The EU debate #5: Migration

This week, a report suggested the EU would ‘punish’ the UK if it tried to restrict immigration by leaving. Migration is a charged issue in the EU referendum debate -- but which side is right?

  • The UK can control migration within the EU.

    Britain chose not to sign the Schengen agreement, which allows people to move across borders without having their passports checked. This means the authorities can keep track of who is in the country. Even if the UK votes to leave the EU, if it wants access to its single market it will have to accept the EU rule (as Switzerland and Norway have) that EU citizens can move freely between countries.

  • Migrants contribute to the UK economy.

    A recent study found the average age of migrants to Britain from within the EU is in the 20s. Migrants of working age tend to pay taxes and spend money, making everyone better off. A study in 2014 found that EU migrants to the UK paid £20bn more in taxes than they took from the country in benefits. And the prime minister’s deal in February will mean Britain can use an ‘emergency brake’ on migrant benefits if there is exceptional pressure on public services.

  • Free movement creates opportunities.

    Around 1.2m British citizens now live elsewhere in the EU. The most popular country is sunny Spain, where over half of UK emigrants are over 50 -- meaning they are less likely to work and pay tax but more likely to take advantage of the country’s excellent healthcare system. British students are entitled to free or subsidised education at many European universities thanks to their nation’s membership of the EU.

  • Migration brings cultural diversity.

    The UK should welcome new arrivals: they bring new customs, such as food and languages, which British people benefit from, and become part of British society. Britain must also play its part in resettling refugees fleeing Syria’s war -- as it welcomed the Huguenots from 17th century France and Jews from eastern Europe in the early 20th century. This requires working with other EU countries.

  • No, it cannot.

    A fundamental principle of the EU is that people, goods and services are allowed to move freely across borders between member states. EU nationals may work, live and retire in the UK and enjoy equal treatment with UK nationals. As an EU member, the UK cannot pass laws to restrict these rights. Britain has surrendered the right to decide how many or who come into the country.

  • British people’s wages have been driven down.

    The UK is an attractive destination for migrant workers. There are jobs available which pay significantly more than the cost of living in eastern Europe. Migrants can do low-skilled work in the UK and take a significant amount of money home; British workers cannot do the same in reverse.

    Meanwhile employers can take advantage of the extra competition for jobs and sack people or offer lower wages.

  • Britain cannot cope with the numbers of new arrivals.

    Britain has welcomed migrants before but Migration Watch UK calls the influx since the 1990s ‘unprecedented’. Around 3m people living in the UK in 2014 were born in other EU countries. Net EU migration into the UK reached some 184,000 in 2015; EU expansion will increase this. This untried experiment puts pressure on public services and UK voters now consistently say immigration is one of their main concerns.

  • Mass immigration creates social division.

    When people migrate quickly and in large numbers, newcomers tend to mix with people like themselves. This makes separation between communities more likely. The rise of Islamism is an example of the problems this can create. Britain is more exposed to this problem within the EU, particularly since Germany decided to allow over a million migrants -- many of whom are not refugees -- to settle in the country last year.

You Decide

  1. Are the EU’s rules on migration a force for good?


  1. Illustrate this debate by drawing a cartoon strip, showing people putting forward the two sides of the argument.

Word Watch

According to economists at University College London.
According to the UN.
The UN estimates that over 300,000 British people live in Spain.
Over half
According to the Spanish statistics authority.
This is enshrined by article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, along with other EU legislation and case law at the European Court of Justice.
From the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The total number of foreign-born people in the UK is 8.3m, around 13% of the population.
Estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for year ending December 2015: 270,000 EU citizens migrated to the UK; 85,000 of them left the UK.
There are now 28 members of the EU. Some are concerned that Turkey -- a country of 75m people which borders war-torn Syria and has suffered several recent jihadist attacks -- could soon become a member.
Not refugees
Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the European Commission, said in January that around 60% of those coming to Europe are from countries where there is no conflict.

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The EU debate #5: Migration
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