As I previously argued here, I was in favour of leaving the European Union. I was also very clear there, but as I summed up more succinctly here:
For many of us, however, there are certain things that go well beyond economic concerns. Clearly nobody wants to trash the economy – and a good number of us were not convinced that we would do should we leave the EU – but some things are bigger than GDP. In line with the Great British Socialist tradition, my reasons for wanting out were largely these. But it is the question of immigration, in particular, that I wanted to land on here.
I gave three reasons why I think Brexit would be good for immigration. Firstly, I believe the existing EU provisions on free movement are grounded in fundamentally racist ideas, permitting the inclusion of majority white nations to the detriment of predominantly non-white nations. It is racial profiling on an international scale. Second, I believe current free movement rules are (in part) responsible for our approach to asylum seekers. Where we have been unable to control intake in one area, government will very often seek to do it in another. Third, I believed that leaving EU rules on free movement would allow us to be more open-handed in our immigration policy. You can read a more fleshed out logic behind that here.
As I also noted there:
When I made that argument, it was quickly rubbished by those who wanted to imply everybody voting to leave is, to all intents and purposes, a hard-right Faragist. Nor was I the only person making this case. Harriet Ellis hit the headlines when she eyerolled on national television at Nigel Farage. Here she is doing that and explaining what went on:
She was being liked by JK Rowling and retweeted by David Lammy for correctly hating the old bogeyman. That is until it became apparent that Ellis actually voted to leave the EU. But, like me, is a left-winger who wanted an open-handed Brexit that was welcoming to those from around the world. She told the i newspaper: ‘she voted to leave the EU as she is pro-immigration and does not want a system that discriminates against people from around the world by prioritising Europeans over others’. She, like me, got panned for saying so. Here is one such example. The Politics.co.uk site insists: ‘it is time that we blasted the myth once and for all. There is no pro-immigration case for Brexit in either theory or practice. There never was. There never could be.’
As I noted here, that rubbishing was beginning to look a bit ropey when the government announced we would open our borders, in effect, to anyone from Hong Kong who wanted to come on asylum grounds. Even as I highlighted that, there was still a lot of eye-rolling and disbelief. Since then, there has been an increase in the number of applications and approvals from Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, we decided to open our doors to those fleeing Ukraine.
Indeed, the argument I was making for leaving the EU was – at least in part – specifically so we could be more open and welcoming to asylum seekers. Successive governments who had no control over migration from majority white European nations – an influx of people who are almost exclusively economic migrants – meant that they sought to control things by heavily restricting anyone coming from majority non-white nations and those seeking asylum. Since we have stopped unmanaged migration from within Europe, we have been enabled to welcome economic migrants from around the world based on need and enabled ourselves to be more open-handed toward asylum seekers.
Beyond the restrictions on unmanaged European migration, we have also extricated ourselves from the EU’s Dublin Agreement, which allowed the UK to reject applications on the basis that asylum seekers should make their claim in other European countries which they passed through before coming to Britain. As I argued against those who were claiming a vote to leave the EU was necessarily racist or xenophobic – and in favour of those of us seeking a more open-handed asylum strategy and better managed migration based on need – if anyone was voting to leave the EU to be rid of asylum seekers would backfire because of the Dublin Agreement that allowed Britain to ship abroad asylum seekers in a way that international law does not permit. That is why I was utterly unsurprised to read in The Times on Thursday that “Brexit pushes asylum-seeker approvals to a 30-year high”. They state:
The rate of asylum seekers granted permission to stay in the UK is the highest in more than 30 years because of Brexit, the Home Office has said.
Three quarters of all initial decisions on applications over the past year were grants of asylum.
The rate is significantly higher than previous years as 2021 was the first year in which Britain was no longer a member of the EU’s Dublin agreement, which allowed the UK to reject applications on the basis that asylum seekers should make their claim in other European countries which they passed through before coming to Britain.
The 75 per cent approval rate is the highest rate since 1990, when 82 per cent of asylum seekers were granted the right to stay.
The rate is even higher for the most popular nationalities who claim asylum in the UK. The UK granted asylum to 98 per cent of Syrians, 97 per cent of Eritreans, 95 per cent of Sudanese, 91 per cent of Afghans and 88 per cent of Iranians, the Home Office statistics published today revealed.
This shows that the principle I first outlined prior to the Brexit vote, and has been seen in action several times since the Brexit vote, is that voting to leave will actually work to the benefit of asylum seekers, at least in principle, and ought to open us up to the rest of the world in a more even-handed way than at present.
But what’s that I hear you cry? What about the Rwanda plan? Well, as I have noted before, I am pretty sure that breaks international law. There are currently some legal challenges lodged against the plan and I would be surprised if they are not successful. We may well never see anybody sent to Rwanda because it is not legally permissible. But even if I am wrong about that, I suspect the government will eventually drop the plans anyway because, as I argued here, it simply won’t work anyway. Indeed, there is already ample evidence it is backfiring on them (see here). If it doesn’t fail legally, it will almost certainly fail pragmatically and we are unlikely to see similar plans enacted again.
On top of all of that, the point here is to do with the principle of what it is now possible to do. Our approach to Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Ukraine show that we are well placed to be able to welcome refugees in large number should we wish. Managing migration by back-channels of asylum applications is no longer at issue since we have a handle on EU migration. It means we can be open-handed, based on need, to migrants from around the world. It means we can, and have, increased our asylum approvals and are able to welcome in larger groups of asylum seekers in the midst of crisis situations. Whether our current government will always be willing to do so is an entirely different matter, but now we have the power, it only requires a government in post who are indeed willing to do what is now possible in a way that wasn’t before.