Some facts. Some have predicted that the UK will have a shortfall of 3.1 million workers by 2050. More widely, to continue growth at current levels, Europe will need to take in 80 million migrants by 2050. Despite this, European countries have increased the difficulty of inward migration. The increased border controls have still not resulted in a drop in migration. If there is an increase in labour demand, it will be filled. If this cannot be done by legal migration, it will be achieved through illegal migration. By 2008, the number of illegal migrants in Europe had increased to 8 million, becoming a structural necessity to the EU. The increase took place at the same time that ‘Fortress Europe’ was being increasingly used by critics of the EU’s closed borders.
The point I am trying to make with all these facts is twofold. The first is that migration is an economic necessity; without it we become poorer. The second is that migration cannot be stopped when it is needed, no matter how strict the border controls. If migration happens illegally, it creates a class of people who live precarious lives on the outskirts of society, without any of the protections – like the protection of the law – we take for granted. We also cannot benefit from their presence through taxation, which we could do if they were regular migrants. The only way to stop migration would be to make ourselves poorer, so that there would be no demand for labour and there would be no desire to come to the UK.
Seen in this light, the current debate about whether EU migrants should stay in the UK seems ridiculous. Of course they should stay; they make us richer. This time I’m not just talking about financially, they make us richer culturally, politically, and are as much a part of our history as we are. Despite this, it is now a legitimate political debate as to whether they should stay. This is in no small part to that anti-immigrant rhetoric that Brexit fuelled itself on and that all politicians seemingly live in fear of. They must sound tough on immigrants because Brexit means Brexit and Brexit means irrational desires must now be taken seriously.
To be fair, this cowering and bending to the rage of the people is understandable given the uncharted political landscape we are now in. And to be fair to the rage filled people, it is understandable that they have become anti-immigrant. They have seen their industries decimated by neoliberal policies and at the same time have seen EU migrants welcomed, they have seen their communities fall apart and walk their streets hearing foreign tongues. They have looked around at what their lives once were and see migrants standing there. Of course it would be towards migrants that their anger would turn. The world is too complex for experts to understand, let alone people anxious about their pay-packet, worrying that they may get fired at any moment.
But this is why we have politicians. It is their job to explain to these people that it is not migrants that have caused their suffering, but neoliberal policies based on a theory that is falling apart. We cannot expect this to come from the conservative party, too long invested in neoliberalism, too long invested in anti-EU sentiment, too long wary of the migrant, happy to allow the right-wing press to stoke up fears about migration. We need Labour, then, to stand up for the rights of migrants and stand up for migration. They must do this cleverly. Although Corbyn’s stance on immigration is the right one, it is not framed in the right way. It is too cold, too based on facts and truths which no longer appeal to the population.
Labour must appeal to the emotions, show the populace the importance of migrants and show the populace the true villain who destroyed their communities: the neoliberal policies pushed by the elite. They must stand up to the bullies and refuse to play the migrant blame game. If they do, they will not be able to out-UKIP UKIP, newly focused on Labour voters. Labour must show that it stands for something, stands united for something and that it has a positive vision for this something. They may lose some votes along the way, but if done correctly, many more will come in if Labour can show that it is no longer an ‘anti’ party but a party with vision. It should start by fighting tooth and nail to ensure the three million EU migrants who live here can continue to live here with all the rights they currently have. They deserve it and Britain needs them.