So now it's clear. Britain's decision whether to stay in or leave the European Union hinges on whether on balance people buy into the economic arguments for staying in the single market or are more afraid of the current levels of immigration continuing. I believe this binary view is wrong and here's why.
First of all, the economic argument to remain is overwhelming. The EU takes 44% of our exports amounting to £229billion of trade each year and directly sustaining over three million jobs. No one has come close to even arguing we would get the same trade deal if we left. Vote Leave have variously cited the arrangements of Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Albania or the WTO instead. All are materially less favourable in various ways. Whatever happened UK companies would face customs barriers, extra costs and would have to accept the rules set by the EU if we wanted to trade there. Take back control? Spin out of control more likely. Pretty much every reputable financial institution has warned we would be worse off.
Secondly, those who divide the arguments between the economic case and immigration have forgotten that the sustainability of our prosperity depends on migrants coming to this country who on average contribute far more than they take out. Anyone who thinks our NHS is crumbling due to immigration hasn't been there. The truth is it depends on immigrant doctors, nurses and support workers to do its daily work and benefits from the contribution that other migrant workers make through the tax system and by helping to create economic growth.
Thirdly, and here's the rub, what actually is the problem with the levels of immigration we have now? We currently have net immigration of c 350,000 per annum ie about half of one per cent of our population. It's true that slightly more immigrants come from outside Europe (where incidentally we have total control) but the fact is European migrants come here to work and improve their lot in life. We're the most successful EU economy at the moment so who can blame them? We need these people. They're doctors, engineers, bankers, tradesmen and farm workers. We are a multifaceted economy with more jobs than people seeking them. And they either have the skills to help or are prepared to do the work Britons don't want to do. Hooray for them! It's a win/win situation.
So what exactly is the problem? Are they terrorists? No. We haven't had a multi casualty terrorist attack since 2005, fortunately. When we last did the perpetrators were born here. Are they changing the Christian nature of the UK? On the contrary, all EU member states have a Christian heritage and European migrants have in fact been helping to arrest the decline in British church attendance in the indigenous population. Do they come for our welfare system? Not really, the Prime Minister has negotiated an emergency brake to prevent benefit abuse but the overwhelming number of migrants come for a better life achieved through work. Do they return home after a few years? Yes, many do, having given some of the golden years of their working lives to us. Do they not speak English? In my experience one of the reasons European migrants prefer Britain is because of their knowledge of the English language. Do they have a different culture? Still no. They're Europeans. Are they refugees? Nope. We have a strict cap on the number of refugees we will take each year and none of them are EU citizens obviously.
So what is the problem? The reality is people come here because Britain is succeeding, we have work for them to do, they contribute more than they take out, they're supporting not crippling the NHS and they are not trying to blow us up.
I believe it's time to re-think the immigration debate. In big picture terms the freedom of people to move about the globe to find work, be educated, retire to sunnier climes or because of relationships is a GOOD thing. When a Brit moves abroad seeking any of these things we're happy to wish them well, often with a slightly envious look in our eyes. So why do some people regard immigration into the UK so negatively?
I'm not saying that we should have an open door immigration policy today, the level of inequality and the challenges of security prevent this. But what I am saying is that we should long for and work towards a day when those inequalities and security challenges are removed and the border fences can come down. In my dreams I've been to the year 3000. What I saw was a much more equal and secure world where freedom of movement was firmly entrenched.
If you believe in that dream of a better world for future generations then you have to do something to fight for it today. Fortunately, all of us will have such an opportunity on 23 June. We'll be able to choose hope over negativity, cooperation over division, prosperity over protectionism, internationalism over isolationism, better friendships over border fences.
This is the most important political decision most of us will ever make. Let's make it for the future of our children.
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