What if the immigration debate ended but nobody noticed?

There is no difference between the parties now. I know that sounds like the hyperbole of a political try-hard, but I think it’s true. In the early 2000s Labour solved the problem of asylum seekers and it took everyone a long time to realise. At some point in the last few years the problem of European migration was solved and people still haven’t noticed. The rhetoric will vary but the UK’s immigration policies for the next generation are set. Unless the UK leaves Europe we know what immigration policy is going to look like. 


In the early late 1990s, southeastern Europe tore itself apart and refugees started to appear in the UK. Labour passed lots of laws that stripped refugees of their rights. It worked, but Labour get little praise for their achievement.The numbers of asylum seekers in the UK sank from 84,130 in 2003 to under 20,000 from 2009 onwards. The asylum seeker question is settled. They should be prevented from arriving, but if they make it here we don’t let them work, give them the worst housing and £5.23 a day each for food, sanitation and clothing.

Asyum UK

Despite the number of refugees staying high globally, Labour successfully helped the UK dodge its internationally responsibilities towards the world’s refugees. Labour don’t get any thanks from the Tories or Lib Dems but everyone is a Blairite now when it comes to asylum policy. There are no suggestions we weaken sanctions or accept more refugees, the matter is dead. All eyes are on the politics of European migration.

Refugees Global

In 2004 the UK, Ireland and Sweden opened their borders to the A8 ex-communist states, the rest of Europe waited to see what happened. We received not 10,000s of migrants as predicted, but 100,000s. Just as the asylum problem was “solved” a new front opened. Europe, specifically poor Eastern Europe, is the political problem and as John Rentoul points out, there’s very little between the main parties on migration. At Question Time on Thursday Rachel Reeves and Michael Heseltine both banally agreed it had been a mistake to let in the Poles.

Just as the asylum problem was solved and nobody noticed so has the problem of European migration. If in 2017 we vote to leave the European Union then we will see a drop in migration. Much more likely though is us staying in Europe and accession states having their free movement restricted. How this policy will manifest is difficult to predict but each party will follow a similar line. Migration will stay in the low 100,000s because the UK, for all its faults, is much better than most other places and we won’t leave the EU. Asylum Refugees will remain betrayed and politically unimportant and non-EU migrants will remain able to move here for family reasons or if they’re rich, well educated and have a corporate sponsor.

People will keep moaning about immigration, but “Europe and immigration” now means “what do we do with Ukraine and Turkey.” Geopolitically Europe wants them in their sphere of influence but don’t want to deal with over 100 million new European citizens. On immigration the parties are agreed. On geopolitics too they want Turkey and Ukraine to be in the European sphere of influence. Managing this will be a huge challenge but its a very different immigration debate to the one we’ve been having for a decade and a half. That debate is over but I’m not sure anybody has noticed.


The Tories are very good at controlling our border

So are the Labour Party. In fact, the British state is excellent at controlling our border, if you mean keeping people out. They are so secure that word has got around and most people don’t even bother trying to get in. Berghain has a reputation for exclusivity, but it is nothing like as selective as the British state.

One of Parliament’s least pleasant anti-immigrant, anti-science libertarians published this earlier:

Climate change denial aside, the comment on controlling our borders really rankled. Sure, lots of people have moved to the UK in the last decade, but a lot less than would like to. Douglas Carswell is pretty deluded if he thinks it’s only Poles, Bulgarians and Romanians who want to move to the UK.

Gallup conducted a survey in 2007. Doubtless it’s a little out of date now, but it’s still useful. They asked where people would live if they could live anywhere in the world. They constructed a representative data set and worked out how many people worldwide wanted to move where. The US came top, as you’d expect, and the UK came second. [1]


150 million people want to move the US and 45 million want to move the UK. That will be a conservative figure as some people would move the UK were it the only option realistically open to them.

So how many people actually make it into the UK? Well, to be fair I’ll use gross migration and include Brits who are just coming home. Net migration is the common figure, but it subtracts those leaving from the gross figures. I want to use the most upwardly biased figure possible. So, for good measure, I’ll take the gross number from Migration Watch: 503,000 by their reckoning.

45 million people want to move here (conservatively) and (as an upper bound) 503,000 actually did last year . That means every year just 1% of those who want to move the UK actually can and do. This figure isn’t meant to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree, but just so you know, anyone who says the British state can’t control its borders is a fucking idiot, Douglas Carswell included.


[1] If that fills you with dread rather than pride you’re a weirdo.

The Swiss are restricting immigration, but that doesn’t mean immigration restrictions are back

Switzerland just narrowly passed a referendum to restrict immigration. Prior to the 1990s Switzerland operated a quota system and many people could only work in the country for nine months before having to leave. Europeans have long enjoyed the right to live and work in Switzerland but it seems like a return to the old, more restrictive set-up is certain.

Switzerland is one of the most open countries in Europe. As a small manufacturing economy it has to be, it relies on trade, transport links and labour from the rest of Europe. Similarly, as a small country it has to import footballers. Say hello to the new Swiss national squad.


I don’t have any intention to live or work in Switzerland nevertheless I find it sad when a country restricts the right of people to work. and live where and how they want. Its especially galling as the areas with least migration voted most strongly to restrict it. I don’t know much about p values but I know a sloped line when I see one.


There’s also a helpful map if that’s more you thing. The south of the country is Italian speaking and has lower (but still non-negligible) migrant populations. The west (Geneva) and north (Zurich) have lots of foreigners. Those with least experience with migrants voted to reimpose restrictions, those with the most experience voted to continue open European borders.


A similar pattern reproduces itself in the UK. Areas with the fewest migrants are the most likely to wish to see it curtailed. Those with the most neighbours from another country were the least likely to want to see further migration curtailed. The same pattern prevails in the US. If you presume migration is a bad thing this is counterintuitive. If you presume it is a good thing this makes perfect sense. I do have a graph, since you ask, here it is.


This isn’t just a historic thing, even in areas that saw the fastest change in the mid-2000s, the white british population were less likely to want to see immigration reduced. However, as you can see, less restrictionist is still quite restrictionist: more than half of the most sympathetic still want immigration reduced.

That’s from IPSOS-MORI’s excellent paper on perception and immigration. Enough meat there for everyone to find something of interest. Do stop reading my blog and download the pdf, I shan’t be offended. Bryan Caplan thinks more immigration is the answer to anti-migrant sentiment. Tyler Cowen thinks that plan has run its course. I’m not so sure.

A few tens of thousand swiss votes the other way and we would be having a different discussion. Until now Switzerland has been the most immigrant tolerant nation in the world – I don’t count Luxembourg, because, seriously, who does? It may have banned Minarets but it homes 300,000 Kosovan muslims.

Switzerland accepts an immigrant inflow equivalent to 1.5% of its population each year. The UK would have to accept double this number of gross migrants to even come close. Even with restrictions Switzerland is likely to accept levels of migration well above the rich country norm. Good for the Swiss. Three cheers for them, even now.

Iain M Banks on Immigration

I strongly suspect the things people believe in are usually just what they instinctively feel is right; the excuses, the justifications, the things you’re supposed to argue about, come later. They’re the least important part if belief. That’s why you can destroy them, win an argument, prove the other person wrong, and they still believe what they did in the first place.

Iain M Banks Use of Weapons

Well, not actually Iain, and not about immigration, but you get the idea.

Do addicts need help…

…or do narcissists need mocking?

IN my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.

Our Galtian Overlords ladies and gentlemen… And oh it gets better…

The first year was really hard. I went through what I can only describe as withdrawal — waking up at nights panicked about running out of money, scouring the headlines to see which of my old co-workers had gotten promoted. Over time it got easier — I started to realize that I had enough money, and if I needed to make more, I could. But my wealth addiction still hasn’t gone completely away. Sometimes I still buy lottery tickets.

What bizarre behaviour, worrying about money and occasionally gambling, I’m sure none of my readers could possibly sympathise.

Great sentences of our time: sex-selective abortion bullshit edition

It is pretty obvious here that the Indie’s entire article stems from what has to be easily the most spectacularly misconceived and shoddily executed fishing expedition since Captain Ahab went off chasing Moby Dick – and yes, I know that’s fiction, but then so is Indie’s entire fucking analysis.

Unity on blazing form: read his take of the Indie’s sex-selective abortion nonsense.