I published this post 2 years ago about UKIP and Farage’s then concealed fan-don of all things American. I’ve don’t always call the big events correctly, but I think I was pretty close to the mark with this one.
Making life harder for EU migrants means two things: more pressure on labour, and increased Atlanticism.
Migration – specifically immigration – is not an issue that deserves to be getting the wall-to-wall media coverage given to it in recent days, weeks, months. You could be forgiven for imagining that that Britain was experiencing level of immigration like that of Lebanon, where 1 in every 4 is a Syrian refugee. There are parts of the country where pressure is being put on services by an increasing population, due to migration. This is also true of education services in Birmingham, because of a sharp rise in the birth rate. Yet the UK Independence Party is yet to call for a one-child policy.
Furthermore, when an ‘overstretched NHS’, or similar, is cited in the media, the role played by migrant labour in keeping the NHS running is omitted. It is now firmly established enough that immigrants contribute more in taxation than they receive in state benefits that the issue should be, by now, thoroughly buried.
Many people who are ‘concerned’ about immigration are deploying the word as an acceptable proxy for their xenophobic prejudices. It’s well worth listening to this conversation between LBC presenter James O’Brien and a UKIP voter called Jack right to the end. His fumbling admission cuts to the UKIP quick.
Free movement: about people or profit?
Recent disagreements between Angela Merkel and David Cameron about the free movement around the EU is instructive. One motivation for its status as a founding principal of the EU is that if people can inter-mingle freely, a shared culture will emerge – has emerged? – which will act as a bulwark against future European warring.
Secondly, and not unrelated, is the idea of the free movement of labour. In this conception of a peaceable Europe people are able to move about selling their labour, skills and abilities, forcing countries to innovate and creating a virtuous developmental cycle that will raise all boats. It is a strictly Liberal economic conception of society, but does reflect the EU’s essential nature as a trading bloc.
UKIP like to pretend they are attacking the first idea, whereas in effect they are gunning for the second. This is the fundamental dishonesty of their position.
Any government – UKIP or otherwise – would have to continue to accept economic migration as a fact of economic life – but their bargaining power would be much lower. By restricting the free movement of people, or making them second class workers, and you will lower their competitiveness. Their jobs will be less secure, and they will be more vulnerable to economic exploitation. Given that economic migrants to this country are often employed in the notoriously badly-regulated agricultural sector, this is a real concern.
Furthermore, these migrants would provide a pool of more easily exploitable labour, which would have a knock-on effect on those workers with a British passport.Conceived like this, UKIP’s anti-immigration stance is an attack on labour of all hues – not simply those who have traveled from overseas for work.
So UKIP contends – or at least don’t stop their supporters from imagining – that Britain can be run in isolation from other nation states, the EU and the rest. They want to give the country ‘back’, cutting ties. It is a pseudo-fascist fantasy, however, to believe that a country can possibly be economically independent – autarky is a total non-starter (just ask the USSR from 1930s or Germany under the Third Reich).
Imagaine for a moment that Britain did bolt the doors and become ‘independent’ of migrants. How else might the UK be independent? In energy production? No. In defence policy? No – still going to be part of NATO. There might be a degree of direct political independence – from the EU – but the need to trade with our neighbours will impose certain economic requirements whether Farage likes it or not.
So, who would the UK turn to? To the US of course. For everytime UKIP, or the crumbling right wing of the Tory party, talks of loosening ties with Europe, they are simultaneously imaging getting more and more intertwined with the Americans. This latest bout of anti-European sentiment is nothing if not an attempt to see-saw the country back into a cosier cuddle with our North American cousins.