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The Brexit Alarm

LONDON – As a passionate European, the outcome of Britain’s referendum on European Union membership horrified me. It will almost certainly result in our exit from the EU. But I have feared for many years that large-scale immigration to the UK would produce a harmful populist response.

Global elites must now learn and act upon the crucial lesson of “Brexit.” Contrary to glib assumptions, globalization of capital, trade, and migration flows is not “good for everyone.” If we do not address its adverse effects, Brexit will not be the last – or the worst – consequence.

Net immigration to Britain was close to zero in the early 1990s. It began to increase later that decade, and grew rapidly after eight formerly communist countries joined the EU in 2004, when Britain – unlike, for instance, France and Germany – waived its right to impose a seven-year delay before allowing free movement of people from the new member states. Last year, net immigration was 333,000, and the total population grew by around 500,000. Credible forecasts suggest that the UK’s population, now 64 million, could be above 80 million by mid-century.

Migration undoubtedly brings many benefits – London is a wonderful city partly because it is a cosmopolitan melting pot of diverse cultures. But, as the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, of which I was then a member, argued as early as 2008, large-scale immigration has brought significant disadvantages for many people.