Happy New Year to one and all, best wishes for the coming twelve months. But watch out, because the immigrants are coming (again).
That, it appears, has been the message of a large portion of the British press during the post Christmas news slump that ended 2013. One almost expected to wake up on New Years Day, head pounding and mouth dry, to find a gaggle of Eastern Europeans at the end of the bed. Of course, as I write this late on the first of January 2014, no such calamity has occurred.
The notion that the first day of the New Year would be the exact moment Romanians and Bulgarians stormed the border en mass is bizarre. Talk of plane tickets to London selling for over a thousand Euros and 50,000 souls waiting to cross Europe and trouble our streets, starting right now, is nothing more than factually incorrect scaremongering. Equally though, the crowing of pro-Europe and pro-immigration commentators over the lack of an influx is misguided. It may be amusing that a ‘welcoming committee’ headed by Keith Vaz MP traveled all the way to Luton to meet a group of Romanians, most of whom already work in Britain, getting off an unfilled plane, but it doesn’t prove anything. There was never going to be an overnight flooding of the border. This is the movement of people, not the start of January sales.
Most of the fear of a fresh wave of immigration into the UK has been founded upon lies and half-truths. For some months now, talk of immigrant ‘tourism’ to take advantage of the welfare state has been building, part of a hard line rhetoric coming from the Conservative wing of the current government. The truth is that this is a phenomenon that has been conjured from the ether. Not only have benefits and the NHS been ‘reformed’ to an extent where they are hardly worth crossing Europe to exploit; statistics show that the vast majority of migrants come to Britain to work. Despite the current economic climate, pay and conditions are higher in the UK than most of Eastern Europe for the majority of workers. Even without the government’s plans to limit access to welfare for foreigners (and what is being defined as a ‘foreigner’ in this context is still open to interpretation), there is very little logic or incentive to encourage so called ‘benefit tourism’. Only 4% of Jobseekers Allowance claimants are EU migrants.
The other main argument against, as Nigel Farage has called it, ‘opening the door unconditionally’, is that migrant workers are bad for the economy. They take jobs from British people and send money back home to their families rather than spending it in the UK. Again, such claims are founded on a gross misrepresentation of the facts. Figures published by the Office for Budget Responsibility suggest that if net immigration into Britain is at zero for the next fifty years the national debt will stand at 175% of GDP. In contrast if net immigration remains at around 260,000 per year over the same period the national debt will be less than 75% of GDP. The rates of employment and unemployment in migrant communities are almost identical to those for the native British population (as of 2012) and in the first decade of the new millennium migrants from the EU contributed over £22 billion to the UK economy. The same economy that was recently predicted to become the ‘largest in Europe’ by 2030, but only if immigration continues. In short, immigration is good business.
Indeed after a while it seems that the only arguments against immigration that are not built upon factual inaccuracy are the irrational ones. After all, can we really complain about the free movement of people within the EU when sweeping tracts of the Spanish coast are home to British retirees, many of whom steadfastly refuse to integrate with the local communities. What about the young British men and women who go the Alps every winter to work in ski resorts as migrant workers?
Earlier in the year I wrote about my brief stay in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. I focused mostly on the places’ extraordinary imperial history. It has not been the seat of any one great empire but rather a centre in many, from the days of the Romans through to the Cold War era and Soviet rule. What I forgot to mention was the people. Friendly and thoroughly ordinary people who, if they come to the UK, will not be looking for free healthcare or a life of organised crime but for the chance of a decent wage for an honest days hard work. If you or I were in their shoes I doubt very much that we wouldn’t want the same. Those that come to stay in Britain, be it for a month, a year or a lifetime, will add to our society not detract from it. Maybe our New Years resolution should be to welcome them with open arms.