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date: 22 February 2019

Migration Crisis and “Brexit”

Abstract and Keywords

The issue of migration bridges the divide between short-term and long-term explanations of Brexit.Short-term explanations stress the drift toward a referendum in British politics, the opportunistic miscalculation by a playboy prime minister, and the manipulation of the referendum vote by a grotesquely biased press and some of the same conspiratorial forces which secured Trump’s election. Longer-term explanations point to historical differences between the UK and (the rest of) Europe; the fact that the UK escaped defeat and occupation in World War Two; the distinctive legal system shared by England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (though not Scotland); and the UK’s majoritarian political culture. This chapter discusses in a comparative context. The contribution of a migration crisis to the UK’s EU membership and constitutional .

Keywords: Brexit, migration, free movement, European Union, European citizenship

A UK insurance company used for a time the slogan “We won’t make a drama out of a crisis.” When the UK voted by a narrow majority in the June 2016 referendum in favor of leaving the European Union after over forty years of membership, this result was substantially due to a campaign which came to be focused on a perceived migration crisis over the previous years.1 This chapter suggests that, although there had indeed been a large migration flow, resulting in additional pressure on run-down public services in some parts of the UK, the perception that this was a crisis and that it could be resolved by recovering “control” over migration through leaving the EU was a deliberately fostered delusion. Over a year later, public opinion had largely recognized the necessity of much of this migration, while continuing to accept the government’s mantra that “control” was worth pursuing, even at the cost of exclusion from the EU’s Single Market which accounts for nearly half of UK trade.2 Behind the migration issue is a broader background of indifference and hostility to EU membership and of social conservatism and xenophobia which coexists with a reality in which the UK is closely connected with the rest of Europe and more cosmopolitan than many other member states. This chapter traces the way in which the themes of migration, “free movement” inside the EU, and European citizenship played out in the UK and elsewhere in the EU.

The issue of migration bridges the divide between short-term and long-term explanations of Brexit. To put it briefly, short-term explanations stress the drift toward a referendum in British political competition (Westlake 2017), the opportunistic miscalculation by David Cameron, and the manipulation of the referendum vote by a grotesquely biased press and some of the same conspiratorial forces in Russia and elsewhere which helped to secure Trump’s election. Longer-term explanations point to historical differences between the UK and (the rest of) Europe (Simms 2016); the fact that the UK escaped defeat and occupation in World War Two; the distinctive legal system shared by England, Wales and Northern Ireland (though not Scotland); and the UK’s majoritarian political culture. (The absence of legal or formal constitutional checks on the activities (p. 94) of Parliament, which in practice means the executive, has led many commentators to speak of the UK as an electoral dictatorship.)

Migration and Brexit

Migration came to be a defining issue in the Leave campaign, giving a sharper focus to the slogan of “taking back control” and opposition to EU law and European human rights law, both giving rights to “foreigners” which were deemed unacceptable by many Conservatives as well as those further to the right. On the latter issue, in April 2016, the then Home Secretary (interior minister), Theresa May, declared that Britain should withdraw from the European convention on human rights (ECHR) irrespective of the EU referendum result. It was the convention and the court, rather than the EU, that had caused the extradition to the United States for terrorism offences of the extremist imam Abu Hamza to be delayed for years (on the reasonable grounds that he might be subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment) and had held up for a time the deportation to Jordan of another extremist cleric, Abu Qatada.

The ECHR can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals—and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights . . . it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court.

(Gov.UK 2016)

Opposed and even derided by many of her Conservative colleagues,3 May withdrew this suggestion just after the Referendum in June, as she launched her campaign to lead her party, only to revive it as Prime Minister as a prospective theme for the election which was scheduled for 2020 but overtaken by the 2017 election (Hope 2016; Asthana and Mason, 2016)4

It was free movement within the EU, however, which became, and has remained, the key issue in relation to Brexit. The refugee crisis had already created the image of a Union unable to handle the situation, and Leave campaigners raised the spectre of up to eighty million Turks joining the EU and enjoying the right of free movement. As Gurminder K. Bhambra (2017) has suggested, the campaign blurred the distinction between recent movement from Eastern Europe into the UK, the (very small) number of refugees also allowed to enter, and the earlier migrations from the Caribbean and South Asia.5 In the UK, as elsewhere in Europe, those who opposed migration generally did not distinguish between different categories of migrants, making no exception for refugees.6 It was common to hear prospective Leave voters justifying their preference by claiming that there were too many people in Britain from Pakistan and Afghanistan; I suspect there was a spillover in which this hostility extended to Eastern Europeans. (p. 95) “Migration” in this context tended to be understood as relatively permanent immigration, rather than shorter-term or seasonal mobility from elsewhere in the EU or from elsewhere; the often deliberate failure by the UK political establishment to draw this distinction was politically very significant.

This hostility ran together things that had happened in the remote past (Commonwealth immigration), things that were increasingly unlikely to happen (Turkey’s accession and the prospect of uncontrolled refugee movement), and things about which little could be done (the dependence of the UK on unskilled and poorly paid labor and the attraction of the UK as an English-speaking country with a relatively open but also poorly regulated and in some domains highly criminalized labor market).7

It is part of the definition of crises that they bring together independent elements into a larger whole. In this case, however, the UK—as so often in relation to EU affairs—was agitated about developments from which it was largely protected. The pound sterling, the increasingly fragile currency which remains a symbol for UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, had been guaranteed survival in the UK for as long as it wished to retain it. More relevant in this context, the UK had been allowed to remain outside the Schengen area of border-free travel, dragging Ireland into the same peripheral state. This meant that, despite the tragic scenes in the “jungle” at Calais (an impromptu camp close to the UK border control point located on the French coast as part of a bilateral Anglo-French agreement), there was no prospect of refugees or other migrants flooding into the UK in an uncontrolled manner from the rest of the Union.

The UK and Ireland were also, along with Sweden, the only EU countries to allow free movement to citizens of states joining in the 2004 enlargement. This resulted in substantial migration from Poland, followed in 2014 by smaller numbers from Bulgaria and Romania after the ending of restrictions on the two states admitted in the 2007 enlargement. While the real impact of the UK’s 2004 decision has been largely positive in economic terms, at least for the UK, if not for the northeastern accession states (Poland and the Baltic States, substantially drained of skilled labor) this may be seen as the beginning of a “migration crisis” in which the Polish delicatessen joined the mosque as, for some, a symbol of unwelcome change and diversity. A substantial proportion of this migration turned out to be short-term, but in the case of intra-EU movement, which made up around half the total, there was no requirement for it to be, and this fed a narrative of a “loss of control.” More importantly, much of the migration from other parts of the EU was to areas such as the agricultural regions of eastern England, which had not previously experienced it except on a seasonal basis.

There was a further twist to the UK’s exceptionalism. Similar to other member states, it could implement the habitual residence test that required EEA citizens (including UK citizens who had lived abroad for a substantial period) to demonstrate their entitlement to state benefits. In any case, as a Commission press release noted in 2014, “ . . . economically non-active EU mobile citizens account for a very small share of beneficiaries and . . . the budgetary impact of such claims on national welfare budgets is very low”(European Commission 2013). A peculiarity of the UK is, however, that benefits paid to those in work but poorly paid have become an increasingly important (p. 96) proportion of household incomes, as wage rates stagnated after the 2008 crisis. As James Ferguson (2016) wrote:

[T]he real story . . . is not about immigration per se, but about benefits more generally—especially in-work benefits, which are mostly paid to those with low-skilled, part-time jobs . . . The cost of the benefits system has gone up by 50% in inflation-adjusted terms per head since 2000 (from £2,200 to more than £3,300 by 2014).8

The underlying issue, then, is not the increase in immigration into the UK. This has indeed risen, from a gross figure (excluding emigration) of 2.7 million in the twenty years from 1975 to 1995 up to 8.7 million between 1995 and 2015. The population increase over this period is balanced by a reduction in fertility levels from around three children in 1965 to less than two over the past forty years (still, incidentally, a relatively high figure by European standards). This east-west movement was in fact part of a general European pattern. Across the EU as a whole, the enlargements of 2004 and 2007 roughly tripled immigration into the old member states (EU-15) (Holland et al. 2011; Portes 2016). In the UK, and specifically in England outside London, anti-immigration propaganda was able to seize both on a broader hostility to benefits claimants which has driven the drastic cuts implemented from 2016 onwards and on the resentment of those deprived of access to housing or timely medical services in areas which had experienced high numbers of new residents.

Migration and Free Movement

The old canards about immigrants taking “our” jobs and depressing wage levels have little, if any, substance.9 Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat cabinet minister in the coalition government of 2010–2015, has recently confirmed that they received a succession of reports demonstrating this, but that these were suppressed by Mrs. May at the Home Office. A Bank of England study by Stephen Nickell and Jumana Salaheen in 2008 and 2016 found that “a ten percentage point rise in the proportion of immigrants working in semi/unskilled services led to a 5.2 percent (2008) to 1.9 percent (2016) reduction in pay,” and UK unemployment has been relatively low, though much of its employment is part-time and increasingly casualised—hence the astonishing size of the government subsidy to employers in the form of benefits paid to low-paid workers. This was exceeded only by payments to pensioners and was nearly ten times the figure for the UK’s extremely meagre unemployment benefits.

It has also become increasingly clear, though not yet fully to mainstream public opinion in the UK, that there is no realistic way of reducing the UK’s dependence on nonnative workers—at least until a remote future when the bulk of jobs in (what remains of) manufacturing and in transport are robotized. The inevitable economic (p. 97) decline resulting from Brexit (assuming it happens) will help, but even a 30 percent fall in GDP such as that inflicted on Greece might not suffice, and most current estimates put the likely fall closer to 10 percent(which I personally think is a serious underestimate)10. Admittedly, the UK might replace workers from the rest of the EU with even more easily exploitable ones from poorer parts of the world, but it is hard to see this placating those who voted to leave the EU, since a substantial proportion are racist as well as xenophobic. The partisans of Brexit conjured up a dangerous fantasy of an ethnically cleansed England perhaps even less realistic than that of a judenrein Europe; hence the question asked on the streets only days after the referendum: “We voted; why are you still here?”

We should, in any case, not be using the term immigrant to refer to European Union free movers. This misuse of language goes along with the use of the term to refer to any non-whites, as in the ridiculous term “third-generation immigrant.”11 (This way of thinking has a mirror image in the UK’s deliberately racist formulation of “patriality,” which gives a right of abode to someone with a British grandparent.) The UK’s suspicion of the principle of free movement, no less than the prospect of using the absence of a land border with the rest of the EU as a way of controlling entry, drove its successful pursuit of an opt-out from Schengen. Antje Wiener (1999, 447), in a detailed analysis of UK policy at that time, noted the distinctive conceptions of identity and normative conceptions “which does not allow the government to easily opt in favour of European norms.” It was this, rather than just the UK’s geographical position or its border control practices, which drove the demand for an opt-out, facilitated by the fact that Schengen was originally established on an intergovernmental rather than community basis.12 As Wiener noted, “ . . . it is not sufficient to observe the strategic steps of decision-making. Where a decision is being made is crucial. This position is defined by a time axis, as well as by the location within the multilevel governance structure of the EU” (Wiener 1999, 457).13

Even now, recent surveys suggest that around two-thirds of UK voters want customs checks and for “immigrants” from the EU to be treated in the same way as non-EU migrants. (This, along with May’s obstinacy and the irreconcilable conflicts in her party, is probably what will finally kill off the UK’s membership of its only viable trading and political alliance.) Opinion remains divided on whether free movement should be allowed in exchange for freedom of trade, with a very small shift in favour of the proposition between September 2016 and February 2017 (Curtice 2017b; see also Curtice 2017a). Overall, at the time of writing, much UK opinion continues to embrace the fantasy that it might be possible to trade freely while closing the border to free movement. As Curtice (2017a, 13) notes, Remain and Leave voters differ most sharply on this issue, with 74 percent of Remainers opting for free trade as against 36 percent of Leavers.

As so often, however, the running sore of the UK is an indicator of a more fundamental problem in the EU as a whole. Free movement is, after all, also migration, and no less able to stir up anxieties in the receiving population. Welsh people may resent English “settlers”, Danes the flow of Germans into Jutland, and so on. In Denmark, foreigners can only buy property as their permanent residence or place of business; (p. 98) there are also some restrictions in Finland, Malta and Croatia ( The reference to EU law makes the point that, at least since the Treaty of European Union of 1993, free movement has been clearly distinguished from other forms of migration which are largely subject to the discretion of member states (Kostakopoulou 2014, 2).

The Union has, however, soft-pedaled on this issue, as on the related one of European Union citizenship, which remains tied to that of a member state, despite initiatives such as those by the Parliament in 1989 and again at the special summit at Tampere in 1999. Granting European citizenship to long-term residents would have alleviated many of the disadvantages suffered by “third country nationals,” their numbers likely to be swelled if the UK’s secession goes ahead. Again, it is the European Parliament, in the form of its Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, who has reacted favorably to the suggestion that British residents elsewhere in the Union deprived of their European citizenship might be able to retain citizen rights in a modified form.

Even before the Brexit vote, however, free movement rights had been seriously weakened, in tandem with the erosion of EU citizenship and what Charlotte O’Brien (2016, 937–938) calls “welfare nationalism.”

EU citizenship has never been much help when it comes to claiming social assistance within Member States. However, recent ECJ rulings hollow out citizenship at EU level, and endorse nationality-based discrimination, creating a moral vacuum within the free movement framework.

This ethical empty space has been exploited by Member States, whose interpretation of the free movement provisions can be sometimes narrow and exclusionary . . .

Here again one can see a perverse effect of the EU’s historical emphasis on free movement in relation to work. In a context of increasing precarity of employment, this opens up the possibility for member states to exclude workers perceived as marginal from free movement rights. The TEU theme of “citizenship,” which looked as if it might be the basis of a broader conception of free movement, has become more and more attenuated.

Jo Shaw (2015, 255) cites a media commentator, Dan Hodges (2014) who, before the theme of “post-truth” became established, suggested that UK politicians were

trapped between absolute and political truth . . . They know that migrant labour, at all levels of the economy, is vital to Britain’s prosperity . . . [but] . . . negative perceptions of the social, cultural, and economic impact of migration are so embedded as to make any attempt to reverse them political folly.

This is more a UK problem than one affecting the rest of the EU, where free movement is more respected, notably in the Visegrád countries and other parts of postcommunist Europe whose citizens have made substantial use of it, but also the progressive states of northern Europe (Shaw 2015, 252, notes 22 and 23). Nevertheless, widespread fears about immigration have created “a perfect storm in which free movement rights come (p. 99) to be seen as part of the problem (of a loss of sovereignty) rather than an element of the solution (through a pooling of sovereignty to combat challenges collectively rather than individually).” (Shaw 2015, 253)

I shall not attempt here to cover the refugee crisisand the broader issue of the relation between migration and crisis (Lindley 2014), except to make the obvious point that, whereas any advanced medium-sized state can more or less police its borders (the GDR did this quite successfully, if brutally, from 1961 to 1989), any collective approach will require complicated processes of coordination, and states may be tempted to simply seal their borders.14 The issue of free movement, however, does raise fundamental issues about the self-understanding of the EU, the relation between EU and member state law, as well as the political allegiance of EU citizens.15

Membership and Citizenship

First, there is the Union’s unwillingness to admit that free movement is also about migration, paralleled in the external domain by its claim that FRONTEX, the hopelessly underresourced external border service, is only about border control and not also about migration (Kasparek 2010, 119). Member states, of course, address issues of internal migration, such as migration flows from south to north Italy or from northern to southern England. The EU’s architecture of FRONTEX and Schengen and its insistence on a sharp distinction between migration controlled by member states and its own free movement regime fall foul of member states (or quasi-members like Switzerland), which simply count “foreigners.”

This conflict between EU legal principles and those of member states and quasi-members raise two further related points. One is the weakness of the concept of European citizenship, as mentioned earlier. This means, as Maurice Roche (1997, 3) pointed out, that “we are all denizens rather than citizens in Europe”:

‘Denizenship’ rather than citizenship in Europe stems from the long-standing . . . imbalances between i) economic and social integration, and more generally between ii) economic integration on the one hand and constitutional (civil-political and socioeconomic) reform and institution-building on the other

(Roche 1997, 19).16

It is worth briefly reviewing the history of European citizenship in the treaties of Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1997) and Lisbon (2007) and developments since then. Freedom of movement had already been established as a principle governing labor migration in the Rome Treaty, and a landmark court case in 1989 (Cowan) upheld the right to French criminal injury compensation for a British tourist attacked in Paris, thus establishing a free movement right independent of economic activity.17 As Pietro Costa (2004, 222) wrote, “[i]t is clear why freedom of movement and residence is identified in (p. 100) the Maastricht Treaty as a central element of European citizenship, given the symbolic role of this principle of liberty.”

Like many EU innovations, however, European citizenship had a lengthy and difficult gestation and birth, followed, more seriously, by stunted growth. As Alex Warleigh (2001, 26) put it, European citizenship was created both to improve the operation of the single market and to counteract the democratic deficit (which had been a topic of concern from the beginning of the 1980s). “This dual rationale has given European citizenship a schizophrenic nature . . . ” The Amsterdam Treaty, he noted, “marked a return from citizenship proper to ‘people issues’—those supposed to resonate with the concerns of the various national publics, such as freedom of movement”. (Warleigh 2001, 28) Amsterdam also “ . . . included immigration and asylum issues in the normal EU law-making fold.” (Dell’Olio 2005, 62)—something which in retrospect has proved more controversial than it was no doubt expected to.

Jo Shaw (2007) traced some of the inconsistencies in the development of European citizenship, focusing particularly on political rights but also touching on issues of movement and migration. Reflecting on the movement of new EU citizens from postcommunist Europe (initially to the UK, Ireland, and Sweden, and later to the rest of the EU-15 states), she suggested that “in the longer term” this might become more like the western pattern of substantially skilled workers moving between equivalent jobs. (Shaw 2007, 28–29; see also Krieger and Fernandez 2006) In the event, and despite the EU’s designation of 2006 as the “European Year of Workers’ Mobility,” the following decade saw a growing “moral panic” about migration in the UK and some other member states, as well as in Switzerland, also bound by free movement rules.

Mobilization against immigration takes many forms, from the elite MigrationWatch UK, founded in 2001 by a retired ambassador and an academic, to the more recent and much more demotic PEGIDA (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) [Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West], founded in eastern Germany but with branches or allies in over a dozen other European states and also Australia.18 As for political parties, it is hard to distinguish anti-immigrant parties (Fennema 1997) from the overlapping category of the extreme right. Here, there is the further tension between economic liberalism and nationalism (Betz 2001; Kitschelt 1995; McGann and Kitschelt 2005) and between an anti-statist ideology and social conservatism. In relation to migration, there is the particularly interesting twist in which movements and parties attack Muslim and other minorities for their conservatism in relation to issues of gender and sexuality. This “new racism” focuses on culture rather than biology and stigmatizes those who are perceived not to conform to the allegedly dominant culture (Leitkultur in the vocabulary of the German right).19

In the UK, UKIP was able to differentiate itself from the rest of the extreme right and attract a much wider base of support, including former Labour voters, by combining opposition to the EU with an anti-immigration agenda. The competition between UKIP and the Conservative Party, where these two motifs were also strong, led directly to Cameron’s referendum promise in 2013, which his unexpected victory in the 2015 election more or less obliged him to keep. (Westlake 2017) In Switzerland, the redirection (p. 101) of the conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) in an anti-EU direction also attracted working-class support.20 As McGann and Kitschelt (2005, 161) put it, in their comparison of the SVP and the Austrian FPÖ, “It should not surprise us that the EU issue is a vital catalyst for the right in the Alps.” The SVP’s poster for its 2007 referendum initiative in favour of deporting criminal immigrants neatly linked the security theme with a gesture towards a broader racism.21

In Switzerland and also in Germany, discussion has been dominated by the concept of Überfremdung, a term difficult to translate into English (“overforeignisation”) or, more relevant in the Swiss context, into French or Italian, but pointing to an alleged excess of foreign immigration. The term seems to have its origin in German anti-Semitism from the later nineteenth century and became an important motif in Nazism, with Goebbels in 1933 condemning the “overforeignization of German cultural life (Geistesleben) by Jewry.” This history discredited it for some time in postwar West Germany, but by 1989 it was a key election theme for the extreme right Republikaner party, illustrated by an image of a future Berlin inhabited only by Turks. In Switzerland the term was less controversial and figured even in the legislation governing applications for naturalization, requiring attention to “cultural and economic interests, the degree of Überfremdung and the state of the labour market”; this was replaced more recently by the blander formulation of ‘taking account of the demographic, social and societal development of Switzerland.”22

I have discussed the Swiss context elsewhere (Outhwaite 2019), but the UK has recently caught up, lacking only an equivalent for the term Überfremdung. Opposition to immigration is a longstanding theme of British politics, focused initially on Irish and then on Caribbean and South Asian immigrants. A Conservative election campaign in 1964 had featured the slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.” The maverick Conservative politician Enoch Powell is remembered for a notorious speech in 1968 forecasting “rivers of blood,” though he was rapidly expelled and forced to recycle himself in the more congenial Ulster Unionist party. MigrationWatch, as noted earlier, has been around since the beginning of the century, but it was the post-2004 migration which came to attract the most attention. The British public, with its very limited knowledge of the EU (only Latvia scored lower in Simon Hix’s 2015 analysis of Eurobarometer data), did not differentiate between free movement and (other) migration, nor seemingly between a Polish doctor and a Syrian refugee (who might of course also be a doctor). Although the more lurid racist tropes could not easily be attached to migrants from the rest of the EU, there seems to have been a process akin to Freud’s concept of screen memory, in which antipathy to the new arrivals concealed and merged with older hatreds and anxieties. (Bhambra 2017) Migration surged as an issue in the later stages of the referendum campaign, with an influential Leave poster featuring a queue of refugees who had entered Slovenia from Croatia (Pringle 2016).

Survey evidence reveals that nearly three quarters of people concerned about immigration voted Leave, as against just over a third of those who did not cite it as a major concern. (Curtice, 2017b, 9–10) As Curtice points out, however, concern about immigration is also a indicator of a wider pattern of social conservatism and authoritarianism. (p. 102) Dividing respondents into “authoritarian” and “libertarian” groups revealed that “No less than 72 percent of the most ‘authoritarian’ group voted to leave, while just 21 percent of the most ‘libertarian’ group did so.” (Those in between matched the overall referendum result, with 53 percent for Leave.) “How people voted in the referendum thus not only exposed a big social divide between graduates and those with few, if any, educational qualifications, but also a major cultural divide between those who prefer a relatively homogeneous society and those who are content with a more diverse one.” (Curtice 2017, 9–10) It is significant that the street attacks which increased dramatically after the referendum were motivated by homophobia as well as xenophobia.

After the referendum, it became clear that there was little if any prospect of the EU allowing the UK to remain in the Single Market if it rejected the principle of free movement, though the government pretended for a time that this was a possibility. Just under a year later, public opinion seemed to be shifting towards prioritizing single market membership over immigration control, 49 percent to 41 percent in an Ipsos-MORI survey in mid-July 2017, as against a 44/42 split in January, though with a clear majority seeing immigration control as important. A recent survey (September 2017) has a bare majority (39 to 34) agreeing with the preservation of free movement. “Support increases to 47 percent of 18–24s and 50 percent of people who voted for the first time in the 2017 General Election. But most people want to find a compromise . . . [between this and ending immigration from the EU]” (Katwala et al. 2017, 25) The compromise urged in the British Future report, and for which it records substantial levels of support, is a rosy scenario in which the UK is able to restrict the mobility of unskilled workers while encouraging skilled immigration. It is hard to see how the EU would allow single market access on this basis, as Switzerland has discovered.

In the UK, European citizenship means even less than it does in other member states, with “Euroscepticism rising further since the referendum of 2016” (Curtice 2017b). More fundamentally, the UK has not internalized the idea of membership of a transnational political community equipped with what is essentially a federal supreme court.23 It is now drifting into a self-destructive secession,24 driven by an exaggerated anxiety about a pattern of migration which occurred for good reasons and (despite bottlenecks where mediocre and run-down local services have been overburdened) has been largely beneficial. The term “migration panic” is perhaps inappropriate in a situation in which the vast bulk of the public does not expect much reduction in immigration, at least within five years (Katwala et al 2017, 68), yet remains willing to risk massive economic damage for the sake of this chimera of control.25 The referendum which, as David Cameron put it, was intended to lance a boil in British politics (and, he might have added, particularly in his own party), has instead spread a cancerous hatred across what had been a relatively cosmopolitan and welcoming member state.

The UK’s apparently terminal state is part of a wider pattern. Switzerland remains threatened by calls for a less dramatic but also self-destructive policy of restrictions on free movement which would deprive it of the advantages of Single Market access and participation in EU scientific and cultural programs. In France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, the combination of xenophobia and anti-EU propaganda is a powerful one, (p. 103) and the broader social conservative backlash documented by Inglehart and Norris (2016) seems likely to persist until it is weakened by demographic succession.26 If sixteen-to eighteen-year-olds had been able to vote in the referendum, as they were in the Scottish referendum of 2014, along with long-time British residents in other EU countries and EU citizens resident in the UK (who can vote in local and European elections but not, unless they are Irish or Commonwealth citizens, in national ones), the UK might have escaped the Brexit catastrophe. But by the time the older generations die out,27 the damage will have been done.


I am extremely grateful for helpful comments on earlier versions of this chapter by Adrian Favell and Simon Susen.


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(1.) As Georgie Wemyss (2015, 187) noted, “The spectacle of the widely publicised televised dawn raid on multiply-occupied living spaces by border enforcement officers accompanied by politicians and media punctuate the British electoral cycle.” See Castells 2018 on “Europe’s Crises,” esp. chs. 10 (refugees) and 17 (Brexit).

(2.) This is essentially the difference between what has come to be called a “soft” and a “hard” Brexit: the former (Norwegian) model which retains membership of the Single Market (and in the UK’s case possibly also the EU’s Customs Union) and the latter, in which there is either no agreement (the so-called “cliff edge”) or at best a trade agreement such as that negotiated after many years between the EU and Canada.

(3.) David Davis pointed out that, “[i]f we pulled out of the ECHR, for which we would get much opprobrium, and stay in the EU, all that would happen is the European Court of Justice will do exactly what the ECHR did before but with more force, because the charter of fundamental rights is the European convention plus, not minus. Logically, it does not stand up.”

(4.) Since her reelection to the head of a minority government propped up by a spectacularly xenophobic and homophobic party from Northern Ireland, she has returned to the theme: see “Theresa May’s attacks on human rights laws are gifts for despots – UN”

(5.) It is interesting however to note that, in the UK’s first referendum on membership, in 1975, called to confirm its entry in 1973 (and also to fix an internal party problem, though that time in the Labour Party), people who thought there was too much immigration into the UK were slightly more likely to vote in favour of continued membership of the Communities (Evans 2016: 270; Portes 2016, 14). See also, for recent surveys of opinion in Britain and the rest of the EU, Katwala, Rutter, and Ballinger 2017; “Fear and Hope 2017: An Overview.”; I. Pawel Karolewski and R. Benedikter, “The Migration Question: A Highly Politicized Issue Threatening to Split the European Union.” Global Policy.

(6.) This had already been noted by Lauren McLaren (2001, 101–102); see also McLaren 2015. The distinction drawn (though not always consistently) by elites between external and intra-EU migration had not filtered through to the public, since “most citizens in EU countries view external and internal migration identically.” As early as 2000, so long before the Eastern Enlargements, a clear majority of British and German respondents wanted restrictions on intra-EU mobility (Recchi and Favell 2009, 113). See also the Pew survey in June 2017, esp. p. 15, in which a large majority of respondents from nine countries wanted decisions over both EU and non-EU migration to be taken by their country rather than the EU. See Pew Research Center. “Post-Brexit, Europeans More Favorable Toward EU,”

(7.) For a fuller and more positive assessment of the UK’s relative openness both as a labour market and as a culture, see Favell 2014, 2017; Favell and Barbulescu 2018; also Delhey 2016 on the way in which the Europeanization of attitudes diverges from that of practices.

(8.) See J. Ferguson, “Does Immigration Make Britain Richer or Poorer?” MoneyWeek,; see also M. Webb, “Why Productivity in the UK Is So Low: In-Work Benefits.” MoneyWeek. Also Kahunec and Zimmermann 2016

(9.) The last Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, called in a speech in 2007 for “British jobs for British workers,” a slogan from the neo-Nazi right. For comprehensive overviews of the background to free movement, see, for instance: O’Leary 1997, 2008; Condinanzi et al. 2008; Groenendijk 2014; Bauloz 2016, O’Brien 2015 and Delivet 2017. The history of the principle of free movement goes back to the ECSC, though then it was restricted to workers in the coal and steel industries. (Recchi and Favell 2009, 5).

(10.) The Mayor of London commissioned a study in which the “worst-case scenario” (which at the time of writing seems all too likely) would result in a loss of half a million jobs and £50 billion of investment by 2030. See Mayor of London, “Mayor Warns Hard Brexit Could Lead to ‘Lost Decade’ of Growth And Employment,” (Accessed December 1, 2018).

(11.) More nuanced formulations such as “immigrant background”, “issu de l’immigration” or “mit Migrationshintergrund” also tend to be racialized, even if they point to an important difference between Europe and North America or Australasia. (See Favell 2016).

(12.) A witness at the House of Lords Committee noted the following: “There are other European countries like, for instance, Germany and the Netherlands who have long relied on strict controls at the external borders and few controls inside while, for instance, Belgium and France have a long tradition of not so strict controls at the borders but more controls inside the country . . . Britain is not so typical [sc. untypical] in its reliance on strong external border controls, that is not a typical British tradition only” (cited by Wiener 1999, 447). Pehrson et al (2009) have stressed the importance of context in the relationship between “national identification and anti-immigrant prejudice.”

(13.) Kenneth Armstrong (2017) rightly stresses the theme of time.

(14.) For the Norwegian hard right, for example, “[t]he refugee crisis was like a vitamin injection” (Anders Jupskas, of the Center for Research on Extremism, University of Oslo, quoted in Milne 2017.) More recently, the success of the AfD in the September 2017 Bundestag election reflects (or at least closely resembles) voters’ views of the parties’ relative competence in migration and integration policy. The CDU easily out-performed the SPD in one survey published on September 17th, a week before the vote, with over 26 percent as against 16.5 percent, but so did the AfD, with 19%. See “Bundestagswahl Spezial!” CIVEY.

(15.) On the relation between law and political science in this context, see for example Joerges and Kreuder-Sonnen 2017.

(17.) See, for example, Downes 2001, 97–98, and n. 4.

(18.) PEGIDA UK was substantially driven by recruits from the far-right English Defence League.

(19.) As Schinkel (2017, 135) puts it, “culturism is a functional equivalent of racism.” See also Schrover and Schinkel 2014.

(20.) The party is generally referred to by its German name, though it is known in the other language areas of the country as the Union Démocratique du Centre, Unione Democratica di Centro and Partida populara Svizra.

(21.) On the context of the sheep poster, see Michel 2015.

(22.) The term Überfremdung has tended to be avoided except in the discourse of the extreme right. (Riedener 2017).

(23.) On the interplay of politics and law in this context, see again Joerges and Kreuder- Sonnen 2017.

(24.) On the neglected issue of the causes of secession and the question of its legitimacy, see Diez Medrano 2017 and Lord 2017, respectively; also Requejo and Nagel 2017.

(25.) Another response, which at worst may reflect panic, but probably more often is a rational response to the collapse of the pound and the poor economic prospects and increasingly threatening political situation in the UK, is the nine-year high level of emigration (122,000) by EU citizens, their numbers evenly divided between “old” and “new” member states; see Office of National Statistics figures for March 2016–2017.

(26.) One should note, however, that, although UKIP had little appeal for younger voters, this is not true of some other hard-right parties in Europe.

(27.) See Ian McEwan’s speech in May 1027: Dan Roberts, “Death of ‘1.5m Oldsters’ Could Swing Second Brexit Vote, Says Ian McEwan.” The Guardian, May 12, 2017.