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24 June, 2016 - 12:54

Immigration, Immigration, Immigration

brexit, immigration, birketts

As the results of the EU referendum flooded in overnight, we learned that whilst an overwhelming 74 per cent of voters in Cambridge want to remain in the EU, a narrow majority of the rest of the country disagrees.

Fifty-two per cent of the Great British public voted to leave the European Union. The figure for the East of England is even higher at 65 per cent, writes Clare Hedges – senior associate of law firm Birketts LLP.

Billed by the Leave campaign as a victory for the “grass roots” against the “experts” it is clear that on this occasion Cambridge (together with Oxford and London) has lost the argument.

Many will complain that this referendum should never have been held. However it was a manifesto commitment of the party given a majority at the last General Election. Furthermore with high turnout of 72 per cent, nobody can claim that the result stems from apathy.

This referendum was not really just about the EU. It was an opportunity for the public to voice discontent with Westminster on a variety of topics, including immigration. But will leaving the EU resolve that discontent?

Firstly, “immigration” is a proxy for pressure on housing and services. David Cameron secured a deal to limit EU migrants’ access to benefits. But this did not address the anger of those struggling to buy a home, send children to their preferred school, or waiting for NHS treatment.

Failing to admit that these problems actually stem from austerity and poor planning made it easy for Leave to blame immigration. Those who voted for Leave believing it will solve those challenges will be disappointed.

Secondly, immigration is a proxy for unemployment. Leave played on a sentiment that EU migrants are “stealing our jobs and pushing down wages”.

They agreed we need EU migrants to perform highly skilled work, but said they should be included in the current Points Based System, with a cap on numbers. Remain argued that we need EU migrants for low skilled jobs which do not appeal to British workers, but these arguments fell on deaf ears.

Only time will tell, whether opportunities will be created for British workers and if they will choose to take them. The Government is already pushing up salaries, through the National Living Wage. Will higher pay encourage more Brits to pick produce, or work long hours in catering? Or will businesses currently dependent on EU migrants struggle to recruit employees?

If so, it will be for the Government to decide whether to welcome more EU migrants. The existing Points Based System includes a closed category for low skilled work (Tier 3) which could be opened to facilitate recruitment whilst capping numbers.

Thirdly immigration is a proxy for community cohesion. A significant influx of migrants to certain areas and a failure to integrate them, has led to resentment and division. The leaders of all political parties bar UKIP have failed to tackle this.

Leave succeeded by reassuring those concerned that they are not racist. Remain had no hope of resolving such deep rooted problems within the campaign period.

This all explains why cities which are currently prospering with low levels of unemployment and well integrated migrant communities voted Remain, whilst those areas facing tougher economic times and high levels of segregation voted Leave.

EU migrants in the UK will not be thrown out overnight. Free movement rules currently apply. Any exit deal will inevitably address the rights of those already here, as well as those of British expats.

The Leave campaign had stated that all those currently in the UK would be granted indefinite leave to remain. But they failed to outline any process for this, or what evidence will be required.

Those concerned should check that they are meeting Treaty requirements, through work, study, job-seeking (for a limited period), or self-sufficiency with comprehensive medical insurance.

Applications for EU residence permits have surged over the last few months. We should now expect even more people to take steps to document their legitimate presence in the UK. Perversely we could also see an influx of people entering the country whilst they can.

Leave won thanks to its argument that whilst we are in the EU our borders are open to unlimited numbers of migrants. Brexiters were adamant that it will be possible to negotiate new trade deals that exclude free movement. Remain maintained that we will always be required to accept free movement.

Negotiations may also demand that the UK welcome its fair share of asylum seekers.

Furthermore, leaving the EU poses questions about border control. Can the Common Travel Area with Ireland be retained? Will border controls be maintained in France or moved to the UK so that people currently prevented from crossing the Channel will arrive here?

We must now wait and see if the Leave campaign can deliver on its promises.
• Clare Hedges can be contacted on 01223 326605 or via email clare-hedges [at] birketts.co.uk

 

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