I was on the Jon Gaunt programme a few mornings ago, discussing why I thought Britain should be in the EU. As you can imagine, Jon and I were on very different sides of the argument. There was one moment where he looked to catch me out, maybe get me mumbling, when he asked if I thought immigration to Britain was a positive thing. I replied: “yes”. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s what he expected. No one thinks immigration is good anymore, do they? That’s so 1990s; so Tony Blair.
But I was being honest on Gaunt’s programme because, yes, within reason, I think immigration is a net positive for Great Britain, however unfashionable that might be to say. I also think the topic is the elephant in the room for pro-Europeans because how can you defend Britain’s on going membership of the EU if you can’t defend free movement of people?
The way this all became a problem in the first place, I believe, was the unprecedented and unforeseen number of Poles who arrived in the country post-2004. I want to state here that I think overall Polish immigration to the UK has been a net positive; nevertheless, it did set the stage for a sort of “we’re being swamped” style hysteria that has clouded the debate. What I will say about this is that – like most problems the UK has with the EU – it is actually a situation created almost entirely by decisions made by the British government of the time. The UK decided to let workers from Poland be employed in the country immediately upon ascension, when actually the treaties only stipulated that Polish workers be given such access in 2011. Part of the reason the migration to Britain from Poland was so high in the 2004 to 2008 period was for this precise reason: all of the other EU countries bar Sweden and Ireland kept to the 2011 timetable. This is one of the reasons migration from Romania and Bulgaria was has not been as high as predicted in some quarters: every country in the EU opened its borders to workers from those countries at the same time, meaning there was a large choice of places workers from those countries could go.
But back to my thesis: why do I say immigration to the UK is a net positive? Because, to take a but one relevant example, I think that having the best and brightest young French people coming here to start a business because they feel the French system is too stifling is a great advert for the Anglo-Saxon economic model. If the Eurosceptic wing of the Tories could simply see past their own prejudices regarding the EU, they would be able to understand how much the migration of French entrepreneurs to Britain is a validation of the free market over socialism. It is unfortunate that this is not the case.
And, as I say, the French are just one example of this. Most EU migrants come to this country to better themselves. In doing so many of them create businesses, which in turn create jobs. The EU migrants we have in this country are a net benefit to our economy. It’s time we started saying so again.