The EU Referendum Debate Is Dominated by the Right-Wing Agenda on Immigration and Feeds Into Far Right Politics

24/05/2016 15:26 | Updated 24 May 2016

I know I'm not the only one who's decided not to vote on 23rd of June. It is because the EU referendum debate has had its agenda set by the Right and has been dominated by anti-immigration discourse throughout.

The British media are at the forefront of the manufacturing of this political game. It is as if there were a real choice. The other day I watched Newsnight's Boston debate with disgust - migration was the centre of the debate but no voices of migrant workers were given a chance to be heard. Those who give their labour and their prime years to this country have been treated as nothing but commodities. Audiences are fed a biased story about immigration and they don't know any better: Is it any wonder that, according to Sky News polls, 28% of the surveyed undecided voters are more concerned about the impact membership of the EU has on immigration than about the economy (15%)?

The truth that has been deliberately left out of the EU referendum debate is what migration has done for Britain. Corporate media intentionally omit the fact that migration from other EU countries has not had an adverse impact on wages and job prospects of British workers. According to an LSE study at the centre for economic performance, the cause for wage decline was the recession that began in 2008 rather than EU migrants that entered Britain between 1995 and 2015.

Towns in Britain that have seen the biggest rises in EU migrant workers haven't suffered sharper falls in wages or larger reduction in jobs than elsewhere in the country. The study finds little correlation between changes in wages and unemployment for low-skilled UK-born workers and changes in EU migration. It also finds that migrants do not have a negative effect on local services such as education, health or social housing.

The opposite is true: EU migrants, the majority of them working-age, pay more in taxes than they use public services, and therefore help to reduce the budget deficit. Overall, migration (from the EU and outside) has boosted the economy by raising consumption levels, which raises the level of demand in the economy and in turn creates employment opportunities for local workers.

Jonathan Wadsworth, a co-author of the report, said that EU migration not only hasn't harmed British wages, jobs or public services, but has, in fact, benefited British people. He concluded that "immigration is at worst neutral and at best, another economic benefit."

The myths about migration in the EU referendum debate have contributed to the growing confidence of the anti-immigration rhetoric of the far right. Not only much of the racism propagated by far right groups is now mainstream in Britain's everyday politics, but the circulation of such ideas in the corporate media have helped reinforce and strengthen racist ideologies of the far right.

"London has fallen," exclaimed neo-fascist Britain First, not only recycling the main message in Zac Goldsmith's racist election campaign that linked Sadiq Khan with extremism, but also adopting the popular message of the Leave campaign that migrants are flooding the country and are bad for the economy. "London survived the Black Death, the Great Fire and the Blitz, but has been murdered by mass immigration," Britain First said on its Facebook homepage. The post has so far received 1.4K "likes".

Britain First's growing confidence and aggression is demonstrated in the increase of its activities against British Muslims. This year, the group has already visited East London Mosque three times, harassing local worshippers and during their last visit, assaulting and injuring a member of the mosque.

"Take our country back," said Britain First neo-fascists. This message is already out there in Britain's mainstream media, in the regressive Immigration Act 2016 (that formalises authorities' power to seize migrant workers' wages) and in the way the EU referendum debate is structured and represented - in both Leave and Remain campaigns, migration has been talked about within the frame of migration management and the strengthening of border controls.

The growing violence of far right groups is no accident. With their ideas endorsed by mainstream political discourse, neo-fascists know that their actions wouldn't be condemned by society - and they're not. The racism and prejudice that we have witnessed in the current debate will make things a lot worse for communities - and threaten our safety and well-being.

Hsiao-Hung Pai is the author of Angry White People: Coming Face-to-face with the British Far Right (Zed Books, 2016). She will be taking part in a discussion about Extremism invading the mainstream on Sunday 3rd July at the Royal Festival Hall as part of Southbank Centre's Power of Power festival which launches on Sunday 29 May.