The backbone of the British economy is the estimated 2.2 million non-British EU nationals currently working in the UK. One of the most hotly contested issues from the debate on Britain’s membership of the EU was the host of opinions relating to the implications of ever increasing immigration. Now that the die has been cast and we prepare to say goodbye to the European Union, will we be saying goodbye to our EU immigrants too? While a mass deportation is unlikely, little else is assured for anxious EU nationals in this uncertain time. So what options does our fresh-faced new Prime Minister Theresa May and her newly arranged cabinet have to ponder?
The Infamous ‘Points Based System’
It is fair to say the former UKIP leader and current MEP for South East England Nigel Farage has been glowing with both smugness and happiness since June 23rd. Throughout the campaign he strongly advocated the introduction of an ‘Australian style points based system’ for the right to work in the United Kingdom, and strongly opposed the free movement of EU citizens. The Australian system takes into account age, qualifications and experience, competency in English and current occupation. However many argue a system such as this would be near catastrophic when translated over to the UK economy. A report from the Migration Advisory Committee claims that migrants perform 1 in 7 of the low-skilled jobs in the UK, often described as the jobs ‘Brits don’t want to do’. A skill based points system would likely stem the flow of unskilled migrants, creating a hole in the economy that would be problematic to plug.
Free Movement of People
If recent history is anything to go by the Conservative Party seem to have few reservations when it comes to unpopular decisions. However whilst austerity measures have been reluctantly accepted by the majority of the population, continued free movement of people within the EU despite the vote to leave would likely lead to uproar. A huge number of people chose to ‘Vote Leave’ due to immigration concerns, despite understanding the economic consequences and therefore to effectively mute these concerns would be seen as a huge betrayal of the electorate. However, with a range of EU officials making it clear that access to the single market is not possible without free movement of people, the new PM may (excuse the pun) be forced to consider this option, despite it being a PR catastrophe. With a general election not due for almost 4 years, now would seemingly be the perfect time to make the unpopular decisions to allow time for the electorate to ‘forgive and forget’, unlikely as it may be.
The Rest of the World
The Leave campaign made it clear that by cutting ties with the EU, opportunities to make trade deals with the rest of the world would become easier. Another possibility is that of increased immigration from other countries around the world such as those part of the Commonwealth, as an alternative to immigration from EU countries. However, this may be seen as a pointless move in the eyes of many who saw the issue as one of immigration causing strain on public services, rather than ‘EU immigration’ being a specific problem.
While the choice to be made by our government regarding immigration in a post-Brexit world is yet to be decided, one particular slogan rings in the mind: ‘Vote Leave, Take Control’. Although divisively, we have voted as a nation to Leave and now the control is ours. It is how those entrusted with our wellbeing choose to use the control that will dictate how the UK economy will fare in the coming months, years and decades.