The Non-EU Migration Problem That Can't Be Fixed by Brexit - But Which Could Have Been Solved Years Ago

04/07/2016 16:12 | Updated 04 July 2016

The real immigration problem is not migration from the EU but from outside the EU, over which the UK has had complete control all along, but which has soared out of control nevertheless. How did this come about? And how can the problem be solved?

Migration "Free-For-All"

Net migration into Britain has soared from 196,000 in 2009 (just before David Cameron took office) to 330,000 in 2015. Both sides in the EU referendum campaign blamed the EU for this escalation. It is certainly true that, with very few exceptions, EU citizens have a right to enter, live and work in any EU member state and that the British Government, in common with the governments of all other EU member states, has very little control over migration from the EU.

In his swansong at the EU Summit Conference in Brussels just after the Brexit vote, David Cameron himself specifically blamed the EU freedom of movement rules for the defeat of the "Remain" campaign, which he had championed. Similarly, Michael Gove, a "Brexiteer" and one of the leading contenders to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister, has opined that Britain has to leave the EU to avoid a migration "free-for-all".

Misses the Point

This misses the point, because migration from the EU accounts for less than half of the net migration figure of 330,000 for 2015 -- 184,000 as against 188,000 from outside the EU. And this figure of 188,000 is only slightly less than the 196,000 total net migration figure from inside and outside the EU together in 2009!

One major difference between these two groups of migrants is their pressure on the welfare system. In 2014, no fewer than 264,000 non-EU migrants were paid benefits (mostly out-of work benefits) by the Department of Work & Pensions, as against only 131,000 EU nationals -- less than half the number of non-EU claimants.

Prior to the EU referendum David Cameron made a song and dance about restricting EU migrants' access to welfare, which is a non-problem The real problem is the number of welfare claimants from outside the EU - a problem which could easily have been solved simply by restricting the number of non-EU migrants from entering the UK in the first place.

No Excuse

Why has this not been done? There is absolutely no excuse. The UK has always had complete control over non-EU migration. Immigration is dealt with by the Home Office, and Theresa May, a leading contender to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister, has been Home Secretary since 2010. Yet as early as November 2011 it was revealed that border controls on people entering Britain had been relaxed over a four-month period, including the abandonment of fingerprint checks on some visa-holders from outside Europe. Theresa May denied authorizing this and blamed Brodie Clark, the head of the Border Force. (BBC, 20 February 2012). He was suspended, resigned and claimed constructive dismissal. He subsequently received a settlement payment of £225,000 with no admission of liability or wrongdoing on either side. (UK Border Agency Annual Report & Accounts 2011-12, p. 33). Whatever the truth of the allegations on either side, this whole sorry saga appears to have been linked to the planned axing of 5,000 jobs from the UK Border Agency (out of a total of only 24,000 spread over 130 countries). This may well not have been the Home Secretary's idea, but how could it even have been contemplated by a government committed to bringing migration down to the "tens of thousands"?

Abu Qatada

In her candidacy announcement on 30 June 2016, Theresa May boasted: "[Y]ou can judge me by my record." Adding: "I was told I couldn't deport Abu Qatada, but I flew to Jordan and negotiated the treaty that got him out of Britain for good." In fact, in 2009, before Theresa May's time in office, a unanimous House of Lords (the then highest UK court) ruled that Abu Qatada could be deported to Jordan. Abu Qatada took his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which found in his favour. In 2012 he appealed again to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), which also found in his favour. Theresa May refused to revoke the deportation order, but the barrister representing the British Government still conceded in court that the Government's decision letter "was expressly drafted on the basis of the judgment of the Strasbourg Court and by reference to the test laid down by it" - the very test that the House of Lords had rejected as wrong! In 2013 the Home Secretary appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal - completely ignoring the 2009 decision of the House of Lords, which might have been thought to have settled the matter once and for all. Theresa May's "triumph" in flying to Jordan and finally getting Abu Qatada deported is therefore far less of an achievement than she would have us believe. How could two further appeals have been allowed after the House of Lords had decisively ruled that Abu Qatada could be deported? This kowtowing to politically correct British judges (to whom the 2009 House of Lords was a refreshing exception) and a failure to fix the dysfunctional British court structure will defeat any attempt to solve the immigration problem after Brexit and very likely also place British security at risk. (See Arnheim, The Problem with Human Rights Law, Civitas, 2015).

Illegal Immigration

And what about illegal immigration? This is undoubtedly the most serious migration problem of all, not only because it places UK health, social services, housing and education facilities under pressure, but also because it poses a potential security risk, allowing terrorists to enter unnoticed. A London School of Economics research team estimated in 2009 that there were between 417,000 and 863,000 illegal migrants in Britain, including between 44,0000 and 144,000 UK-born children. The number is undoubtedly even higher now.

What is being done about this problem? In 2015 the Government announced that landlords would have the obligation of checking the immigration status of tenants, subject to criminal prosecution if they knowingly or unknowingly offered accommodation to illegal immigrants - an indefensible passing of the buck by a government that has done nothing to tackle this serious problem itself.

Throw Passport Away

Illegal migrants have become aware, even from government sponsored TV programmes, that if they throw away their passports and other identity documents they cannot be deported! There is no law to this effect, but the Government continues to act on this assumption anyway.

Nullifying the Dublin Convention

The Government has also nullified the potentially valuable Dublin Convention, which says that illegals can be deported back to the first "safe" country they reach. When asked about this in Parliament, Home Office minister Richard Harrington lamely remarked: "I accept under the Dublin Convention they can be deported back to the country that they came from, but I think most people would accept that's no answer." Really? Why not?

The Dublin Convention is part of EU law - and a part that particularly protects a member state like Britain which is far from the outer periphery of the EU. David Cameron understands this and spoke out strongly in favour of Dublin in January 2016 when it was under threat of repeal. But, having failed to take advantage of it as an EU member state, Britain will not be able to avail itself of it after Brexit, even if it wants to.

If the post-Brexit government continues along this timorous path - as there is every likelihood that it will - the immigration problem will not be solved.