So the referendum on whether we stay or leave the European Union has been set, and giving us four months of unremitting commentary from both sides as to why we should vote their way.

Most people will, frankly, vote according to personal biases, regardless of the arguments put forward. Decision have been made and no matter what people say today, the opinions wont change.

That the Prime Minister comes back to the UK talking of securing a deal for a special relationship and changes to terms and conditions, only highlights though the view in some circles that the European Union was a BAD THING that needed fixing.

No side seemed to be arguing for building a GOOD THING and then getting enthusiastic about it.

We Brits have always generally been reluctant Europeans, and the tone of the debate has reflected that.

The only area where Brits are enthusiastically European is in living on the mainland, with around 2 million Brits living in the rest of Europe — which coincidentally, is roughly how many Europeans live in the UK.

The net immigration effect has been zero.

And this is where the debate will probably swing — on them foreigners coming over here, taking our jobs, claiming our benefits, etc.

Ignoring that it goes the other way as well, and in terms of net cost, the Brits living abroad tend to be older, and hence cost their host nation more in healthcare, than the generally younger immigrants in the UK.

If it is solely a debate about cost, the UK probably does rather well out of the EU by exporting its expensive wrinklies, and importing cheap workers.

Of course, the debate about immigration is rarely about costs — it’s the social impact that often colours the debate. It might be frowned upon to want the Jamaican’s to go back home, but people feel freer to make the same demand of eastern Europeans.

A large body of people moving to the UK, and as would be expected, tending to cluster in areas has caused a significant change in the local streetscape, with Polish shops popping up in all sorts of unexpected places.

And they do seem to pop up in the smaller to mid-sized towns, as that is where the lower paid work exists, so the visible impact on the street, and the strange sounds heard in the pub will stand out.

There is also some evidence that immigrants do take jobs that might be performed by the lowest paid rung of British society, and may have driven down costs. It’s not entirely conclusive though, and the various reports may reflect researcher biases, hence the confusion about the results.

But certainly, it seems that the people with the least to benefit from migration have also been the worst hurt by it. Which understandably doesn’t go down well with people so affected.

People feel uncomfortable expressing views that Gordon Brown would have described as bigoted, but they feel them anyway, and so politicians and pundits come up with safe proxies to use.

Immigrants take jobs. Immigrants take benefits. Immigrants take without contributing.

It’s a soft xenophobia about strange other people with their strange ways, packaged into a Tesco Value political argument about the cost of migration on the UK Government’s rather overdrawn bank account.

We know you mean “I don’t like foreigners”, but we’ll repackage it as “I am worried about the cost”.

So, the big focus on benefits, the something for nothing culture, coming over here without contributing.

Sounds sensible, they come over here, start claiming in-work benefits on day one, and what have they done to earn it?

The UK had demanded that people coming to the UK “must live here and contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing”.

But, what has an 18-year old Brit in the same situation done to “earn it” either? Have they spent a decade contributing to the tax collector to earn the right to benefits?

No.

This is the one area where the debate is upside down.

Very, very roughly, the cost to the taxpayer of turning a moment of conception into an 18-year old contributor to the tax system is at a minimum, around £80,000.

(£2,800 for birth, plus 11*£7,000 for education, excluding any other costs)

The cost to the British taxpayer of a polish 18-year old arriving in the UK is… Zero.

Setting aside all the other issues — the economic benefit of a person being born and educated overseas and then moving to the UK is vast. Staggeringly so.

It would take a low-paid Brit several decades to repay the taxpayer their initial investment, but an EU migrant is making a profit for the taxpayer from day one.

Immigration has other effects, mostly social, and where large waves of migrants cluster in small areas, that can put a strain on local services.

Just ask the Spanish, who have put in lots of English services to cope with the influx of Brits.

However, the argument that migrants are over here just to claim benefits they “haven’t earned”, when compared to the native born person who is in a huge tax-debt to the UK, is utterly misleading.

When the referendum comes, vote according to your beliefs, and your biases. It’s not wrong to dislike people — I dislike plenty of people — but be aware of your bias and don’t cloak it is fake allegations about benefits claims.

When the referendum comes, try to vote with the head, not the heart — but we’re all human, and hearts often rule the head.

However, whatever your views, go and vote, as nothing will settle the debate (for a while) than a strong turn out.

And nothing will have us going through the whole tedious rigmarole again in a few years, than if most of us stay at home and give each side ammo in the argument that the referendum result didn’t reflect the true opinion of the electorate.

Enjoy the next few months, and lets hope we can settle the issue on the 23rd June, with a strong turn out. Regardless of what the result is.

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10 comments
  1. Rob says:

    Good points well made, very well written.

    • MP in Colorado says:

      As a resident of the formerly rebellious colonies westward across the Atlantic, I hear the same arguments here, esp as we are in the midst of our endless presidential election season. It is reassuring to see that human nature, with all of our selfishness and attempts at separation of emotions and logic are common to both our nations. Your post is well written and balanced, and I like that you encourage everyone to vote, as that is the only way to be sure we as individuals really have our voice beyond the opinion polls and noisy politicians who seem to think by repeatedly and loudly saying some simple silliness that we will believe it is true. .

  2. GT says:

    I suspect that “immigration” has been deliberately ramped-up as the “main” issue.
    It is largely irrelevant.

    Carefully, no mention of the corrupt big-business lobbying in Brussels, or the EU’s incorrect accounts for – how many years now?
    Equally, no mention of the EU regulations, carefully crafted to discriminate against small companies.
    Worst of all, the slow supercession of Common Law by “Roman” law & the vile & illegal European Arrest Warrant – contrary to the Bill of Rights

    • Southern Heights says:

      Carefully no mention of the corrupt big-business lobying in Westminster. As for the accounts, when was the last time you heard of the U.K. Accounts being audited. Even if they are, don’t take no news as good news…

      E.U. Regulations, again, directives being passed, then implemented by the government here via legislation. So who writes the final legislation?

      “Roman” law? And exactly how does an international arrest warrant contravene (the non-existent) Bill of Rights? Surely at least you mean the Human Rights Act?

    • The Duke of Waltham says:

      I cannot speak about the European Arrest Warrant, but the government doesn’t need any help from Brussels to continue churning out legislation in ever-increasing volumes, with schedules often too restrictive for MPs to provide proper scrutiny; bills are sometimes drafted so hastily that, after their whipping through the Commons, there’s only the much-maligned House of Lords to tidy them up before they’re signed into law. (And don’t get me started on secondary legislation.) I’m afraid the trend towards longer, more complex laws is a fact of modern life, and Parliament will carry on passing them no matter what. Common law has been losing the battle for a long time now.

      Besides, even a possible exit from the EU would simply mean that, in many cases, regulations would be amended rather than abolished; I find it futile to expect any appreciable change in the size of the statute book. Indeed, the need to continue trading with the EU would probably mean that a lot more would remain the same than some people expect. Brexit is not a panacea by any means.

      Although it would be interesting to see what material the tabloids would use to fill the gap left by all the “new evil Brussels scheme to tie us up in red tape and make our lives miserable” stories.

  3. giuzi says:

    I have been told by quite a few people they want out ecause they wish to revert to yards and miles and pounds, to return to a strong british national identity as it was in the 50’s….all the while drinking coffee and enjoying sharing creative space with people of every nationality. Never mind…l personally fear the current climate of ultra-liberist economic tendencies, under-priviledge bashing and intrusion in individual rights of privacy will be deepened further without a basic protectikn of european standards.

  4. Brian says:

    Tories (little old-fashioned ones) want out because they long for the good old days. The EU didn’t get rid of the good old days, Thatcher did. And all those small scale Tories thought SHE was WonderWoman. She wasn’t; she was a mean-spirited old cow. Thank you for the small dose of realism. I shall vote to retain my rights newly-granted by more socially-minded Europeans (who still make things rather than nurture service industries and Money).

    • Ian Visits says:

      Do remember that Labour was once fervently anti-EU, and still has a large percentage of MPs who will campaign for an Out result. Likewise, the LibDems also have Out campaigners.

      Anti-europeanism isn’t an exclusively Tory market.

  5. Excellent and interesting viewpoint Ian — thank you!
    I can’t help agreeing with giuzi that, sadly, we need the protection of European standards. But what an indictment that we have to think that way at all.

  6. Pre says:

    if Brexit materialises Britain will have to redefine itself. Similarly a EU without the UK will also do the same. Both will have the same basic survival instinct.To stabilise the ensuing political and economic fallout post divorce and to create a post Brexit vision which will legitimate the separation. Both will continue as entities in whatever form.
    Neither will see themselves surviving without continued cooperation without the other. The redefinition of the EU will need to be more radical than that of the UK and could involve several scenarios. More market and less politics, more politics and less market or more of both. More politics could materialise in the form of social policy. Similarly, enlargement could be put on hold or continued. As part of legitimising their positions in the aftermath of separation both might use economic tools to highlight the prudence of their new existence. Finally, the power vacuum created by the loss of the UK could be filled either by more dependency on Germany or the old driver of Germany and France in tandem or even an alliance of eastern and southern states. The determinants for taking any of these options will be shaped by a consideration of risks factors. It will be interesting to see post Brexit (assumption) what new forms of international cooperation emerge or if either party attempts to regress to positions that were previously held. I would bet on new forms of international cooperation as the older forms would not be compatible with today’s world. How effective each party is might however be out of their hands as global events continue to dictate.

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