Why Britons should vote to remain in the EU

Sunday 19/06/2016

British voters head to the polls June 23rd for an election to decide the country’s politi­cal future in, or perhaps out of, the European Union. Newspapers and late-night television talk shows are filled with debate about the issues dominating the referendum from workers’ rights to the economy, from security to the environment and, of course, immigration.

According to the Office for National Statistics net migration to Britain rose to 330,000 in 2015, the second highest figure on record. British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under considerable flak, even from within his own party, for his inability to control immigration, with senior Conservative Party figures pledging support for the Leave campaign.

The government is officially backing the Remain campaign, as is the main opposition Labour Party, but many British voters remain unconvinced. It is this reactionary fear of immigration and the effects that this has on the National Health Service (NHS), job opportunities and the housing sector that appear to be gaining purchase.

But British voters must dare to ignore the short-term considerations and the scaremongering tactics of the Leave campaign to vote in favour of remaining in the European Union. The benefits of immigration far outweigh potential disadvantages.

Politically, the United Kingdom is stronger as part of the European Union and must confront future crises — whether international terrorism or climate change or, yes, even immigration — as part of an EU-wide response.

As for the economy, immigration increased total employment and tax revenues in Britain during a very difficult post-recession period, softening what could have been a much more severe austerity.

Away from clear political and economic benefits of remaining in the union, a vote to leave is a vote for social division and marginalisation. Immigration, whether from within the European Union or beyond, has had a positive effect on all aspects of British society. Immigrants and their children have had an indelible effect on Britain. They are seen on television screens and their works are on bookshelves. They are serving in the armed forces and lining up in England’s national football team. They form the backbone of the NHS.

A vote to leave the European Union based on the idea that immigration is “dangerous” would be to repudiate every positive effect immigration has had on the United Kingdom. This would popularise the divisive discourse that Donald Trump is seeking to promote in the United States and make “immigrants” an easy scapegoat for all problems. A post-EU Britain would be a cold and unforgiving place.

As for the idea that Britain is “full”, this is simply not true. As of 2012, approximately 10% of the United Kingdom was classified as urban (a definition that includes roads and rural development, as well as towns and cities). There is plenty of room to build on, even within existing towns and cities where just more than half of land is made up of green spaces. Fears about the effects that unfettered immigration is having on public services are similarly exaggerated, particularly as this comes at a time of major government cuts.

The United Kingdom, like many other EU countries, has an ageing population. In 2007, the number of people in Britain older than 65 outnumbered the number of people younger than 16 for the first time. Migrants, usually young and educated, pay for themselves. They come to Britain to work, to build a life, contributing to the economy and society in general.

It is all very well to blame “faceless” migrants for all the ills of society, from crime to poverty to unemployment, but what would British society look like without them?