Labour shouldn’t fall into the Leave campaign’s trap on immigration

EU immigration fears are unfounded and we shouldn't pander to them, writes Richard Corbett MEP

 

There have been recent pleas for Labour to heed the results of the referendum by henceforth opposing free movement in Europe, regardless of its benefits.

This proposal has many pitfalls. At worst, it is tantamount to saying ‘we know immigration is broadly positive, but because people mistakenly believe it isn’t (and this is exploited by racists), we should formulate a policy based on those mistaken beliefs rather than on the evidence’.

Moreover, even if you are convinced of the need to limit migration, doing so as a knee-jerk response to the EU referendum result falls into precisely the trap set by the Leave campaign in the referendum, which was to blame the problem entirely on our European agreements.

Let’s not forget that most migrants in Britain have come from outside the EU, entirely under British rules, nothing to do with the EU. It was the Tories’ failure to meet their own target of cutting migration to the tens of thousands per year, even where they controlled the levers, that led them to deflect blame onto Europe.

Meanwhile, EU migration is two-way, with large numbers of Brits in other EU countries partly balancing the numbers of other EU citizens here. Those here pay one third more in tax than they take in benefits. Brits abroad are often retired, using the Spanish and French health services and relieving pressure on ours.

So, in general, it’s not EU free movement that’s the problem, though there are specific issues which we could deal with better if we chose to: directing part of the Treasury surplus from EU migrants to areas where public services are under pressure, properly enforcing the living wage, clamping down on employers who don’t advertise locally, and much more.

But above all, what is the price that we would have to pay to end EU (and EEA) free movement? Other EU countries are telling us that we’re welcome to stay in the single European market, provided we play by the same rules as everybody else in that market.

Free movement of goods, services and capital comes with free movement of labour. Without it, we can’t be a part of the single market. We would only have access to our main export market as an outsider, with the regulatory burdens, red tape for our companies, and costly tariffs that that entails.

How much economic damage are we willing to take? And to what avail?

After all, if ending free movement cuts even by half the net numbers coming to Britain, this would mean just 0.14 per cent of the population, as recently pointed out in a blog post entitled ‘Is 0.14 per cent of the population really more important than the economy?’.

Are we really going to damage our manufacturing sector, lose inward investment, erode our tax base (vital for financing public services and investment), lose a big chunk of the City, and make life more difficult for many Brits living abroad — all to pander to a few prejudices that we fully admit are unfounded?

Richard Corbett is deputy leader of the Labour MEPs and represents Yorkshire & Humber

See also: The EU won’t play ball on freedom of movement – just ask the Swiss

12 Responses to “Labour shouldn’t fall into the Leave campaign’s trap on immigration”

  1. We shouldn't fall into the right's trap on migration - Richard Corbett

    […] Left Foot Forward has just published an article of mine on why Labour should be careful not to fall into the right’s trap on immigration: […]

  2. Michael WALKER

    Having read the above, it would appear Mr Corbett has no idea what his constituents might think about immigration , nor what many voters outside his constituency do think.

    He cleverly manages to address a subject without mentioning the KEY concerns of many voters: jobs and housing. So either proving he realises he cannot win the arguments there , or has no idea what concerns of voters are.

  3. Sophie

    If most migrants are from outside the EU, why do the trade so vehemently unions oppose Brexit? Surely not all EU nationals coming into the country are not asked if they’re moving in or just visiting so how should we expect to have an accurate picture of EU migration? The existing evidence base on migration by category has huge gaps and limitations. Our manufacturing sector isn’t going to suffer but the minimum wage might need to be raised in line with actual living costs. Brexit has already made inward investment look more attractive with a shaky pound and presents many opportunities for Britain. If you’re suggesting our tax base will be eroded because EU migration will decrease, well you said yourself most migration is non-EU…The City is not going anywhere and your skepticism in our financial resilience is disturbing. Brits abroad will survive.

  4. Imran Khan

    Mr Walker. Spot on once again.

  5. NHSGP

    Why should the public trust politicians who sell state services such as the NHS to economic migrants from the EU bellow cost?

    The state spends 12K per person on average. More if you are poor because of redistribution.

    Importing lots of min wage migrants makes lots of other people poorer.

    The public have rumbled that scam. Time for the left to catch up.

  6. CR

    All immigration into the UK should be controlled/managed to fit our economic needs.

    Uncontrolled immigraiton has been a cause of many of our major econonomic and social problems.

  7. Martin Clarke

    If Labour try to fight the next election with Richard Corbett’s “self righteous/we know better than you/you’re racist” policy on immigration, they will get annihilated but UKIP in the north east and by the Tories everywhere else outside of London.

  8. wg

    The “living wage”, like the minimum wage before it, is a low bar that encourages poorer EU workers and discourages UK workers. But that is the nature of our welfare system.

    And surely “clamping down on employers who don’t advertise locally” is in contravention of the EU’s rules on contracts and tenders.

    For all tenders, public authorities:
    1. may not discriminate against a business because it is registered in another EU country

    I do not understand why a Labour MEP is so pedantic about immigration being a red line issue – isn’t Mr Corbett meant to be representing the people of the UK.

  9. Alex from Carlisle

    0.14 % of the population is it worth it

    Typical Labour. The folk in Boston, Spalding, Peterborough etc should just deal with it so the metro liberals don’t have to suffer.

    #hardbrexitnow

  10. George Laird

    “Labour shouldn’t fall into the Leave campaign’s trap on immigration”

    I think that the headline should be changed to reflect the position in more stark terms.

    Middle class university educated employed Labour members shouldn’t fall into the Leave campaign’s trap by supporting unemployed working class people left destitute with no hope of jobs, housing, social mobility and have plenty of opportunity to experience welfare benefit sanctions because of uncontrolled immigration in the UK.

  11. flassbeck economics international - Economics and politics - comment and analysis

    […] we should formulate a policy based on those mistaken beliefs rather than on the evidence” (see here  – and here for a case – the NHS, which cannot do without […]

  12. Corbyn sets out his stall on Labour's immigration divide | Left Foot Forward

    […] See also: Labour shouldn’t fall into the Leave campaign’s trap on immigration […]

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