6. The Problem of Immigration and Borders

12 10 2016

Brexit Blog 6:  The Problem of Immigration and Borders

In the previous blog I started pondering some issues to do with racism – what it actually means and how it may not be a cause of defensive feelings over perceived job losses. I also noted that most obviously there can be a link between racism and immigration – but not necessarily. This last point is important because some arguments for curtailing immigration – which has clearly become a big issue both before and since Brexit – have purely economic reasons behind them and not racial reasons.

Part of the EU concept has been to remove borders as far as free access to people is concerned but this raises a variety of questions. Immigration (Dictionary defn.: the action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country’) is clearly a contentious issue so let’s try to identify some of the basic questions that arise in respect of people wanting to come into this country.

Basic Questions about Immigration:

One aspect of the basic problem of immigration was neatly put by Matthew Parris in the Times (24th Sept 2016) in an imaginary discussion between a Minister and his advisor:

Minister: “You what? Take me through this one more time. We should make a reciprocal treaty with every other nation in the world to accept any of their citizens with “a well-founded fear of persecution in their own country”. Every country? Any of its citizens?”

  1. Who should come?

In the fifties and sixties, we opened the doors to refugees from the war, e.g. Poles, and then later those we needed to fill jobs that no one else was taking, e.g. from the Caribbean. So we have two groups to consider: refugees and workers.

  1. How many should come?

Initially we didn’t worry because the numbers were not great. Indeed, today, if we were talking about a mere thousand Syrian refugees, we would not be debating the subject. What worries us is unlimited numbers and the effect that such numbers might have.

  1. What effect will they have on this country?

Here for many is the biggest worry.

  • Some focus on the thought that immigrants will take jobs at lower pay and thus undermine our employment economy. Linked with this are concerns about putting a strain on our housing supply.
  • Some worry that we have just not been good at bringing immigrants into our population and assimilating them in such a way that the characteristics of ‘British-ness’ are not diluted.
  • A closely linked worry from an historical perspective is that large numbers of immigrants from a particular country or race, tend to huddle together and ghettos are formed.
  • Some suggest there is no coincidence that criminal gangs, whether exploiting drugs, sex or whatever, often have a link to a national immigrant grouping.
  • Perhaps closely allied to that worry is the worry that with the influx of people from Middle Eastern countries, will come a number who are already terrorism orientated.
  • Another vaguely related worry (in that such people come from similar Middle Eastern countries) is the worry that some immigrants from those particular countries come bringing in practices that are alien to a civilized Western culture, e.g. various negative aspects of badly treating women (bride purchase, female circumcision etc).
  • Others (and David Cameron worked against this at least for a 5 year period) worry about a straining benefits system being broken by immigrants needing care.
  1. What forms do the arguments take?

On one side we hear, “We need to be caring and compassionate and take in all these needy people” while on the other we hear, “We need to distinguish between economic refugees looking for British jobs, and genuine political refugees but also recognize that we are a limited island with limited resources.”

The problems of refugees

Matthew Parris’ article focused on the persecuted and went on to suggest that a radical overhaul of the Geneva Contention Protocol on Refugees should come about, joining those who, to quote Wikipedia, “have argued that the complex nature of 21st century refugee relationships calls for a new treaty that recognizes the evolving nature of the nation-state, population displacement, and modern warfare.” i.e. the world has changed so much that to take in massive numbers fleeing from the world’s war zones is putting an undue strain on receiving countries.

Angela Merkel is an example of a national leader who has been suffering in the polls for her open doors policy which is clearly disliked by a number of Germans. The sight of the refugee camp at Calais has evoked, I suggest, three different common responses:

  • Compassion and anguish, especially for children there,
  • Anger at the hijacking of lorry drivers by apparently ‘desperate’ fleeing refugees,
  • Anger at the sense that just maybe Calais is part of the international chess game that nations play, in this case, France, to put pressure on other nations, in this case, England.

The Reality of a Combined Europe?

The ultimate goal of the European Union must be, as some have already suggested, the complete removal of all borders and the uniformity of all laws, taxes and tariffs, but while there are pressure groups within each country fighting for their own cause that is unlikely. Indeed, even prior to the referendum an article in the Telegraph declared, “Voters in France, Italy and the Netherlands are demanding their own votes on European Union membership and the euro, as the continent faces a “contagion” of referendums.” (Telegraph 23rd June 2016) Not everyone in the EU is as enamoured with it as the Remain protesters would like to think.

Even more, as some of the most economically stable countries look at the less stable countries and wonder how it will be before they are called to bail them out, the reality is that everything in the EU garden is not as rosy as many would like to think.

Not only is it in respect of general economies, but also when it comes to trade across borders. Beyond those three countries mentioned above, that same Telegraph article went on to note, “business leaders handed a considerable boost to the Leave campaign by saying it would be “very, very foolish” to deny the UK a free trade deal after Brexit. Markus Kerber, the head of the BDI, which represents German industry, said that 1970s-style trade barriers would result in job losses in Germany.” Varying views about all aspects of Brexit appear across Europe as well as in the UK.

We will pick up on further specific problems with border restrictions in the next blog.

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