By the end of 2017 the UK electorate will decide its future with a simple yes or no: Should the United Kingdom remain in Europe? The last time the question was posed in 1975 Britain’s political landscape was very different. The Labour party backbenchers were the most prominent eurosceptics. The conservatives under Margaret Thatcher, arguably the most right wing prime minister in modern times, were the main ‘Yes’ advocates.
But this time around it is unlikely that the Pro Europe campaign will triumph with as much ease as before. The rise of “pound shop Enoch Powell” Nigel Farage threatens to plunge Britain over the edge and out of the EU. Fuelled by people’s discontent over immigration and alienated from the mainstream parties, UKIP managed to secure just under 4 million votes. Current polls put the No campaign at over 33% and it will be sure to gain the support of many Tory MPs and a handful of Labour ones as well. But how credible are the immigration based arguments against EU membership?
One of the main arguments from the No campaign is immigration. With net immigration at over 300,000 people a year, they argue that jobs are being taken by migrants who will work for less, leaving Britain jobless and poorer. They say that many immigrants aren’t willing to work at all, and simply come here to claim benefits from the British welfare system. Nigel Farage also says that mass immigration from people who don’t speak the same language leads to a “dislocated society”. But the argument favoured most recently is that Britain is overcrowded and simply doesn’t have enough room.
And yet studies seem to suggest a huge net economic benefit from immigrants, and of the 5.3 million benefit claimants, only 130,000 were EU immigrants. By the 2nd or 3rd generation many immigrants, like the Afro-Indians expelled from Uganda in 1972, rise from next to nothing to prosperity, through hard work and determination. These people have also shown that given a generation or two they do learn the language and can assimilate into the British people without losing their cultural identity.
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