The Guardian piece put a persuasive case for seeing bigotry at the heart of the support for Brexit. It is persuasive but not totally compelling, in that I know people who voted Leave out of a sense of alienation or wanting to waive two fingers at politicians, and others who voted Leave because life has been very tough and they felt that “something has to change” — without thinking too closely of the possibility of things changing for the worse.
What’s intriguing about the Daily Mail story is that the claim has been that “immigrants are taking our jobs”. Though the reality is that immigrants also boost the economy and therefore create jobs, this has been a real fear. But Brexit is leading to staff shortages in the NHS, and the Daily Mail is proud of people volunteering to plug the gap, then something else is going on. Volunteers are not paid. The Daily Mail initiative has turned “immigrants taking our jobs”, which sounds like an economic argument, into “we should be prepared to work for nothing”, as a price (apparently) gladly-paid for getting rid of foreigners.
At first sight it can seem obvious that immigration undermines wages, at least in low-paid work. One of the rallying cries of the Eurosceptic right is about “foreigners coming over here and taking our jobs”. But is this true?
In an earlier post, I commented that “people at the bottom of the pile, resentful at the opportunities they feel they don’t have, are the ones who would lose most if these migrants stopped coming (or ‘went home’)”. I’d like to unpack this.
At first sight, challenging this seems counter-intuitive. In 2013, UKIP were spreading stories of 350,000-400,000 likely migrants from Romania and Bulgaria when restrictions on emigration were lifted. In reality, the number of EU migrants employed in the UK actually fell in the subsequent few months.