Immigration: who should control our borders?

Saturday 18 October, 17.30 until 18.45, Frobisher 1-3, Barbican Defending Everyday Liberties

Immigration is a fraught political issue. Those opposing immigration – and especially the EU policy of granting freedom of movement to all EU citizens – argue that low-skilled workers from the relatively impoverished East are now driving down wages in the West. Then there is the spectre of the overseas benefits claimant, taking out without ever giving anything in return. The pro-immigration side counters that immigration is actually good for the economy. Migrants in the UK pay more in tax than they consume in public services, not least because inward migrants are more likely to be working age than the population in general. So does immigration help or hinder the UK economy?

Or does that question miss the point? While the much prophesised rush of immigrants taking advantage of the exhaustion of the seven-year ban on immigration from Romania and Bulgaria at the start of the year may not have come to pass, there are still plenty who claim that immigration is a big problem. To respond to public disquiet, the government has concentrated its efforts on non-EU immigrants. But for all its talk of caps and limits, the government seems incapable of enforcing anything of the sort. And for some, that is exactly the problem. EU rules effectively mean the UK government does not control its own borders, rendering the debate about whether immigration is a bane or a boon somewhat moot.

Moreover, it sometimes seems that what drives the nominally pro-immigration side is not so much freedom of movement, but the unsavoury associations of anti-immigration arguments. It is claimed that anti-immigration parties like UKIP will prompt ‘kneejerk xenophobia’, or exacerbate people’s ‘ill-informed prejudices’. Is this a pro-immigration position or anti-masses sentiment? Where are those willing to defend immigration on the grounds that everyone should be entitled to freedom of movement regardless of their passport or their skill-set? Is there a case for giving up on controlling borders altogether? Conversely, are arguments against immigration too defensive? Are secure borders essential to maintaining national sovereignty? Is it time for a different kind of debate?

Watch the debate:

Listen to this debate, via the Academy of Ideas podcast:

David Goodhart
director, Demos Integration Hub; author, The British Dream: successes and failures of post-war immigration

Philippe Legrain
visiting senior fellow, LSE’s European Institute; author, Immigrants: your country needs them and European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess – and How to Put Them Right

Bruno Waterfield
Brussels correspondent, The Times; co-author, No Means No

Steven Woolfe
UKIP Frontbench Spokesman on Migration and Financial Affairs Co-ordinator EFDD Group, EU ECON Committee

Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive

Produced by
Thomas Collier social care worker, Hampshire County Council
Recommended readings
Ukip: David Cameron’s immigration policy is vacuous and cynical posturing

'It is time to take back control of our borders. It is time to leave the European Union to become a competitive, engaged, patriotic nation once more,' says Steven Woolfe, Ukip Migration Spokesman.

Steven Woolfe, Spectator, 29 July 2014

The EU’s war on immigration

When it comes to its own borders, the EU is as anti-immigration as Front National.

Rossa Minogue, spiked, 7 July 2014

Should Britain fear a surge of east European migrants?

With only 10 days to go until our labour market is opened to Romanian and Bulgarian workers, Alp Mehmet and Jonathan Portes put forward their opposing views on immigration

Alp Mehmet and Jonathan Portes, Guardian, 21 December 2013

The Case for Open Immigration: A Q&A With Philippe Legrain

The moral case for opening up borders is as big as the economic one

Melissa Lafsky, Freakonomics, 17 October 2007

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