Friday 8 December 2023

Immigration and asylum rows are another sign of Brexit’s total failure

One of the reasons why there is still any debate about whether Brexit is a success or a failure is because what Brexit meant and what it was supposed to achieve were so obscure, and were made deliberately obscure by those who campaigned for it. The two things are linked, of course: there is no checklist against which we can evaluate Brexit as a policy because it was only by allowing Brexit to have multiple meanings that enough people could be persuaded to vote for it.

The fact that winning the referendum was only possible by not defining what was being voted for lies at the heart of almost all the trauma that has followed, most especially the protracted political agony over agreeing what it was going to mean in practice. This week, that was vividly illustrated by the government’s panicky new tightening of immigration criteria in response to the latest annual net migration figures and, then, by the latest, still ongoing, twists in its ‘Rwanda policy’ fiasco. But before coming to these events, it’s worth thinking about what preceded them.

Immigration control: a Brexit promise kept?

For well over a year now, Professor Jonathan Portes, one of the leading experts on the economics of migration, has been making the point that immigration policy is one of the very few areas where Brexit has delivered its promises. What he meant was that Vote Leave, unlike successive Tory governments, had never proposed any particular level or limit for immigration. Brexit had simply promised to give the UK control over setting the criteria for the entirety of its immigration policy, rather than just over immigration from non-EU countries, thus deciding for itself how many and what type of immigrants it needed. Wasn’t this exactly what Brexiters, including Nigel Farage, had demanded for years when championing an ‘Aussie-style points-based system’?

So here it was, and what it turned out to mean was just as high, or even higher, levels of immigration than before Brexit. And that was driven by choice and necessity. To give one important example, when the UK began setting its own immigration policy at the end of the Transition Period, it initially only allowed ‘senior care workers’ to be eligible for work visas. Then, in response to the worsening crisis in staffing social care, in February 2022 eligibility was extended to all grades of care workers. This, and the, on average, one dependant each care worker brought with them, was one of the main drivers of the high number of work-related visas issued in the latest figures. But it didn’t happen through carelessness or ‘losing control of our borders’: as with the rest of the work visa system, it happened as a deliberate choice in the face of a pressing need.

Post-Brexit control of immigration is not just about numbers. It has also meant a major change in the composition of immigration in that it is now much more heavily weighted towards non-EU countries than before. That, too, was in line with what Brexiters had called for and promised, including, again, Nigel Farage, when they fulminated against the unfairness of the situation where it was far easier for an EU citizen to work and live in the UK than for those from elsewhere in the world, especially the Commonwealth countries.

Indeed one strand of the leave campaign was aimed directly at minority ethnic groups, raising the grievance that their relatives faced so many hurdles in joining them whereas EU citizens faced, effectively, none. Thus the Vote Leave campaign produced leaflets (£) in Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi urging that leaving the EU “would help to stem the flow of Eastern Europeans into the UK – allowing more incomers from Commonwealth countries to take their place”. Some Brexiters, such as the Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski, even argued that EU Freedom of Movement rules were “racist”, and that “whether Indian or Romanian you should be treated the same”.

Or a Brexit promise broken?

So, in all of these ways, Portes and others have been quite justified in saying that Brexit really has delivered on its promises about immigration. But, of course, as they are no doubt well aware, they are also being cute. For there can be no doubt that many, perhaps even most, leave voters wanted and expected Brexit to mean immigration levels would reduce, and that by ‘control of our borders’ they meant, and thought Brexit campaigners meant, control in order to reduce immigration, not simply control regardless of how it was used.

Since the referendum, some Brexiters, including Boris Johnson, have sought to claim that immigration wasn’t really at issue, so much as the ‘principle’ of sovereignty. However, polls immediately after the referendum showed, yes, that for 49% of leave voters “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK” (which can be taken to mean ‘sovereignty’) was their main motivation, but, even so, immigration control was the main motivation for 33% of them. In any case, the two motivations are likely to be intimately associated, with ‘sovereignty’, at least for some, likely to be mainly about, or at least to include, border control. Whatever may now be said, sovereignty was not an abstract principle but seen as a means to enact certain policies, including reducing immigration.

In all, it is hard to deny that many leavers, and surely enough of them to have made a decisive difference to the referendum outcome, thought, like this voter from Barnsley interviewed by Channel 4 News the day afterwards, that: “It’s all about immigration. It’s not about trade, or Europe, or anything like that. It’s all about immigration”. What may have been less common, but surely not that unusual, is what he went on to say, which caused the clip to attract much attention and some mockery: “It’s to stop Muslims coming into this country. It’s as simple as that”. He then went on: “The movement of people in Europe, fair enough but not from Africa, Syria, Iraq or anywhere else.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that, including the way it appears to approve of EU freedom of movement and, at least, the implication that, although immigrants from the EU might well be Muslims and those from outside the EU might well not be, this kind of voter is probably not likely to see the post-Brexit increase in non-EU immigration as having delivered what he wanted from Brexit. That would be consistent with research data showing that all voters, whether leave or remain, and regardless of social class or age, are more positive about EU immigrants than non-EU immigrants. Or, let’s be blunt, voters like ‘Barnsley man’ object far more to black and brown immigrants than they do to white immigrants.

Beyond that, there is a clear implication that for him, and it is hard to believe he was unusual in this respect, the issue of immigration was bound up with, and perhaps identical to, that of refugees and asylum seekers. If so, it is hardly surprising since the (unofficial) Leave.EU campaign, most notoriously with Farage’s ‘Breaking Point’ poster, deliberately and explicitly conflated these issues. But so, too, did the supposedly more ‘respectable’ Vote Leave campaign, even if in more ‘genteel’ terms.

Thus just before the referendum Boris Johnson issued a statement which began by waxing lyrical about how “pro-immigration” he was but – whenever Brexiters say something positive about immigration it’s always the prelude to a ‘but’ – bemoaning freedom of movement, along with the claim that “the rogue European Court now controls not just immigration policy but how we implement asylum policy under the Charter of Fundamental Rights”. Like the Barnsley voter, he even mentions Syria and Iraq, in an implicit reference to the supposed possibility of Turkish accession to the EU.

The conflation of immigration and asylum

Against this background, what is happening with immigration policy now is hardly surprising. It may have seemed that Brexit had largely removed immigration from public concern and political attention. Between June 2015 and July 2016 ‘Immigration and Asylum’ topped the public’s list of the three most important issues facing the country, peaking at 71% in September 2015 – presumably in response to the European ‘migrant crisis’ – and still 56% at the time of the referendum. It then steadily fell to being named by just 14% as a top-three issue in April 2020 before gradually rising again so that 40% now see it as a top-three issue, the highest score apart from ‘the economy’ and ‘health’.

But even that survey question is part of the problem. Immigration and asylum are not the same thing, and if they are conflated in the public mind then it is because they are conflated by political leaders. Not only that, but it is highly likely that growing public perception of ‘Immigration and Asylum’ being a problem issue is to do with the further conflation between asylum-seeking and ‘illegal’ (i.e., irregular) asylum-seeking, and especially the ‘small boats’, which itself is different from, though often conflated with, ‘illegal immigration’.

Matters are further confused, and public understanding confounded, by the way that the headline figures for immigration agglomerate the numbers for work visas and their dependants, student visas and their dependants, asylum seekers and, which is different again, refugees. Indeed, one reason for the recent spike in aggregate figures is the arrival of those fleeing war in Ukraine and tyranny in Hong Kong, something which has strong public support and also contributes to advancing the UK’s geo-political interests.

It is in this sense that this week’s government clampdown on immigration was panicky. Far from being a calm, rational assessment by a sovereign nation of what controls are needed in the national interest, economic and otherwise – the supposed promise of Brexit Global Britain – it was a rushed botch driven by Sunak’s fear of the Reform Party vote and of his NatCon backbenchers.

The result is a ‘five-point plan’ (is there any other sort?) which will hobble British businesses, damage the ‘world-class universities’ the Tories so often boast of and which are themselves one of the country’s most successful service exporters, exacerbate the crisis in social care, and, most cruelly of all, make international marriages something only available to the well-off (though the latter seems so badly thought out it’s quite likely to be dropped). What makes this plan all the more lamentable is that, for all the damage it will do, it almost certainly won’t even deliver a fillip to the Tory standing in the opinion polls. Within hours, Richard Tice, the notional leader of Farage’s Reform Party company, had denounced it, with yawn-inducing predictability, as a “betrayal” (£).

It certainly won’t slake the unquenchable thirst of the Tory populists for even tighter immigration controls, and for derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and, again, that was set up by the dishonesty of the Brexit campaign. For, in advocating freedom from, as Johnson put it, “the rogue European Court”, the Brexiters deliberately conflated the European Court of Justice (ECJ) with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which adjudicates the ECHR, and is quite separate from the EU. Certainly, prior to the referendum, every single time I heard leave-inclined voters give an example of EU Courts or EU law over-riding Britain’s Parliament or legal system it was something relating to the ECHR and ECtHR (and, often, some garbled version of it, such as that illegal immigrants couldn’t be deported if they had a pet cat).

Brexit pain with no Brexit gain

So we’ve gone through all the pain of Brexit, which was supposed to settle the immigration issue, for this – well, what should we call it? Grotesque stupidity and vileness are as good words as any. The tragedy is that in the process we have lost EU freedom of movement (FOM), and it is a tragedy which has many parts. One is simply economic. FOM is a highly flexible, non-bureaucratic way of matching jobs and workers. But FOM did so much more than that, enabling study, retirement, and romantic and family relationships. This meant that FOM wasn’t just an economic exchange, which ought to matter especially to those who profess to be concerned that immigration damages ‘community cohesion’.

We lost all this partly because of the conflation of FOM with asylum seekers and refugees, and partly for two deeper, and deeply related, reasons. One was the persistent failure of Brexiters to understand the difference between the Single Market and a Free Trade Agreement. In brief, this meant that they thought that FOM was just some kind of ‘ideological’ add-on by the EU, whereas in fact it is a central and irreducible component, making the four freedoms of the single market indivisible. Indeed, this failure of understanding was not confined to Brexiters, as shown by an interesting insider account of the referendum campaign, written by Daniel Korski, formerly Deputy Director of David Cameron’s Policy Unit. He records the frustration during the pre-referendum re-negotiation with the EU:   

“Nor would our counterparts in Europe acknowledge that the EU’s four freedoms are very much divisible. A country can reduce tariffs and remove trade barriers and still maintain restrictions on which foreigners are allowed to enter the country. This is what the United States has done since World War II, with NAFTA being the best example.” 

This ignorance came in time to inform the fantasy that a Free Trade Agreement could be a substitute for single market membership, but it had another consequence. Understood as a single market, it makes no more sense to talk about immigration between member countries than it does to do so between counties in Britain. This was alluded to by Sir Ivan Rogers in his February 2017 evidence to the House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee (p.10): 

“They [the rest of the EU] genuinely do not understand a UK debate in which the two are conflated at all. They do not understand why a government would have a migration target covering migration from within the European Union, which for other people is not migration. They do not call it migration; they do not call it immigration. They call it free movement… [t]hey said, “But one is migration, which is external to the European Union, and the other is free movement of people, which is not at all the same thing.” 

These two aspects of failing to understand the meaning of a single market are linked in resting on a simplistic understanding of borders. In relation to trade, that led to seeing the elimination of tariffs, rather than cross-border regulation, as being the main issue, and an associated mental model of trade as the one-time movement of finished goods from one country to another, thus ignoring modern cross-border supply chains as well as services trade. Similarly, immigration was seen as being a kind of mechanistic one-time move from living in one country to another, as well as being a solely economic transaction.

In fact, although freedom of movement of workers has been a concept going back to the original provisions of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, and is very much associated with what was the common market, it has evolved to become a freedom of movement of persons for EU citizens. At all events, what FOM allowed in practice was not just economic flexibility but a huge personal flexibility whereby, for example, a young person might go to another country for a few years to work or study, with no need or intention to settle there permanently. Or a couple comprising different nationalities but both holding EU citizenship could move between their respective countries of birth, or to any other EU country, at different times according not just to their jobs but, say, their children’s education or to look after their parents. It is that richness of interchange that the UK has deprived itself of and, of course, deprived its own citizens of.

Small boat psychosis

Meanwhile, the festering grievance about ‘illegal migrants’ has grown since Brexit, starting with the confected outrage and alarmism about the ‘small boats’ whipped up initially by Farage to become an almost incontrollable Tory psychosis. Psychosis may seem like a strong word, but I think it is apt when the former Home Secretary Suella Braverman talks, as she did this week, of “the crisis … of mass uncontrolled illegal immigration … pouring into our country … break[ing] in to Britain … putting unsustainable pressure on public finances and public services … jeopardising national security ...” Such hyperbolic language is completely disproportionate to the scale of what is actually happening. And it is not just Braverman. When Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick resigned this week, he wrote of how “the small boats crisis is a national emergency that is doing untold damage to our country”, and in referring to the Rwanda Bill as “emergency legislation”, needed because a “reasonable country” has been pushed to the limits of its patience, Sunak is complicit in the psychosis.

In fact, since 2018, about 100,000 people have made the ‘small boat crossings’, peaking at about 46,000 in 2022 and numbering just over 27,000 this year (as at 13 November 2023). By international standards, those are not huge figures and they certainly don’t constitute “a national emergency” in any sensible meaning of the term. The crisis, if there is one, is in the government’s inability to undertake the basic administrative task of creating a fair and rapid claims-processing system, and its dogmatic refusal to create adequate safe routes for claims to be made. Moreover, the small boat crossings are, at least in part, a problem which has been exacerbated by Brexit and, certainly, they are evidence that the Brexiter claim that leaving the EU would reduce or eliminate such problems was a lie.

Within this context, the Rwanda policy over which Jenrick resigned, and which may now conceivably bring Sunak’s government down, is especially mad. For one thing, even if it were ever implemented, it would have only the tiniest impact on the processing of asylum claims, and little, possibly no, impact on small boat numbers. For another, it shows a distinctly Brexitist logic, most ludicrously in the idea that passing a law which declares that Rwanda is a safe country will make it a safe country – the legislation is actually called the Safety of Rwanda Bill – the latest example of the idea that falsity can be willed into becoming truth.

More ominously, it is the latest and by far the most serious example of how Brexit has led the UK into seeing international law as something of no account, at least for itself, an aspect of Brexitism which first emerged with the proposal to break international law with the Internal Market Bill. Indeed, its notable that Jenrick, who once practised as a solicitor, resigned because the latest Rwanda legislation did not go far enough in discarding international law. Meanwhile, in perhaps the most extraordinary twist so far, the Rwandan government has issued a statement suggesting it might pull out of the whole deal if it involves the UK being in breach of international law!

Brexit’s utter failure

Any lingering hope that Brexit would finally lay to bed all the fear and panic about ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and ‘bogus asylum seekers’ must surely now be dead. Instead, it lives on in ever-more vicious and hysterical ways. The Brexiters said that all they wanted was to control who came to the UK, but that was a lie. They said that they just wanted to ensure that only those with the skills needed to contribute to the economy, but that was a lie.

As with every other Brexiter demand, whatever they are given they always say it hasn’t been done in the right way and they always, always want more. On asylum policy, Sunak is just the latest Tory Prime Minister to find that even adopting totally unworkable and abhorrent policies will not placate them. It will never be enough to be ‘true Brexit’ or ‘true Conservatism’, though he has added to his woes by being politically unskilled enough to tie his fate to making an unworkable policy work.

In 2017, Dominic Cummings said “The single most important reason, really, for why I wanted to get out of the EU is I think that it will drain the poison of a lot of political debates … UKIP and Nigel Farage would be finished … Once there’s democratic control of immigration policy, immigration will go back to being a second- or third-order issue.” This idea, still sometimes expressed by well-meaning liberals (£), that Brexit spiked the guns of far-right and populist politics in Britain, defusing its demands by attending to its grievances, has proved utterly false. On the contrary, and not just in relation to immigration and asylum, it has made such politics mainstream. In this, as in every other way, Brexit has utterly failed.


  1. The loss of reciprocal freedom of movement between the U.K. and the rest of our continent is, at a European level, the biggest single loss of individual rights since Stalin dropped the Iron Curtain. As ever, the far left and the far right end up meeting in the land of authoritarianism.

    1. Diarmaid O'Caoinde10 December 2023 at 16:51

      spot on! & l love CG's brilliant definition of FoM as distinct from other migration/asylum travails.
      ... We lost all this partly because of the conflation of FOM with asylum seekers and refugees, and partly for two deeper, and deeply related, reasons. One was the persistent failure of Brexiters to understand the difference between the Single Market and a Free Trade Agreement. In brief, this meant that they thought that FOM was just some kind of ‘ideological’ add-on by the EU, whereas in fact it is a central and irreducible component, making the four freedoms of the single market indivisible. Indeed, this failure of understanding was not confined to Brexiters, as shown by an interesting insider account of the referendum campaign, written by Daniel Korski, formerly Deputy Director of David Cameron’s Policy Unit. He records the frustration during the pre-referendum re-negotiation with the EU:

    2. It's easy for even our nation's Oxbridge-trained finest intellects to be totally confused by the fairly simple principles on which the EU is based. No wonder that with the leaders it has, the UK is, geopolitically, little more than a hollow shell of what it was not so long ago.

      As reported by Jack Peat in The London Economic recently: 'One of the foremost architects of Britain’s split with the European Union had to be told what the customs union was after spending years campaigning for the UK to opt out of it.

      'Shocking revelations unveiled on the BBC’s Politics Live show this week suggest that Boris Johnson’s knowledge wasn’t quite up to scratch with how membership of the EU works. According to Labour MP Barry Gardiner, he was forced to explain the customs union mechanism after the Brexit referendum had already happened.

      'He claims that, sometime between 2016 and 2018, Johnson stopped him in a corridor in parliament and asked him in his usual bumbling fashion: “Tell me, tell me. What is all this stuff about a customs union?” When Gardiner claims to have asked Boris what he meant by his question, Boris apparently then asked, “Well what is a customs union?”

      'Damningly, Gardiner finished off his anecdote by referencing the chaotic Northern Irish backstop Johnson was responsible for negotiating.

      'He did not know, as the foreign secretary, what a customs union was, and that explains why we got into the problems that we then got into with Northern Ireland.” '

      The article includes a video clip of this incident:

  2. Since Stalin? let's not go overboard

    1. Well, what would you nominate as the biggest single loss of individual rights since Stalin?

    2. Some EU countries e.g Italy mandated COVID vaccines for All workers over 50, not just healthcare.

  3. Never seen it before, but that comment from Korski equating the Single Market with NAFTA is just draw-dropping.

  4. As usual, please accept my weekly thanks for another most informative article.

  5. Another most informative piece - many thanks.

  6. I'm gobsmacked that Daniel Korski, formerly Deputy Director of David Cameron’s Policy Unit had zero clue of the difference between a single market in which all members are 'domestic' and a free trade agreement between third parties.
    His statement of frustration that NAFTA (as the example he uses and which is an FTA) and a SM are the same shows profound utter ignorance.

    Somebody needs to ask him if he thinks the right to FOM inside the US single market could be removed. I'm sure a number of the US states would welcome this ability to discriminate on who they let in from other US states.

    1. It's astounding, but he wasn't unique (apart from the fact that he is referring to the whole of the negotiating team). As I argue in my Brexit book, the confusion of SM with a free trade agreement or area was very widespread. In fact, I think that what first got me writing about Brexit (before the referendum) was my shocked realization about how widespread it was. There was dishonesty, too, as whenever the Brexiters were challenged on 'being like Norway' with people saying that meant FOM, they said 'ok, then, Canada, they don't have FOM' and when that was challenged with people saying that meant very little services liberalisation' they said 'ok, then, Norway, they have services liberalisation' and went round that loop over and over again until many people probably just thought these were all versions of the same thing.

    2. It’s why I think it is better referred to as “The Internal Market” as the EU used to.

    3. It’s why I prefer the term “Internal Market” to “Single Market” with all the resulting misleading & muddle-headed guff about “access to the Single Market”

    4. Prof Grey's observation reminds me of how Micheal Gove and others used to go on about the UK negotiating what he called 'Canada +++'.
      The (in)famous Chequers Proposal put forward by Mrs May after a weekend of brainstorming with cabinet was immediately & correctly labelled as 'The Blue Unicorn' as it was a demand for all the privileges of membership of the internal market but with no responsibilities nor any dues.
      Needless to say the EU batted that away out the park.

    5. Even more astonishing if you consider Korski was a strong supporter of Remain, is originally Danish (of Polish heritage) and came to the UK under FOM rules!

    6. @Epincion Yes, Canada +++ was exactly the idea that there was some kind of FTA that was so super it was more or less the same as SM membership (recall also Davis's "we've found a way to have the exact same benefits") the other aspect of that is that at one stage (I'd have to check for details) Barnier said, fine you can have a Canada-style deal (just as many Brexiters said they wanted), but I warn you that this means less good terms than SM membership. Cue howls from Brexiters that Barnier had proposed to punish them - by giving them what they said they wanted! Many of them literally had no idea what they were talking about. It never fails to boil my blood, even now.

    7. "It’s why I think it is better referred to as “The Internal Market” as the EU used to."

      How do you mean "used to"? In just about every language other than english a word equivalent to "internal" is used. Even in EU legal texts, "internal market" is used far more often than "single market" across the board (try comparing the results of Eur-lex for the two terms). Probably in no small part to the non-english speakers in europe taking the obvious English translation (and it's not "single")

      Though Google N-gram search reveals both are old, "internal" has apparently always outnumbered "single".

    8. Fish doesn't understand water - It's like when one showed them pictures of the US/Canada border and they were perplexed that there were border controls there.

    9. I would suggest that much Brexitry looks as though it might have made sense if 'being in the Single Market' had been entirely the same as 'being in a single market', as if we had been allowed to trade only with Europe, such that any extra-European trade agreement constituted the opening of an entirely new market outside said 'single market'. I would have italicised the word entirely in the foregoing, had I known how.

  7. The result has appeared to be making immigration from EU countries as much of a headache as it always was from non-EU countries. I've read several articles over the last couple of days talking about how the new immigration rules makes, for example, it impossible for the Spanish wives of English husbands, or people who do not have great wealth to set up home in the UK now. It's surely going to make it much harder to persuade people that coming to UK universities to study and work will be a good thing, no job security in the first place, and now virtually impossible to bring your family, or become a UK citizen if you meet someone who is already a UK citizen.

    1. "The result has appeared to be making immigration from EU countries as much of a headache as it always was from non-EU countries."

      I believe that for some Brexiters this was one of the primary goals.

      And not just the immigration process itself but also the inherent reduction in rights and increase in vulnerability and exploitability.

      An immigrant on a work visa is much more likely to endure unfair treatment or abuse because their residency status - and that of their dependents - is much more closely tied to their employment status.

      They might also have incurred debt to get the visa in the first place.

      Many EU citizens also came from countries which much better employment regulations and much better enforcement thereof which, over time, could have increased pressure for similar improvements in the UK.

      For me it is, to this date, an unsolved mystery how any union could have recommended a Leave vote to their members.
      How could increasing the downward pressure by taking rights of millions of workers have ever lead to something positive?

      Especially with a Conservative led government handling every aspect of the transition?

    2. "For me it is, to this date, an unsolved mystery how any union could have recommended a Leave vote to their members."

      Yet I remember reading (links on) Twitter shortly before the Referendum, on how the traditional unions were for Leave (one in particular was very outspoken) because of how "immigrants/ foreign (EU) workers were pushing wages down".

      I remember one link to a serious-looking study on how foreign workers (from countries with lower cost of living and therefore lower wages) influenced wages, from some very left commenter, who was upset at how damaging for poor, low-paid, low-skilled workers had been ruined by EU foreign workers (and not 10 years of Tory government using austerity after the financial crash to impose unneccessary cruel rules, and not putting up barriers like other EU countries).

      Even when more knowledgeable commenters pointed out how EU (Brussels) had seen this as problem in many western EU countries - not just driving wages down, but employers deliberately exploiting Eastern European workers - and therefore made the new law, the Workers abroad (can't remember the correct name right now) that wage had to be paid to minimum wage of the country a person was working in, not based on minimum wage of the country the person came from.

      And after Referendum, Corbyn went up with his Lexit lies and spent months telling people how limiting immigration would help the poor down-trodden (low-paid, low-skilled) Britsh worker.

      All with the same sneering dismissiveness from his Left as the Tories, of the many jobs by young, international people in service, IT and city jobs (not banking) because the only real jobs Left cared about were the manly jobs in steel factory or similar, which the old unions were about. Corbyn and his cheerleaders, when not ignoring young urban professionals, denigrated them with the same hate and clichees as the conservatives.

      Yes, it's baffling, but unions are not automatically for human rights: they can be racist and anti-feminist just like conservatives, if they only look at "we want protection for our male white workers". (Which long-term is of course damaging, because that mindset also can lead to stopping necessary reforms in the workplace, which leads to whole plants moving; and not advocating for further education also hinders long-term goals).

    3. "I remember one link to a serious-looking study on how foreign workers (from countries with lower cost of living and therefore lower wages"

      As you said "serious-looking", because this is always a ridiculous argument.
      If they live in the UK and are employed in the UK then that is the reference for their cost of living and thus wages.

      "the Workers abroad (can't remember the correct name right now) "

      I think the term is "posted workers".

      And, as you said, the rules have been improved and are likely to improve again, because a posted worker is still subject to the host country's cost of living and any work that is longer than a few days will need to address this.

      Especially as the posted worker has additional costs in their home country (rent, property/council taxes, etc, for their main place of abode).

      Even if we accept the conspiracy theory that somehow workers from East European countries were somehow putting a downward pressure on wages, how much more would that be true for workers from even poorer countries?

  8. The comment that allegedly appeared in a German newspaper a couple of weeks ago, namely 'If you want to see what the DDR was like, take a holiday in the UK', is illuminating and shaming at the same time.

    1. As the old saw goes: you can tell a lot about a country by the state of its roads...

  9. Is it not a bit surprising that the media and politicians have not mentioned the fact that the UK is no longer part of the Dublin Agreement that Brexiters have given people a stronger incentive to try and enter the UK irregularly by boat?

    1. I mentioned that once as a comment to a post by Pete North on turbulenttimes. It didn't go down too well.

    2. Yes. There's a link to that issue (not the HoCL thing but research by Durham University) at the point where I mention how small boats are exacerbated by Brexit, and discussed it in a post last March: It bears saying that leaving Dublin III may well have created an incentive, but the shift to boat crossings (rather than lorries etc) is probably more to do with the wiring-off of Calais etc

  10. The Rwanda policy contains a built-in contradiction; Rwanda has to be simultaneously a perfectly safe alternative to asylum in the UK (so that we're not breaching our obligations under UN treaties), and also such a terrifying prospect that potential migrants will be deterred from coming to the UK for fear that they might be taken to Rwanda at the UK's expense.

    This may be resolved on a short-term basis by migrants having a false perception of Rwanda, but if the policy is even slightly successful, migrants will pick up that Rwanda is safe, and will end up happy to be sent their at our expense.

  11. I was disenfranchised by the British government for the Brexit vote due to the 15 year rule.
    I hold three post graduate degrees from British Universities.
    These degrees lost their validity in the EU from January 2020.
    I lost my work in the University sector in the EU because of Covid, and couldn’t find local work in the EU post January 2020/ Covid because of Covid and Brexit. I’m still waiting, after two years, for my UK degrees to be validated here in Spain so I can begin the search for a job in the local sector.
    There is no pan EU recognition of ‘third country’ degrees, ie, my degree would have to be validated in each country I wished to work in, each country having their own rules. Work that I had been offered in Italy pre Covid, was no longer an option for me due to Brexit.
    Post Covid, I applied for every job in my field in the UK and didn’t receive one reply.
    I would have needed to have a job with a minimum of 24K Sterling, I think, in order to bring my wife from Spain.
    Now, I’d need much more of a starting salary just to bring her, not that I’d want to return to Brexit Britain after all.
    It is just me, or is there some kind of malevolent disfunction in a government who can do this to its own people? I'm not alone in this situation.
    My education was sold to me as ‘world class’ and now it is effectively worthless. Current and future EU based students will look at the UK educational offering and realise it is worthless too, at least in the EU.
    Fortunately, due to other circumstances, I’m able to get by, but how is this level of disfunction in government even tolerated by any sane society, let alone the Brits, once admired for their sobriety?
    Appeasement never works, history teaches us that. Racism by its own or any other name (immigration, sovereignty), is divisive and strangely normalised in British society, the Brexit vote is proof of that.
    Brexit is a failure, I am a front-line witness to that fact.

    1. There is some kind of malevolent disfunction in government.

    2. I am very sorry to hear that!

      Holding a referendum while withholding the right to vote from those for whom it matter most - the UK citizens living in the EU - was not just incredibly stupid but utter cruel.

      Getting the rug pull out from under your life without even being asked for your opinion, let alone consent.

      Hope the accreditation of your qualifications gets done soon

    3. We got the ancestor of the present government because a large enough share of the voters to provide it with a huge majority wanted nothing else than to Get Brexit Done. Between the Referendum and the GE2019 Brexit was one of the most "democratic" political events in the UK.

    4. It was the same for professional qualifications & accreditations acquired in the UK too, which in my sector are mandatory in many countries both to work and to obtain PI & PL insurance. My company was based in both UK & EU before Brexit, and min.50% of turnover came from clients in the EU. I remember being promised there'd be no impact on our business repeatedly. My company is now in a position where anything beyond 'a meeting' now requires me to apply for a work visa, which in turn is reliant on me having my professional qualifications 'validated' in *each* individual EU state - a process which can take up to 2 yrs, cost over 1000€, but result in an accreditation only valid 2 or 3 years anyway. End result is having to let go of all of my staff & now operate as a sole trader, doing almost no EU work, and having significantly reduced turnover & income.

  12. Sir Ivan Rogers evidence to the HoC Comittee was a real eye opener when you first posted it in 2017 (I think).

    In other EU countries the freedom of movement of people is very effectively used to present lower immigration numbers, while in the UK it was used to claim artificially high ones.

    It could have been ignorance of how the other countries and their governments work on issues or voter concerns that are not unique to any of them.

    However,, given that the UK immigration numbers also contained students (and still do), one has to ponder the question if that is being done intentionally.

    There are very few topics that can be so easily "grievance mined", so easily being used to distract from failures in other policy areas or to drown reporting of scandals.

    1. I see no reason to give Tory government any sliver of doubt as to their intentions, that they count students incoming, but don't count them outgoing, to deliberately inflate "immigration numbers", because the Tory party members have said so often the quiet part out loud, that nastiness and cruelty are deliberate.

  13. The raised salary threshold policy makes me so furious. My Mum came to the UK from New Zealand, met my British Dad, and raised us there without any issues. And I've been able, as a New Zealand citizen by descent, to bring my British wife and children to NZ without any issues.

    She now wouldn't be able to do that (she was a secretary) and my kids won't be able to do that if they end up with non British partners (and aren't rich).

    Just another right stolen from a younger generation to appease ignorant bigots and racists, like losing FOM.

    Plus of course there's the sheer moral tragedy that the salary requirement, even before it was raised, is telling British citizens who can they can love. I thought Ian Dunt was very good on this.

  14. The Barnsley chap who said, "“It’s all about immigration. It’s not about trade, or Europe, or anything like that. It’s all about immigration” and “It’s to stop Muslims coming into this country. It’s as simple as that” then “The movement of people in Europe, fair enough but not from Africa, Syria, Iraq or anywhere else.”" was at least honest and transparent. Over the years - both before and after Brexit - I have spoken with many Brexit-inclined folk. In conversations with them it has always been very obvious that they are being racist in their views. Quite frequently they won't even admit this to themselves, because they know how shameful it is to hold such views, which is why they trot out all the other lame reasons, but the reality is on show if you probe the (often circular) arguments they do trot out. I call these people shy racists. I even see it in my own family. For this reason I do not trust opinion polls or focus groups statistics on this matter as they take the stated reasons without being sufficiently forensic. And until the UK can be honest with itself then this cannot be resolved. And this is the core issue behind UK populist politics which will continue to especially bedevil the UK given the two-party capture of the UK voting system, and the neo-fascist far right capture of the Cons from both within (willingly) and without (less willingly). The UK will not make reliable progress towards either Rejoin, or towards better politics until the UK can look itself in the mirror without shame.

  15. I always thought that the words ‘common market’ and ‘single market’ were the wrong terms. They imply that the EU is just about the trade of goods between countries. A better term would be the single economy which describes more accurately what the EU is about. I wonder what other European countries call the single market.

    1. I worked for a German company 2012-2017. I say German as that’s where head office was. From their POV, and in fact right across the company, they were a European company. Sales within the EEA were regarded as a single item, to be divided by “regions”. Regions usually equated to countries although tree was some blurring. For example by responsibility was “GB & Ireland”. Another country manager was responsible for France, another for Benelux (NL, BE, LX), another for Sweden, another for Poland, another for Switzerland etc. Germany was the largest market and had four regional sales managers, all doing roughly the amount of business as some of the country managers.

      “Export” sales were to countries outside the EEA. We had a a sales office in Dubai, and from time to time had one off sales to places in Africa, India and elsewhere. Another part of the group did a lot of business with Russia and China, but I didn’t have any contact with that.

      All our sales statistics and management accounts were in Euros. With one line on my monthly report showing sales in GBP (“local currency”). I found it amusing to be congratulated on improving the bottom line, simply as a result of the GBP-EUR exchange rate strengthening.*

      Logistics was handled from Germany across the entire company. Our logistics manager would organise deliveries from our four production factories (Germany, Netherlands and Spain) direct to our customers (we had no warehouse in the U.K.).

      HR was managed locally but with a big input from head office. Standardised employment contracts and terms of service, tweaked to suit “local” employment law were used. This did cause some problems from time to time! Employment was based on having the right to work within the EU. I met people from all over Europe, Spaniards working in Germany, Poles working in Denmark, Germans working in Italy. In the U.K. office we had a German lady (we needed her language skills on occasion) and a delightful young marketing manager from Bulgaria. The other 20 staff in the U.K. were British, not that I took much notice of where people were from.

      * The exchange rate overnight drop on 23rd June 2016 has a massive impact on the GB & Ireland business. We went from being the most profitable areas to losing money within a few hours. My monthly accounts became a sea of red ink. This inevitably led to having to raise prices, leading to all sorts of other problems. I left the company in 2017, directing as a result of a Brexit.

      Needless to say, 7 years on, I have no intention of “getting over it”.

    2. "I wonder what other European countries call the single market."

      In German it is called "Binnenmarkt" which could be translated as Internal Market or even Domestic Market.

    3. The "Common Market" that the UK joined in 1973 was, somewhat confusingly, mostly just a customs union. As Chris hints at in the post, that's about all you need if your model is one of "Sending fully-assembled toasters in boxes".

      Anyway, in answer to your question, in French it's "le marché unique" and in Spanish it's "el mercado único". It is an interesting question whether there is also a single economy, but I guess that things like differences in VAT and other tax rates, plus possible currency fluctuations (7 EU countries and the 3 EEA ones don't use the Euro) mean that there is still a distinction.

  16. The UK company I work for has long term projects in the EU. I have been working and commuting to EU countries easily since 2015. Post Brexit, I need work and residence permits to work. I therefore can no longer work on multiple projects in different EU countries.The permit requirements differ between countries and some colleagues are no longer able to work in some EU countries.
    The company is no longer attractive to EU clients. So we are now just completing our projects and working as sub consultants to EU firms, with same permit constraints. It's awful and frustrating.
    Will not mention the 2weelly airport queues during commute.

  17. Brexit however, still left in place the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland?

  18. Historically the UK has been very resistant to the idea of comulsort personal identification through individual numbers or registration.
    I think all the EU counties operate system of compulsory local registration based on national identification for both their own and foreign nationals, these are also linked to local governement and employers records which allows them to more accurately manage their FOM foreign populations as they come into a country looking for work.
    The last labour governement tried to initate a vounatry scheme but that was cancelled by the cameron conervative govt. It woudl be interenting to know if attitudes in the UK had changed sufficiently to allow such a system to operate compulsarily.
    Of course this does not get round the problems of deportation when those individuals claim refugee asylum, but it does generate a more accurate uptodate definitiev record set and might let refugees work while their applications are processed.

    1. It also decouples immigration control from border control.

      Land locked Schengen countries like Austria or Switzerland have virtually no border control (other than on international airports), yet have very effective immigration control.

      Doing immigration control at the border is just not viable in a 21st century context.
      Travel patterns have shifted from massively during the 20th century and most countries have dozens of visa waiver agreements with one another.

      Countries that still want to be able to control immigration have thus shifted away from relying on visas being presented on entering the country.

      Countries which did not do that, like the USA or the UK, will continue to struggle no matter how "tough" (read cruel) their policies become.

  19. Excellent and coherent as ever. The ignorance about SM ran deep, affecting even enthusiastic Tory MEPs in the 1980s when the SM was first properly introduced thanks to European case law and the determination of Lord Cockfield. The borders against FoM came down without significant legislation.The establishment or government failure to address such shocking misunderstandings was the biggest catastrophe of the 45 year UK membership of the EU.

    1. This massive gap in knowledge about what the EU is, what it does and how it works, might be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome before rejoining can be attempted.

      While this might not be a formal requirement, I would be surprised if this would not come up during talks and negotiations.

      Because even a high level of agreement in a potential rejoin referendum would be pretty worthless if the voters had, again, no idea what they were voting on.

  20. I’m not sure ‘psychosis’ is quite the right word for the ‘small boat’ condition, at least as far as Sunak is concerned. One of the distinguishing features of true psychosis is the lack of *insight* on the part of the patient into their own condition; yet I reckon Sunak may be more than aware that he himself is being sucked into the ‘small boats’ vortex, and experiencing in equal measure alarm that he–despite bring PM–has completely lost control alongside forlorn hope that this monomaniacal grandstanding will keep him in his job for a while longer.

    So much for the head honcho. As far as ordinary punters are concerned, YouGov is reporting (mid Nov 2023) that fully 48% of us ‘support the Rwanda policy’. On the plus side, I wouldn’t mind betting that 99% of those neither mention it from one month to the next in everyday intercourse, nor know anything about the policy other than it is supposed to stop boats. It’s a conditioned response. This is because Brits ‘don’t do politics’. And that is why we have the cynical charlatans we have, doing the politics for us.

    1. I agree with what you say about Sunak - but that it why I (deliberately) worded it as I did, i.e. saying that he is "complicit" in the psychosis rather than suffering from it (in the way that, sat, Braverman seems to)

  21. Your remark that: "The establishment or government failure to address such shocking misunderstandings was the biggest catastrophe of the 45 year UK membership of the EU" reminded me of something my cousin said to me shortly after the leave vote.

    I cannot name her but suffice it to say she worked in the Commission for 30+ years and retired in 2017 at a very high level. She spoke three languages fluently (English, French, German) and had a working level of Dutch. Her observation was/is that so few Brits can or even try to learn to speak other language that they cannot meet the basic requirement to be employed in the EU Commission of mother tongue plus fluency in at least one other official language.

    The result was that Brits never filled their quota of EU Commission posts at entry level and that under-representation then percolated upward and so as a whole the UK never understood the realities of the EU and instead got their information from the likes of Boris Johnson the Telegraph Brussels correspondent about whom his boss the impeccable true Conservative Max Hastings memorably said "he would not recognise truth even if confronted with it in an identity parade".

  22. Loss of Freedom of Movement of UK citizens is one of the most palpable downsides of Brexit. Daily Telegraph’s periodical musings about the 90/180 days rule in EU ant its effect on British homeowners in France and the summer stories about Dover Calais crossings are not enough. UK now enjoys freedom of movement with only Republic of Ireland, this is it. Similar situations but in a different context happened with breaking up of Czechoslovakia in 1993 and Yugoslavia couples of years earlier.

    1. Without being disrespectful to all you nice people but british people should start enjoying their holidays in Rwanda as per government guidance.

  23. Compared to other European countries, the number of refugees/asylum seekers in the UK is quite low. It has been made into a big issue by Tory propagandists, who give the impression that they have diligently been studying the methods of the scholar Dr Joseph Goebbels. Evidently, they see it as both a vote winner (once they have managed to convince Joe Public that it is a big issue) and as a distraction from the deplorable state of almost everything in this country, from housing, cost of living, infrastructure, education, health services (or lack thereof), corruption, pollution, you name it.

    It has been said that the cost of the Rwanda policy is such that it would be cheaper to put the refugees up in the Ritz for a year than to send them to Rwanda. Well done, again, Brexiters!

  24. Being British born and bred I have always regarded Britain as a racist country. This racism was always just under the surface but post Brexit is mainstream.

    Some people will disagree with this assessment including my EU wife . She says simply that you are not racist but view yourselves as superior.

  25. It seems a bit unfair to me to see all folks who were strictly against immigration as a racist 'Barnsley man'.

    My understanding is that many intuitively got that British politicians were not ready to invest into the domestic workforce or force at least business to invest in them by regulations.

    So they sort of hoped that stopping immigration altogether might somehow force the government to finally invest into them.

    Some Lexiters might also have thought along these lines.

    1. Indeed - and note that I am very careful not to claim that all (or even, necessarily, most) such voters were racist.

  26. The funny thing about the recent net migration increase is that the UK Gov can no longer deflect the blame and say it's Jean Claude Juncker's fault. That would have been an easy way out for Sunak.

  27. Thank you so much, as always. Is there a way to feed some of these analyses to the broader public? Why can the right easily spread poison through the media, while sane voices are more or less restricted to an interested (relatively) small circle? Could real analyses, and exactly this sort of uncoupling of issues that are so different yet blurred by politicians be somehow conveyed to the population? How can we fight back for sanity, humanity, and a focus on real issues? This has been bothering me for so long.

    1. That's the absurdity of Democracy: giving the vote to the people (the will of the people) is like handing a razor blade to a monkey, but this the only possible and relatively peaceful way to organize societies.

    2. The one advantage that democracy has over other forms of governments (and it's a big one) is that it allows non-violent revolutions - a democratic country can, purely by voting in new representatives, replace its current government with any other group it would like.

      That is a hugely powerful thing; it means that, for example, the UK was able to replace Liberals with Labour in our system of government without any violence at all - and that we could replace Tories with Liberal Democrats, or the far-right, if that's what the UK wants in future.

  28. Explain everything in less than 280 characters and publish it as a tweet. Let it circulate as if it were a virus?

  29. Cummings, of all people, knows that the poison is the point. No poison, no consulting fees, no telly bookings.

  30. A few weeks ago I asked Prof. Grey if he could do a piece with a focus on Freedom of Movement, so many thanks to him for this.

    As he says, there was never a realistic chance that the UK could have EU membership (or membership of the Single Market) while opting out of Freedom of Movement. Yet there were many supposedly sensible politicians and commentators who advocated for EU membership with an opt-out from FoM. Andy Burnham started criticising FoM during the 2015 Labour leadership election. Tom Watson and Ed Balls went on TV during the referendum campaign to advocate for EU membership with an opt-out from FoM. Many MPs in the post-referendum period were advocating for Norway + (which turned out to mean membership of the SM minus FoM). At times the Guardian appeared to be advocating for Remain minus FoM.

    There seems to have been a moral panic about FoM at the time of the referendum. The problem was not only the misleading claims about FoM by advocates of Brexit but the failure to defend FoM by those who were nominally in favour of Remain. Myths about FoM took over with few being willing to push back against them.

  31. "Yet there were many supposedly sensible politicians and commentators who advocated for EU membership with an opt-out from FoM. "

    Essentially EU membership without membership of the SM.
    The reverse of SM membership without being an EU member.

    Full political participation but restricted flow of goods, capital, people and services.

    That sounds even more ridiculous than Brexit.

  32. A tour de force of an article. Let's get Brexit undone.

  33. To Kevin Krammer's point about EU without SM, indeed it was ridiculous. However this was the reality for at least three decades until the mid-1980s. Member states had been dragging their feet on the commercial/financial implications assumed for their economies. The UK (with a cautious but determined Margaret Thatcher) strongly supported the Delors Cockfield proposals that followed naturally from key legal judgments interpreting the Treaty. The Single Market was a reality only from then.

  34. David Maddox the cheek on him another brexit benefit