For decades, the UK has discriminated in its immigration policies, depending upon where the immigrant was from. It has been easier to get into the UK if you were from, say, France than if you were from, say, Somalia. We thus have no deep-seated objection to discriminating between countries.
We are now leaving the EU. There appear to be two broad schools of thought on how our post-Brexit immigration policies should work. According to one idea, we should take the opportunity of Brexit to be completely non-discriminating, treating immigrants from all countries in the same way.
According to the other idea, we should continue to give favourable treatment to immigrants from the EU, just not as favourable, relative to other countries, as we have had up to now.
But why are these the only two options? Why couldn’t we have more favourable treatment for immigrants from some other countries than the EU? Folk say: “Voters want immigration from everywhere curtailed.” But that just isn’t true.
Specifically, last year the Royal Commonwealth Society conducted a survey of views on whether there should be completely free movement between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK (the so-called “CANZUK” countries). That found three to one support in the UK, among those with an opinion (58 per cent including those “unsure”) for free movement within CANZUK. (Support was, incidentally, even higher among those in the other CANZUK states: five to one in Canada, seven to one in Australia, and eight to one in New Zealand.)
Sources close to the #UK ?? government confirm special #Brexit passport arrangements with #CAN ?? #AUS ?? #NZ ??https://t.co/cEfZoSy5E7
— CANZUK International (@CANZUKint) February 19, 2017
We do not currently have free movement within CANZUK. So, far from UK voters wanting a crackdown on immigration from the CANZUK countries (which, for example, the British government is doing from this April within its £1,000 per worker, per year “immigration skills charge”), voters actually want the rules relaxed!
We seem queasy about saying it, but voters do not regard immigration from all countries as the same. Our policy has not regarded it as the same, either, for decades, if ever. So the question is not really “is it legitimate to discriminate?” The real question is: “which countries do we want to discriminate in favour of?”
Perhaps three easy examples of countries Britons are happy to discriminate in favour of are Man, Guernsey and Ireland. Folk coming from these places may or may not see Britain as “foreign”; Britons don’t see folk from those places as foreign and our immigration laws with respect to them are as relaxed as it is possible to be. Indeed, folk from Man and Guernsey are even given UK Citizenship.
But are folk from New Zealand, say, really any more “foreigners” in Britain than are folk from Man or Guernsey or Ireland? The Irish are arguably much more foreign. After all, New Zealand still uses the Queen, and has sided with Britain in just about every military conflict going — including some where everyone else abandoned us.
It’s clear from the opinion polls that Britons regard Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders qualitatively differently from folk of every other country.
For example, in 2011, YouGov did a survey for Chatham House of “British Attitudes Towards the UK’s International Priorities”. One of the questions asked of the British survey respondents was “which of the following countries, if any, do you feel especially favourable towards?” It wasn’t close.
48 per cent said they felt especially favourable towards Australia, 47 per cent towards New Zealand and 44 per cent towards Canada. The next most favourably regarded country, the US, was way behind on 31 per cent.
In Europe, even the most well-regarded states, the Netherlands and Sweden, trailed badly on 24 and 23 per cent. (Ireland was only 18 per cent.)
And note that while direct familial connection and perhaps the sense that folk in these countries are similar in status to British ex-pats are surely key factors in positive British sentiment, it isn’t about race. In the case of New Zealand, around 20 per cent of the population are Maoris or Pacific Islanders and a further 10 per cent are “Asian” — a “non-white” population of over 30 per cent, well in excess of that in, say, the Netherlands (12 per cent) or France (15 per cent), let alone Poland (where well over 99 per cent of the population is “white”).
If Britons just wanted relationships with “white” countries they’d be very keen on Polish immigrants and seeking to crack down on immigration by New Zealanders. But in fact exactly the opposite is true.
Britons don’t think of CANZUK countries in the same way they think of any other countries in the world, and they don’t want to restrict immigration from these countries.
So why, if restrictions on immigration are supposedly a response to public clamour, are we restricting immigration from countries that the public wants free movement with and regards as our closest kin in the world?
Join CANZUK International on social media