that as part of the EU the UK could not pass any law which compelled EU nationals to leave once they became unemployed);
- Any worker from outside the EU needs a work permit. These are very difficult to obtain, as the employer needs to prove that a British worker couldn’t have done the job. Demonstrating this requires the employer to advertise the job widely, increasing expense, time to hire and uncertainty. This makes it very difficult to hire non-EU employees.
- The government of the day can decide how many visas or work permits it wishes to grant for which kinds of jobs. Even if an employer intends to offer an EU worker a job, it won’t be able to if the quota is exceeded;
- It can make it very easy, for workers from all over the world, not just the EU, to obtain visas for certain professions where there are shortages;
- It can also decide not to grant any visas at all, including to workers from the EU, for other kinds of jobs where there is high unemployment.
We can, accordingly, divide foreign workers wishing to work in the UK into four categories (both pre- and post-Brexit):
The following table looks at the situation of those four types of workers post-Brexit versus pre-Brexit. In order to refute the “Remoaner paradox” rigorously the table has to show two things:
- That something has really changed post-Brexit. For this, the content of the Pre-Brexit (PreB) column has to be different from the Post-Brexit (PostB) column;
- That the UK can hire the people it needs. For this, there must be no shortages post-Brexit in the “shortage/surplus” column;
Hypothetical case studies
Here are a couple of hypothetical case studies to illustrate the points made in the table:
Case Study A
- Assume a profession with demand for 1,000 employees.
- Assume 900 British people are willing to do the job at £10/hour.
- Assume 300 EU nationals are willing to do the job at £9/hour.
- Pre-Brexit: Employers hire 300 EU nationals at lower rate of £9/hour, so there are only 700 jobs left and 200 British workers are unemployed. There is nothing the government can do to reduce the number of EU workers.
- Post-Brexit: the government has a choice whether to cap immigration in that profession, reducing unemployment and increasing wages for employers – or not to cap immigration, keeping wages down and unemployment up. Its choice will depend upon the manifesto on which it has been elected – by the British voters.
Case Study B
- Assume a hospital needs to hire two oncologists.
- Assume waiting lists are high for cancer treatment in that area.
- Assume it receives 5 applications, 3 from German doctors, one from a Ugandan doctor, and one from an Argentinian doctor.
- Assume one of the German doctors and the Ugandan doctor are clearly the best and that, given the choice, the hospital would hire them. Assume there are question marks about the other three.
- Pre-Brexit: the German can be hired no problem. For the Ugandan, a complex process lasting many months and requiring great expense must be set up. During that time, waiting lists will grow, and the Ugandan doctor may elect to work in Dubai, where regulation is more simple.
- Post-Brexit: having identified oncology as an area of shortage, the government sets up a fast track procedure for oncologists who meet certain standards. The hospital can hire both the German and the Ugandan without delay.
As you can see, for all four classes of workers, the UK has powers it didn’t have before Brexit, and is able to avoid labor shortages.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Neither the US nor Australia are members of the EU. But they don’t seem to be applying to join the EU to make up for any skills shortages.
A more balanced approach to immigration
Pre-Brexit, the UK’s immigration policy was caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, most British people felt there were too many people coming into the UK and so wanted some kind of cap on immigration. On the other, there was no way for the UK government to limit immigration from the EU. The only area of immigration which the UK could influence was immigration from outside the EU. This meant, in practice, that all the pressure to reduce immigration was concentrated on the non-EU immigrants. It was because the UK government only had control over a small part of those seeking to emigrate to the UK that net migration continually exceeded the government’s target. And it meant that a lot of talented people from the Indian sub-continent, or the Carribean, or Latin America, or Canada, or New Zealand, indeed from all over the world, were unable to obtain jobs for which they would have been eminently qualified.
Post-Brexit, the UK will be free to choose the best and most suitable not just from the EU but from across the whole world. The NHS, which faces a nursing shortage, will be able to recruit nurses from Sri Lanka as well as Estonia, from South Africa as well as Greece. Of course, it could recruit Sri Lankan nurses before, but to do so needed to go through the complex work permit procedure. Outside the EU, flexibility and choice will increase, not decrease, but only in sectors where voters choose to encourage more immigrants to fill any skills gap.
Other Brexit benefits
Workers from the EU, under current arrangements, must enjoy the same rights as those from the UK. Workers from other countries however can be offered work permits which allow them to work but give them fewer entitlements. Such restricted work permits could enable the UK to meet skills shortages without increasing the pressure on public services, or adding to already stretched demands on the pensions and old age care systems. Post-Brexit, the UK could choose to offer such restricted work permits to European workers.
Remember, this is a choice. If British people feel this is unfair to foreign workers they can vote for a government that doesn’t implement such work permits. But if voters do find them attractive then they can vote for a government that does implement them. That’s what democratic control over immigration means.
Reductio ad absurdum
You could, in theory, imagine that, post-Brexit, the UK just happened to exercise its choice to admit exactly the same immigrants as it would have if it had stayed in the EU. In other words, we are thinking of a hypothetical situation in which, by coincidence, by chance, the number and selection of immigrants after Brexit would be identical with what it would have been had the UK voted to Remain. This is of course a very unlikely, highly theoretical possibility. Such an unlikely coincidence might be seized upon by the Remoaners to say that Brexit “didn’t change anything.”
But even such an unlikely coincidence would still represent an improvement. Doing something out of choice is fundamentally different from being forced to do it, as we all know from our real life experience. It feels totally different if someone says “do you mind if I sit here?” than if they just plump down at your table and flatly tell you they’re not moving. Yet the tangible outcome is exactly the same. In both cases, the same person is sitting in the same chair at your table. But the fact that they asked, in the first case, makes all the difference. Even if, post-Brexit, by some incredible fluke, you ended up with the same tangible outcome, the same number and mix of immigrants, the fact that the Brits had a choice in the matter would make a world of difference. The feeling of being asked and having the right to say “no” matters hugely to the people of any nation. As a foreigner in this country, I believe that the re-introduction of the courtesy involved in giving my host nation the choice as to who it lets in will do wonders for the climate – for all foreigners.