If you’re worried about extra-EU migration, vote Remain

by Hugo Dixon & Luke Lythgoe | 21.06.2016

The biggest migration challenges of the future will be from beyond Europe, not from within the EU. We can handle them better as members of the bloc.

The Leave camp’s main argument for Brexit is that it would let us stop EU citizens coming here automatically. This is wrong on so many grounds: EU migrants benefit us; we get a reciprocal right to live and work in the EU; Vote Leave is misleading the public by promising to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, not least because net migration from outside the EU was 188,000 last year.

But the Leave camp’s biggest mistake is to misunderstand the geopolitical forces at play, as a result of which millions of people are on the move in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. It also fails to appreciate that our best chance of tackling these challenges is by leading Europe, not leaving Europe.

Among the multiple causes of mass migration are: war, persecution, terrorism, climate change, population growth and economic deprivation in the countries people are fleeing; and economic opportunities in the countries they want to get to.

In 2015, over 1.2 million migrants sought asylum in EU member states, including 362,000 Syrians, 178,000 Afghans and 121,000 Iraqis. The proportion of those arriving in Britain was remarkably small, with only 38,000 asylum claims in the UK last year. According to Home Office figures, 1,602 vulnerable Syrian refugees had been settled in the UK by March 2016, with the prime minister saying the UK will accept 20,000 over the next five years.

Migration of young, ambitious individuals can be an economic boon for developed countries with ageing populations. But uncontrolled migration is bad on many counts – both for migrants who fall victims to people traffickers, and for local communities if migrants are not properly integrated.

Countries of origin

The priority is to stabilise north Africa and the Middle East. This will require a joined up political and economic plan.

Part of the answer is to broker peace deals in Libya, Syria and so forth – perhaps backed up with selective military intervention. Another part is something akin to Gordon Brown’s call to rebuild war-torn countries with a 21st century Marshall Plan. Europe should play a leading role in doing this, as it has the more to lose from chaos on its borders than America does.

The EU has much to contribute to economic development through trade. It is, after all, the world’s biggest market. It also can achieve much through aid. Its 28 member states provide over half of all the world’s international aid.

Other tools at the EU’s disposal include the imposition of economic sanctions – something which helped bring Iran to the negotiating table to talk about its nuclear programme. And it can help the fight against climate change – as it did at last year’s Paris summit.

In all these areas, Britain is well placed to lead Europe. It is a powerful trading nation, it has the continent’s most sophisticated armed forces, it has an active development programme and it has centuries of diplomatic expertise. But on its own we will be able to achieve little.

The Mediterranean

Although the ultimate way of controlling migration is to stabilise north Africa and the Middle East, a more immediate task is to stem the flow of refugees into Europe by working with countries on the other side of the Mediterranean.

Whatever you think of the EU’s controversial Turkey deal, it has dramatically cut down migration. The daily number of attempted crossings in the weeks before the deal was 1,740 people – since May 1 the daily average has been 47. A similar initiative will be needed with Libya as soon as it gets a stable government.

If we were out of the EU, Britain wouldn’t have such a say in these diplomatic initiatives.

The Channel

If the Mediterranean is the first big geographical barrier for migrants attempting to reach Britain, the Channel is the second. And, as with the Mediterranean, we will do a better job managing flows if we cooperate with authorities on the other side.

At present, we work closely with France to make sure people don’t enter Britain unless they have proper papers. We also have the right under the Dublin Regulation to send back asylum-seekers who arrive in Britain to the EU country where they first arrived.

It’s most unlikely we would still be covered by the Dublin Regulation if we quit the EU. It is also possible that cooperation with France might become strained. That could cost us dearly if the recent trickle of migrants being trafficked into Britain by boats turns into a flood.

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In all respects, the impact will be even worse if Brexit leads to a domino effect of EU fragmentation and ultimate disintegration – a stated aim of many in the Leave camp. The capacity to pursue a joined up political and economic plan to stabilise the Middle East and north Africa would then vanish.

Insofar as people are concerned about the migration crises of the future, they should vote Remain, not Leave.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “If you’re worried about extra-EU migration, vote Remain”

  • I don’t know, a few years ago Somali refugees who found asylum on the mainland were told to work and integrate instead of living off benefits. This happened in Denmark,Holland and Sweden. Instead of doing that, they relocated on Mass to the UK in which to continue to live off benefits. in 2011 over 101K Somali people lived in the UK, 73% were on benefits. mainland Europe has recently seen a huge influx of migrants, Germany,Sweden and Denmark have told them they have to work or else risk getting deported. Now that they have EU passports where do you think they will go?

  • The other thing to remember is that, if we were to leave and join the Single Market, we would have to agree to Free Movement so, leave or remain, migration is not going to change. It’s just that, outside of the EU, we have less control.