From the TUC

What Migration Watch aren’t telling you about what leaving the single market would mean

30 Dec 2016, by in International

Migration Watch, the anti-immigration organisation, published a report yesterday calling for the UK to leave the single market to reduce net EU immigration. Like so much of what is said about migration, the incomplete nature of the argument is deliberately misleading. In particular, Migration Watch are guilty of hiding the true costs to working people of leaving the single market.

Migration Watch argue that, while southern Europe remains mired in austerity, and eastern Europe remains poor, there will continue to be forces driving especially younger people from such countries to the UK to seek work. Staying in the single market, they say, means there can be no effective controls on this process, so we need to leave to reduce net migration. There are so many things unsaid in this argument that it seems clear they are deliberately seeking to mislead people. I have saved the biggest omission until last in this list of five key missing pieces to the Migration Watch argument.

1. Net migration to the UK is not solely, or even mainly, about free movement from the rest of Europe

Around half of the migration into the UK is from outside the EU. It has nothing to do with free movement or the single market. The Conservatives’ impractical target of reducing net migration to below 100,000 a year was always about more than EU migration, and even if no one was allowed to enter the UK from the rest of Europe – a much harsher regime than applies to any other part of the world – migration from outside the EU would still have to be cut by more than a third from its current – highly policed and restricted – levels.

2. Leaving the single market wouldn’t stop migration from the rest of Europe

Unless we actually adopted a position barring Europeans from entering the UK to live and work there would clearly still be some people moving to the UK to work from the EU. Ministers and other advocates of leaving the EU have still argued that there should be provisions for EU citizens to come and work here, either on the same basis as people from all over the world, or through special arrangements. If we were still allowing skilled migrants in to fill vacancies in the health service like doctors, nurses and dentists (let alone other industries); and if we were still allowing employers who cannot fill vacancies in lower skill occupations like harvesting, catering, social care and so on – we would still have a considerable inflow from the rest of Europe. And many of the migrants to the UK from the rest of the EU (not as many as in past generations, but still sizeable numbers) are Irish (22,000 in 2013 alone), and no one is seriously suggesting that the free movement area covering the British Isles should end. None of these elements of EU migration to the UK are mentioned in Migration Watch’s analysis.

3. Leaving the single market could put upwards pressure on net migration numbers

Free movement is, of course, a two way street. While more people have come to the UK from the rest of Europe in the last fifteen years, some people have always headed in the other direction – there are well over a million UK citizens in the rest of Europe compared with the 3 million EU citizens in the UK. If we shut down our borders completely, emigration would be stopped too, reducing the impact on net immigration by up to a third.

4. There are so many other ways to manage migration – why aren’t we exploring these?

Actually, Migration Watch’s report does contain a hint about a significant way to have an impact on EU migration into the UK. They say that one of the key reasons that people move to the UK from eastern Europe and now southern Europe too is the lack of decent jobs in those countries. But there are ways that could be addressed. In the last quarter of the 20th century, EU membership led to Ireland changing from being a net exporter of people (as it had been for over a century beforehand) to being a net importer. In those days, politicians running the EU and its member states were more keen on using the EU as an engine of economic growth. But it’s not inevitable that southern Europe should be mired in austerity, or eastern Europe stay poor. These are the result of political choices, and they could be changed.

And migration could be managed so much better in the UK than it is now. As the TUC has argued, we could ensure that migrants were not exploited by bad bosses, and therefore reduce undercutting of the existing workforce. And we could spread the overall economic benefits of migration more fairly so that communities who have been abandoned, and are most concerned about migration, could have access to better education, health services, housing and jobs.

5. And it’s economics that is the big omission in the Migration Watch report

Leaving the single market, as Migration Watch advocate, would have huge costs. The British economy would suffer as our exports (and components and raw materials) became more expensive, and consumers would suffer as they saw prices in the shops rise, and household wages fall. British workers would in particular lose out because membership of the single market also protects our rights at work.

Not telling people the costs to them of leaving the single market is tantamount to pretending there would be no costs. It’s up to us to make it clear what people would be risking if the Government backed such a hard Brexit. We want to put jobs and rights at work first, because what’s good for British workers is good for Britain.

2 Responses to What Migration Watch aren’t telling you about what leaving the single market would mean

  1. Alanna Thomas, Exec Director, Migration Watch UK
    Jan 6th 2017, 12:43 pm

    The main thrust of our paper was that Single Market membership, which would require the continued acceptance of free movement of people, would entail EU net migration of 155,000 a year in the medium term. Notably, this blog does not refute this. Rather it accuses us of deliberately seeking to mislead people through five “key missing pieces”. Below are our responses.
    1. Net migration to the UK is not solely, or even mainly, about free movement from the rest of Europe – Our report was not missing this information. A chart in the paper clearly illustrated the changing trends in EU and non-EU migration, and the accompanying press release specifically noted the level of non-EU migration and its contribution to the overall total.
    2. Leaving the single market wouldn’t stop migration from the rest of Europe – Quite so but it does not follow that “we would still have a considerable inflow from the rest of Europe”. We have proposed a system of work permits confined to those offered skilled jobs. Looking at the Labour Force Survey over the last ten years we have estimated employer need at around 30,000 a year which would also allow for some expansion. This would lead to much lower levels of net migration from the EU. In fact we estimate that it could be 100,000 lower under such a system.
    3. Leaving the single market could put upwards pressure on net migration numbers – We have been clear that we are not in favour of restrictions on visitors, students and the self-sufficient, and would like to see people to continue to move to and from the EU for highly-skilled work. Under our proposed system the British citizens retiring to the rest of the EU could continue to do so as these individuals are self sufficient. Also, three-quarters of UK expatriates are residing outside the EU, so even a worst (and most unlikely) case of severe restrictions on access to the rest of the EU would have little effect on net migration of UK citizens.
    4. There are so many other ways to manage migration – why aren’t we exploring these? – The author here correctly says that political choices in other Member States could reduce push factors resulting from austerity and poverty in their own countries but these are not matters for the UK government. The author also suggests that any undercutting of the existing workforce results from exploitation by bad bosses. The picture is much more complex than that. Much of the normal rule of supply and demand has ceased to apply because of the ready availability of cheap labour from the EU.
    5. And it’s economics that is the big omission in the Migration Watch report – We are a migration think tank. The likely economic impact of the range of possible future relationships with the rest of the EU is a matter of much scrutiny by economists, but economics alone does not give a full picture to the public, and many will be interested to know that EU migration is unlikely to fall below 155,000 in the medium term if we remain members of the Single Market. On this crucial point, the author appears not to disagree.

  2. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    Jan 8th 2017, 9:21 am

    Alanna, thanks for responding at such length. You argue at the end that Migration Watch is a think tank devoted only to migration (I’d argue only to migration numbers, itself only part of the picture) although you express views on labour exploitation and suggest that in some way high migration numbers over-ride the laws of supply and demand (which wasn’t, in fact, the point I was making about exploitation by bad bosses.)

    I’m sure there are points on which even the TUC and Migration Watch could agree, but we part company on two key points.

    First, your suggestion that migration numbers can be addressed in isolation from economics, labour market regulation and so on. Our concern is that if people are presented with just part of the picture, they will take away the message that it’s possible to tackle migration numbers without any impact on the other aspects of the issue. Had that been the response to increasing female participation in the workforce in the 60s and 70s, we might never have had the Equal Pay Act, childcare and sex discrimination laws: bad bosses wanted to use women as a source of cheap labour just as they now do migrants.

    And secondly, the TUC has well over a century of experience dealing with migration and its impacts on the labour market and the economy – we’re not just a think tank, either, our members and activists have practical experience of addressing these challenges first hand. And our real concern is that *only* focussing on migration numbers can generate community tensions and conflicts which could be very dangerous.

    We absolutely agree that we all need to talk about migration (indeed, as I say, unions have been doing so for well over a century), and we’ve been very clear that being concerned about migration is absolutely not the same as being racist. But putting all the focus on migration numbers – and ignoring the economy, community needs, rights at work and wages – is one-sided and dangerous.