Leave Campaign Revisited: Immigration


Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

Three-quarters of Leave voters were concerned with the EU and immigration; taking back control meant more than just reclaiming the UK’s sovereignty and independence. For many, it referred to our borders just as much, if not more. What did the Leave campaigns have to say about this issue?

In its ‘20 reasons you should vote to leave the European Union’ article, The Telegraph includes such gems as ‘proper vacuum cleaners’ and being able to do away with ‘stupid recycling bins’. Cut through this and we see a major aspect of the Leave campaign: immigration. UKIPs Breaking Point’ poster is one of the most prominent examples of Leave’s anti-immigration material, as it suggested EU rules allow a sea of unchecked mass immigration into the UK.

Yet, was this true? Of course, most displaced Syrians are still in the Middle East, but was the EU bringing the UK to its breaking point through its policy of free movement?

The Schengen Agreement abolishes border checks and allows anyone to cross EU borders without the need to show a passport. Yet, Britain was never part of this system, and this opt-out cannot be amended without consent from the government. Anyone entering the country must, therefore, show their travel documents at the British border to enter the country. No valid EU passport means no entry. British border controls in French ports actually keep many asylum seekers out of the country, hence the previous existence of migrant camps in places like Calais. The impression of the UK’s borders that the UKIP poster gave, is consequently very misleading.

Credit: Rachel Winter.
Credit: Rachel Winter.

The UK’s special status didn’t end there. The Dublin Regulation stipulates that when an asylum seeker arrives in the EU, the first country they arrive at must process their asylum application. As an island far from refugee hotspots, this suited Britain well. Of course, as Mediterranean countries failed to cope with an extra 150,000 migrants from Syria and North Africa, the EU planned to spread them out amongst member states instead. Yet, the UK used its opt-out to avoid these demands. The EU could not simply force the UK to accept refugees – it seems that we may have had more control than Leave made you think.

Of course, EU membership means that migrants holding an EU passport are entitled to move freely into the country. Vote Leave suggested that ‘a quarter of a million EU migrants come here every year – a city the size of Newcastle’. This may seem a lot, but when you factor in the number of migrants that left the country, net migration was  185,000 migrants in 2015, the population of Swindon. This may still seem too many to some, but you cannot ignore the misleading nature of Vote Leave in this regard.

Bear in mind also that migrants have to have lived in the country for three months and to be intent on working in order to receive benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance. Also, according to The Independent, EU migrants contribute an average of £78,000 over their lifetime more than they take out in public services and benefits, compared to the average UK citizen’s net lifetime contribution of zero.

Lastly, fears about Turkey joining the EU were stoked by Vote Leave in videos and adverts. A common theme was to highlight the population of Turkey, as if all 76 million citizens would come to Britain? Leave also stressed that Turkey ‘is’ joining, but negotiations that began over a decade ago long ago stalled because of human rights abuses. President Macron of France said there is‘no chance’ of Turkish membership. Yet Leave was confident enough to assume Turkey will soon join.

This is a simple overview of some of the biggest anti-immigration arguments the different Leave campaigns gave. Exaggeration and fear tended to dictate the discourse.


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