Time to come clean about immigration: it is a good thing

Immigration is a good thing. It is a good thing culturally and economically. We would be diminished without it.

Multi-cultural Britain
Multi-cultural Britain

My life is vastly enriched by friendships with people who have come to the UK as immigrants and others who are the children of immigrants. They include people who came seeking asylum and people who came seeking a better life. My life is enriched by other friends who have emigrated, through whom I have valued networks of friends in many other parts of the world.

Economically too, migration matters. People sometimes talk as if there are a finite number of jobs and immigrants increase the competition. This is nonsense. Immigrants come, they work, they buy things, their presence boosts the economy. They create more work and more possibility.

A study published in 2014 showed that European migrants pay substantially more in taxes than they take in benefits. They arrive having finished schooling, and all the costs to the state of bringing people to adulthood.

The free movement of people is one of the central pillars of the single market. This is not about sharing out the burdens of the market, or worshipping an economic idol, it is because it boosts the economy and society, and builds bridges between peoples.

Culture and economy come together. Networks of friends across borders help enable people to relate internationally. That is about being global citizens, and it is about the trust that enables international trade. It is about the ties that bind us and stop us going to war — whether that is trade war or armed conflict. It is about trust and connection and possibility.

It was grossly unfair of the government to deny migrants from the rest of the EU the chance to vote in the referendum. These are people who enrich our society and enrich our economy. They are worried by the possibility of Brexit, and so should we be.

Yes, some people are afraid. They are afraid that their jobs and homes are insecure. Encouraging them to blaming “foreigners” is the oldest trick in the book. It is a great way to rouse a rabble to fight, but it doesn’t mesh with reality. It’s worse than that. Blaming the “foreigners” who actually make this country richer (in all senses), harms us. It lets the government wriggle out of responsibility for the failures of its housing and benefits policies. It callously exploits the vulnerable in our society.

As the racist loses out by not knowing people of other races, the xenophobe loses out by attacking the people who would otherwise make their life better.

I am appalled at the way in which some of those arguing for Brexit dangle the prospect of Turkey, Albania (or wherever) being rushed into the EU and unleashing a flood of immigrants. Two years ago UKIP were under pressure to apologise having scaremongered that the “floodgates will open” when visa-free access from Romania and Bulgaria began, only to find a mere 4000 people came in the three months. The same card is being played again with even less credibility because these additional countries are nowhere near entering the EU (and anyway, all EU nations have a veto on new accessions).

This jingoism is already doing the UK harm — and would do substantial damage if it led to a vote for Brexit. With Tories and Labour equivocating, we desperately need Liberal Democrats to stand up for all we gain from migration and the diversity it brings.

This was originally published on Liberal Democrat Voice, 6 June 2016.

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