Towards a Responsible Post-Brexit Immigration System
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Towards a Responsible Post-Brexit Immigration System
22 August @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
The UK’s decision to leave the European Union in the June 2016 referendum on EU membership has generated fierce debate on the impact of immigration. This has focused on the economic, political, social and cultural aspects of immigration and its effect on the British economy and society. With the country’s withdrawal set for October 31st, the discussion is increasingly moving towards what a post-Brexit British immigration system could look like. What should be prioritised under a future post-Brexit immigration system? Should there be a preference shown towards Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand under such a system? And should there be considerations made based on culture and religion?
The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to this highly topical and interesting event,’Towards a responsible Post-Brexit Immigration System’, where our guest speaker Professor Eric Kaufmann (Birkbeck, University of London) will grapple with the tough questions presented. The event will be chaired by HJS’s Dr Rakib Ehsan, who sits as a research fellow in both the Centre on Radicalisation & Terrorism (CRT) and the Centre on Social & Political Risk (CSPR).
Eric Kaufmann is Professor and Assistant Dean of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of Whiteshift: Immigration, Populism and the Future of White Majorities (Penguin/Abrams, 2018/19); Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth (Profile Books 2010), The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America (Harvard 2004), The Orange Order (Oxford, 2007) and one other book. He wrote a report for the think tank Demos entitled Changing Places: mapping the white British response to ethnic change (Demos 2014). He is co-editor, among others, of Political Demography (Oxford 2012) and editor of Rethinking Ethnicity: Majority Groups and Dominant Minorities (Routledge 2004). An editor of the journal Nations & Nationalism, he has written for Newsweek International, Foreign Affairs, New Statesman and Prospect magazines and his work has been covered in major newspapers and magazines in the UK and US since 2007.
Dr. Rakib Ehsan is a Research Fellow in the Centre on Radicalisation & Terrorism. Rakib specialises in the socio-political behaviour and attitudes of British ethnic minorities, with a particular focus on the UK’s Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups. He holds a BA Politics & International Relations (First-Class Honours), MSc Democracy, Politics & Governance (Pass with Distinction), and a PhD in Political Science, all from Royal Holloway, University of London.
On Thursday 22nd of August the Henry Jackson Society was pleased to welcome Professor Eric Kaufmann, author of Whiteshift and Professor of Politics at Birckbeck College, University of London, to lead a discussion on the UK’s future immigration system in the post-Brexit context. While it is widely understood that immigration concerns fed into the Leave vote, it remains unclear what our immigration system will look like after the UK finally leaves the European Union, and what changes are needed to satisfy those who voted to leave.
Kaufmann explained that quantitative data analysis can help us to understand what factors drive people’s attitudes towards immigration. It has been established, for instance, that economic factors (such as one’s household income) have very little bearing on an individual’s attitudes towards immigration. Instead, they are far more heavily correlated with ideological and cultural values; those in favour of capital punishment, for instance, are highly likely to be in favour of reducing immigration. Immigration attitudes, Kaufmann surmised, reflect people’s deep seated psychological disposition far more than their economic situation.
Ideological dispositions, however, do not fully explain the increasing salience of immigration as a political issue in recent years. Kaufmann argued that the answer to this question lies in the numbers. In Britain, as in other western countries, immigration has risen drastically over the past two decades. As the number of immigrants has increased, those who are already predisposed to favour reduced immigration are more likely to prioritise this over other political concerns.
Kaufmann demonstrated the importance people attribute to numbers of immigration by detailing the results of one of his surveys conducted since the Brexit referendum. At first, people were presented with the option of raising the share of skilled immigration into the UK from outside Europe but maintaining overall levels of immigration at their pre-Brexit levels of around 275,000. Another group was presented with the option of decreasing skilled immigration from outside Europe, but also decreasing overall net migration from 275,000 to 125,000. Initially, respondents were evenly split on these two options for an immigration system post-Brexit. However, once the question was posed in terms of the ethnic change that would result from each option – specifically the drop in percentage of the White British share of the UK’s population between now and 2060 – people were in much greater favour of reducing levels of immigration, even if it meant fewer high-skilled people entering UK.
Kaufmann’s study indicated that in the event that immigration levels were to remain the same after Brexit, the number of UKIP voters would increase significantly, with a concomitant decrease in those voting for the Conservative or Labour parties.
Kaufmann then went on to discuss similar trends in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Despite there being a higher foreign-born share of the population as well as a more selective immigration system in these countries, there are converging dynamics with the UK demonstrated in the growing narrative that immigration is driving up housing costs, putting pressure on infrastructure and reducing the overall quality of life.
Kaufman concluded by reiterating his point that deeply-held cultural values and psychological orientations are the key drivers of immigration attitudes. The immigration issue becomes a priority for those who are in favour of a more controlled system when there is a perceptible rise in the levels of immigration. It is the increased salience of immigration as a political issue that in turn drives populist right-wing voting, particularly when there is a broad reluctance in mainstream society to have a stark conversation about controlling the numbers of net migration into the UK.
Kaufmann finished by arguing that while crises such as Brexit, economic downturn or war might temporarily deflect concern away from immigration, we can be certain that it will once again become a prominent issue. If the UK maintains its current level of immigration after Brexit – regardless of increased control, skills-based or a ‘points’ system – it is unlikely to satisfy those who voted Leave in the Brexit referendum.
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