The governments stance on immigration is a source of much shame for me in Europe. By falling into the UKIP trap of scapegoating immigrants for Europe’s economic problems, Prime Minister David Cameron is sending out all the wrong messages about Britain. We must counteract this by talking up the reality which is that being in the EU brings massive benefits for everyone, including immigration.
I do not disagree with this week’s New Statesman editorial that, “it would be foolish to deny that immigration from within the European Union and outside it brings pressures” and that “it would be foolish, too, to deny that there are abuses of the immigration system”. However, it cannot be assumed that immigrants are responsible for our faltering economy and for pressures on housing, jobs, schools, etc.
Take housing for example. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard parents blaming immigrants for their sons and daughters having no chance of getting onto the property ladder. The fact is that we’re in the worst housing crisis Britain has ever seen – and it wasn’t immigrants that caused it. Politicians failed us when selling off all of our council housing, by not building enough new houses and by refusing to intervene in a housing market where houses are shuffled around as financial assets instead of providing homes for people in need. Furthermore it wasn’t migrants who caused the financial crisis we’ve just been through – that was the bankers.
Too often on immigration, people are forced to defend and react to scare stories so I feel that it’s time to start setting the agenda. Immigration is great and we shouldn’t be afraid to say it. The UK is a remarkable place because of the fact there is so much diversity in culture on display. Additionally, without migrants some of our most treasured public services such as the NHS would soon fall apart.
But what about them taking jobs away from English-born people? This is a misguided concern which has managed to make it’s way right to the top of the political agenda. The answer is that there isn’t actually any real evidence to suggest that migrants take jobs away from people who were born here. Writing in the Guardian, Jonathon Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, pointed out that a recent government summary of the evidence concluded there was, “little evidence in the literature of a statistically significant impact from EU migration on native employment outcomes”.
Nor do migrants seem to push down wages. “Because immigrants earn money, spend money, set up businesses and so on, it also increases the demand for labour.” Therefore, increased wages will have to come from government – which is why my party are calling for a £10 minimum wage by 2020, in comparison to Ed Miliband’s timid call for £8 by 2020.
Freedom of movement is a massive benefit of being in the EU which is open for everyone to enjoy. Can you imagine the fuss that would be caused if as part of a revised relationship with the EU, people were told they could no longer take their annual summer holiday in France? For me, hopping across the border with my fellow UK MEPs for work at the European Parliament in Brussels is a great experience and opportunity which I would not want to lose out on. I’m sure British people living permanently in other countries would tell you the same thing.
The departing President of the European Commission Jose Manual Barroso was right to warn us over the weekend of the potential illegality of capping migrant numbers and why leaving the EU will not work in our favour. The challenge for everyone else now is to not shy away from talking up the benefits of immigration and of the wider EU project. Of course some reform of the EU is needed, like for a start stopping TTIP – but keeping freedom of movement is a no-brainer.
Keith Taylor is the Green MEP for South East England