Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Immigration, Blessing or Curse?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th January, 2014

immigration graphicimmigration graphic 2The Liberal Democrat President, Tim Farron, rightly won plaudits from liberal quarters when he said on the BBC’s Question Time last night that immigration is a blessing, not a curse, and that more politicians should be saying so. Doubtless his twitter and other social media timelines are now receiving a lot of very hostile comments, as well; immigration is an issue that tends to polarise the public, with some pretty extreme language being used by those who sing to the tune of the late Enoch Powell. Some of these viscerally anti-immigration voices are motivated by what can only be described as racism, but more often the problem is fear: a fear that immigrants will take jobs at a time of high unemployment among local people, that they’ll put an undue strain on council housing (not that there’s much of that around these days) or the social services and education. Fear can make people say irrational things, which is why it is important to have a measured debate about immigration in this country, based on facts not emotions, avoiding the xenophobic rhetoric and Armageddon prophesies of the more unprincipled Press, such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express. Let me state at the outset that it is a given that no nation in the modern world can have an “open door” policy for unlimited immigration. Britain doesn’t (despite what some UKIPers seem to believe), and shouldn’t. But controlled immigration for a country like Britain is not only desirable but necessary. Given demographic trends among the indigenous population, we need a regulated influx of younger, energetic workers to help pay for the pensions and social care of older citizens. Moreover, as most big businesses accept, for Britain to retain a leading role in key sectors such as financial services and the knowledge economy, we need to attract the brightest and the best from overseas to keep ahead of the curve. There are a couple of other important matters to be taken into consideration, which should also temper the UK immigration debate. The first relates to freedom of movement within the European Union, or EU migration, which should be seen as one of the greatest achievements of the single market and of huge benefit for Britain, both in terms of the workforce that has been attracted here — in all sectors of the economy — and in the opportunities it has given to British subjects living, studying or working in the other 27 EU member states. Instead of adopting the red tops’ negative narrative on freedom of movement, the Conservatives who lead the Coalition government should be championing the benefits. The other issue is the perception of many Brits that the country is “full” and therefore should shut the door completely to EU migrants and immigrants from other parts of the world. This is a false perception largely based on the fact that the UK economy and population are concentrated to an unhealthy degree in London and the South East. The solution to that is to regenerate areas of the country that saw a sharp decline in the post-War period because of the collapse of manufacturing, mining and other industries — and immigrants could play an important role in making that regeneration happen.

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