Corbyn vows to defy voters on immigration

In or out: Net migration is the difference between new arrivals and leavers

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says he will not reduce immigration to Britain. In this he is like many economists who say migration is good for us. Voters disagree. Who has the stronger case?

Many Britons said it was the reason they voted to leave the EU. Donald Trump and fringe politicians across Europe have capitalised on it. Voters consistently tell pollsters it is among their top concerns.

Immigration is now highly controversial across the Western world. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, addressed it yesterday in his annual speech to the party’s conference. He said Labour would not ‘sow division’ with ‘false promises’ to reduce the number of migrants coming to Britain.

His stance aligns with the consensus among economists. Oxford academic Ian Goldin says ‘the evidence is overwhelmingly that immigration is a good thing’. Studies suggest migrants help to grow the economies of countries they enter and contribute more money in taxes than they take in benefits.

Most new migrants come to work or study, creating opportunities. Workers spend money and bring new skills. Goldin adds that migrants are often resilient or ‘extraordinary’ people who overcome adversity and are willing to do unskilled jobs, which local populations often see as beneath them.

But most voters perceive things differently. In both 2008 and 2013, big majorities told surveys that they wanted immigration reduced; in 2013, 56% said it should be ‘reduced a lot’. Even 60% of first and second generation migrants wanted a reduction.

Some dispute the economic benefits of mass migration, particularly for low-skilled workers and at a local level. But much of the concern is not based on economics. In June, 16% more people rated the effect of EU migration on the UK economy as good rather than bad; only 19% said immigration had had a negative impact on them personally.

So what is behind the trend? Advocates of immigration controls say rapid migration undermines national identity and divides communities. People fear the loss of familiar values and traditions, and worry that neighbours do not understand each other. Centrist Labour MP Stephen Kinnock says voters, particularly in working class areas, have a ‘very emotional’ reaction on the issue.

Should economic concerns override these sentiments?

Migrating priorities

Absolutely, say some. Growth and trade benefit us all, even if only indirectly. Fear of migration is largely irrational, and often driven by bigotry or jealousy. Powerful people should challenge — and seek to change — voters’ perceptions, not pander to their nonsensical whims.

How patronising, reply others. Generalised economic statistics on liberal academics’ spreadsheets do not reflect the reality of life in deprived areas. They take no account of the issues people care about. If people want to prioritise cultural homogeneity over GDP figures, their wish should be respected.

You Decide

  1. Do you prioritise emotion or reason when you make decisions?
  2. Should politicians seek to reduce immigration?


  1. Make a list of five political positions which you believe in (start each with ‘I believe that...’) Then write down why you believe each of them. Discuss with a partner: are your political positions motivated by reason or emotion?
  2. Prepare a three-minute presentation to your class on a historical major wave of migration. Why did it happen, what benefits did it bring and what tensions did it cause?

Some People Say...

“The public is always right.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I am not bothered by immigration. Can I just ignore other people’s views?
Given the numbers of people who care about this issue, It is worth being aware of the motivation of those you share a society with. If you are informed about both the perspective of migrants and the views of people in host countries, you will be better equipped to understand the way the world around you changes in years to come. And in an interconnected world, the impact of migration affects us all.
My family have migrated to Britain. Should I be worried?
Unfortunately migrants do still face racism and prejudice, and several reports suggest this may have increased in recent months. But there is a distinction between those who wish to control immigration but welcome migrants, and those who dislike migrants as people.

Word Watch

33% of Leave voters told pollster Lord Ashcroft their most significant motive was to gain control over immigration.
In an Ipsos-Mori survey in August, more voters said immigration was among the UK’s top priorities than any other issue.
Academics at University College London found that migrants added £20bn to the UK economy between 2001 and 2011.
Work or study
The Migration Observatory at Oxford University says 278,000 people came to Britain to work in 2014; 191,000 to study.
Goldin says migrants are disproportionately represented among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and winners of Oscars and Nobel prizes.
According to the British Social Attitudes survey.
A study by the Bank of England found that for every 10% increase in the number of immigrants working in semi-skilled or unskilled services, wages fell 1.9% in that sector.
According to Ipsos-Mori.
In 2014, 41% of people told the British Social Attitudes survey that tension between immigrants and people born in Britain was the biggest problem in their local area.


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