Deserting the Battle for Britain

SAINT PIERRE D’ENTREMONT, FRANCE – In the sad state of affairs following the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, former “Remainers” – those who wished to stay in the EU – seem to have given up altogether on fighting for the future of their country. Worse still, many seem to have accepted the fundamental premise of the anti-EU “Leave” campaign: that there are too many Europeans in Britain.

This has changed the terms of the debate for the worse, and has led to hopelessly wishful thinking: Perhaps the UK won’t actually lose much market access if it imposes immigration restrictions on EU nationals. Perhaps the EU itself will abandon free labor mobility in an attempt to appease the UK. Perhaps the EU will make special exceptions to protect the British university sector, or treat the UK like Liechtenstein, a microstate with access to the single market.

In fact, with Remainers accepting the argument that Britain should keep Europeans out, the UK – or at least England and Wales, if pro-EU Scotland and Northern Ireland leave – is headed for a “hard” Brexit, not just from the Union, but from Europe’s single market. If this happens, it will cost the country dearly. The full extent of the fallout is unknown, but we can expect it to be painful for many people and damaging to many institutions.

Is there any merit to the claim that the UK has become flooded with newcomers from other EU member states? The following chart shows the percentage of EU immigrants in each EU country. The UK is at the upper end of the distribution, but it is on par with many other EU members, and it is far from having the most EU immigrants per capita. In fact, the share of EU immigrants in the total population is twice as high in Ireland.