Why Brexit has made us more relaxed about immigration | Kenan Malik | Opinion


What impact did the Brexit referendum have upon attitudes to immigration? When Manchester University academic Rob Ford polled his Twitter followers, most were pessimistic, fearing attitudes had hardened.

The reality, as Ford pointed out, is that on almost every measure, people have become more positive. The number who think immigration is the most important political issue has fallen since the referendum and is at its lowest level since the 2008 crash . There has been a jump in the number who are positive about the economic and the cultural impacts of immigration.

One of the strongest predictors of views on immigration is education level – those with more qualifications tend to be more open. This is still the case. But people have become more positive about immigration, whatever their educational attainment. The same is true of Leavers or Remainers. This, as Ford observes, raises a number of questions. What has made people more positive? And why do many liberals seem reluctant to accept that the public has become less anxious about the issue?

Staying in the single market and customs union

The UK could sign up to all the EU’s rules and regulations, staying in the single market – which provides, free movement of goods, services and people – and the customs union, in which EU members agree tariffs on external states. Freedom of movement would continue and the UK would keep paying into the Brussels pot. We would continue to have unfettered access to EU trade, but the pledge to “take back control” of laws, borders and money would not have been fulfilled. This is an unlikely outcome and one that may be possible only by reversing the Brexit decision, after a second referendum or election.

The Norway model

Britain could follow Norway, which is in the single market, is subject to freedom of movement rules and pays a fee to Brussels – but  is outside the customs union. That combination would tie Britain to EU regulations but allow it to sign trade deals of its own. A “Norway-minus” deal is more likely. That would see the UK leave the single market and customs union and end free movement of people. But Britain would align its rules and regulations with Brussels, hoping this would allow a greater degree of market access. The UK would still be subject to EU rules.

The Canada deal

A comprehensive trade deal like the one handed to Canada would help British traders, as it would lower or eliminate tariffs. But there would be little on offer for the UK services industry. It is a bad outcome for financial services. Such a deal would leave Britain free to diverge from EU rules and regulations but that in turn would lead to border checks and the rise of other “non-tariff barriers” to trade. It would leave Britain free to forge new trade deals with other nations. Many in Brussels see this as a likely outcome, based on Theresa May’s direction so far.

No deal

Britain leaves with no trade deal, meaning that all trade is governed by World Trade Organisation rules. Tariffs would be high, queues at the border long and the Irish border issue severe. In the short term, British aircraft might be unable to fly to some European destinations. The UK would quickly need to establish  bilateral agreements to deal with the consquences, but the country would be free to take whatever future direction it wishes. It may need to deregulate to attract international business – a very different future and a lot of disruption.

Those more critical of immigration may feel that they have won the argument. It may also be that, before the referendum, politicians were more eager to finger immigration as a social ill. Today, there seems less need to stir such anxieties. The second question is probably easier to answer. There is a widespread perception among liberals that those who voted Leave were mainly bigots. The referendum result led many to fear that the bigots have been let off the leash and many cannot see beyond that fear.

Ah, the irony: liberals often claim that those hostile to immigration ignore the facts. But many of the same liberals seem equally unwilling to accept the facts when they contradict their perceptions (even prejudices) about why people feel anxious about immigration.

Source