July 17, 2017
A ‘soft’ Brexit means in practice that the UK would remain in the Single Market; and net immigration from the EU would stay at well over 100,000 a year for at least a decade. This would mean our having to build the equivalent of a city the size of Birmingham every two years.
The ‘soft’ Brexit championed by some commentators and politicians would mean the UK remaining in the Single Market, via the European Economic Area. The first paper points out that this would be a disastrous halfway house as the UK would remain subject to the rules on free movement of people but crucially would have no power to influence them. The UK would join Norway as a ‘fax democracy’.
An alternative ‘soft’ Brexit which involved leaving the EU but remaining in the Customs Union would give the government control of immigration from the EU but would rule out free trade agreements with third countries.
By contrast, a Brexit along the lines which the Prime Minister has outlined, involving a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement but no Single Market or Customs Union membership, would allow the UK to repatriate border controls and then negotiate a future trading relationship with the EU. In this case a transitional period, with a clearly defined end point, would be perfectly reasonable and should be acceptable to EU partners who surely have no interest in the dislocation of trade with one of their largest markets.
The second paper finds that, if the UK were to remain subject to free movement rules following departure, net migration from the EU is likely to continue at around 125,000 a year for at least the next decade.
The effect of uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the risk of further devaluation of sterling and the possibility of a period of slower UK economic growth are likely to be offset by the continuation of strong incentives for immigration from the EU – namely a much higher minimum wage in the UK relative to the countries of Eastern Europe and continuing high youth unemployment in southern Europe.
With non-EU net migration unlikely to fall below its current level of 175,000 unless further restrictions are introduced (and subtracting net British emigration of 50,000 a year), that would mean overall net migration continuing at the current level of around a quarter of a million a year
This is close to the Office for National Statistics' high migration scenario of 265,000 a year which foresees the UK’s population rising by nearly six million by 2027 and by over ten million over the next twenty years. The current population of Birmingham is just over one million.
Commenting, Lord Green of Deddington, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said:
The prospect of having to build the equivalent of a city the size of Birmingham every two years is simply appalling in a country that already feels overcrowded. These negotiations come at a critical point at which the whole scale and nature of our society risks slipping out of control. The government must hold their nerve and get EU immigration sharply down.