Following the publication of a Migration Watch UK paper detailing the implications of Single Market membership for levels of net migration from the EU, a blog post was published on the TUC run Touchstone blog (see here).
The main thrust of our paper (which you can read here) was that Single Market membership, which would require the continued acceptance of free movement of people, would entail EU net migration of 155,000 a year in the medium term. Notably, the author of the Touchstone blog does not refute this. Rather he accuses Migration Watch UK of deliberately seeking to mislead people through five “key missing pieces”. We have set out these below with our responses.
Net migration to the UK is not solely, or even mainly, about free movement from the rest of Europe
Our report was not missing this information. A chart in the paper clearly illustrated the changing trends in EU and non-EU migration, and the accompanying press release specifically noted the level of non-EU migration and its contribution to the overall total.
Leaving the single market wouldn’t stop migration from the rest of Europe
Quite so but it does not follow that “we would still have a considerable inflow from the rest of Europe”. We have proposed a system of work permits confined to those offered skilled jobs. Looking at the Labour Force Survey over the last ten years we have estimated employer need at around 30,000 a year which would also allow for some expansion. This would lead to much lower levels of net migration from the EU. In fact we estimate that it could be 100,000 lower under such a system. (See here and here)
Leaving the single market could put upwards pressure on net migration numbers
We have been clear that we are not in favour of restrictions on visitors, students and the self-sufficient, and would like to see people to continue to move to and from the EU for highly-skilled work (See here). Under our proposed system the British citizens retiring to the rest of the EU could continue to do so as these individuals are self sufficient. Also, three-quarters of UK expatriates are residing outside the EU, so even a worst (and most unlikely) case of severe restrictions on access to the rest of the EU would have little effect on net migration of UK citizens.
There are so many other ways to manage migration – why aren’t we exploring these?
The author here correctly says that political choices in other Member States could reduce push factors resulting from austerity and poverty in their own countries but these are not matters for the UK government.
The author also suggests that any undercutting of the existing workforce results from exploitation by bad bosses. The picture is much more complex than that. Much of the normal rule of supply and demand has ceased to apply because of the ready availability of cheap labour from the EU.
And it’s economics that is the big omission in the Migration Watch report
We are a migration think tank. The likely economic impact of the range of possible future relationships with the rest of the EU is a matter of much scrutiny by economists, but economics alone does not give a full picture to the public, and many will be interested to know that EU migration is unlikely to fall below 155,000 in the medium term if we remain members of the Single Market. On this crucial point, the author appears not to disagree.