Brexit is driving away migrants – hitting the economy and living standards

Notes from the front of 04-09-17

Brexit is driving away migrants – hitting the economy and living standards

In the wake of the EU referendum net immigration of EU nationals to the UK has fallen, as many working in the UK have returned to their previous home countries and fewer have chosen to come to the UK. This has been to the detriment of the economy, with several sectors already experiencing significant problems.

The changes to net immigration were starkly revealed by August’s Migration Statistics Quarterly Report from the Office for National Statistics, which reported that annual net migration to the UK had fallen by a quarter, from 327,000 in the year ending 31 March 2016 to 246,000 in the year ending 31 March 2017. This fall of 81,000 people is largely made up of EU nationals – with the numbers immigrating to the UK falling and numbers emigrating away from the UK rising.

The EU referendum campaign and its aftermath saw an intensification of xenophobia against EU nationals. A press campaign falsely depicted immigration as a cause of peoples’ declining living standards. This helped whip up the rise in hate crime that has taken place, which has included some extreme violence against EU nationals, with one Polish national killed.

Alongside this the Tories’ refusal to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living and working in the UK – removed the security EU nationals had previously been entitled to expect.

The xenophobia and lack of guaranteed rights have played a role in the changed pattern of immigration and emigration of EU nationals. In addition, the declining value of the pound since, and due to, the referendum has made UK wages less competitive internationally, so the UK has become a less economically attractive place to live and work.

Some sectors of the UK economy are already reporting difficulties as a result of the reduced net immigration of EU nationals.

The Royal College of Nursing says that only 96 EU nurses signed up this year to work in the NHS, down from 1,300 on the previous year.

The Association of Labour Providers reports a shortfall of 15,000 agricultural workers. The National Farmers’ Union states that there has been a 17 per cent drop in the number of seasonal workers coming to the UK.

27,000 fewer international students are coming to study in the UK compared to last year – this figure includes both EU and non-EU students – which is hitting the income of the university sector.

A survey by KPMG UK indicates that a further decline in net migration is on the cards if the Tories’ hard Brexit plans are realised. The survey found that 35 per cent of EU nationals in the UK were considering leaving in addition to the 8 per cent who have already decided to go. If all of those considering departure leave, the UK’s national workforce will be cut by 3.1 per cent or 1 million people.

The UK’s population is aging, so migrants – who overwhelmingly are of working age – are a vital part of the workforce. As a result they are also net contributors to public finances, making a net contribution of migrants of £7bn a year. The OBR has forecast that a fall in net migration would cost the government £6bn a year by 2020-21.

The Leave vote has already had an adverse impact on immigration, which is currently working its way through the economy. If the UK leaves the Single Market and ends freedom of movement for EU nationals the situation will further deteriorate.

The Tories’ stated goal of cutting net migration to the ‘the tens of thousands’ is a totally reactionary agenda. It sows division in society with its racist and xenophobic myths and harms the economy and public finances. Basing policy on opposition to immigration is just making the whole of the population poorer.

The forthcoming Stand Up To Racism conference will provide an opportunity to discuss how to counter this anti-immigrant offensive. Progressive people who support equality and oppose racism and Islamophobia are encouraged to attend. It will take place from 10.30am to 4.30pm on Saturday 21 October, at Friends Meeting House London NW1. Book here.