Brexiters gave many reasons for voting leave, but immigration was certainly the main reason. However, its now quite clear that if you voted leave over immigration you are about to be betrayed by the Tories, much as you were warned would happen.
Firstly there are many myths and falsehoods about immigration, as I’ve discussed before. But the main one is the false belief that British workers are in competition with migrants for a fixed number of jobs. The number of jobs available in a country or region depends on a host of factors. For example, the ease by which businesses can get access to credit, government policy (if there’s lots of big infrastructure projects going on, there will be more jobs) and also the availability of workers (as an employer will prefer to set up where they can more easily hire employees). In short, migrants can help create more jobs than they take. And thus immigration restrictions can act as a pretty significant trade barrier and can actually decrease the total number of jobs available, leaving less for the locals.
To give an example, you are run a fruit farm. You need 100 workers to pick the fruit over the harvest season, but post-brexit restrictions means you can only find 50 British workers. Which means you’re only going to be able to harvest half the amount of fruit, which could mean the cost of paying their salaries plus overheads (e.g. the cost of growing the crops in the first place) won’t be enough to yield a profit. In which case you’re better off sacking the 50 British workers, leaving the fruit to rot and doing something else with the land that’s less labour intensive.
Similarly, in academia some specialist courses in a number of universities are being pulled due to brexit. As without the EU students, its not worth our while running those courses. This is leading to staff being laid off and the choice and options for UK students being reduced (oh and without those EU students, fees will probably have to go up too!).
And we are seeing further examples of this in many parts of the economy. There is a shortage of truck drivers post-brexit, which could lead to some businesses shutting down, higher prices and risks a shortage of food items like chilled meats. Building projects are being put on hold because of supply shortages (due to extra delays at Dover) and a lack of workers (so British builders are losing their jobs because there ain’t enough Polish plumbers).
And as mentioned farmers are struggling to hire enough workers to meet demand. Plus, they can no longer effectively export, which is decimating some parts of the agricultural sector. This could lead to a reduced harvest (leaving the UK more dependant on food imported from Europe) and probably eventually some farms closing, as they won’t be able to compete with foreign competition in places like Australia.
This was the lie that was told to those who voted leave. We’ll turn back the clock to a time when many UK industrial towns had full employment and Britain had an Empire. But that was always a fantasy. It only worked back then because of a lack of automation (industry was still fairly labour intensive, requiring a larger work force), much of the UK industry was state owned (who tended to treat them as a welfare to work scheme), there was little to no overseas competition (as Asia had little industrial output & half the world economy was the other side of the iron curtain), with massive trade barriers and protectionism to defend UK trade.
But that was then and this is now. Imposing such measures now would just render the UK uncompetitive, meaning they’d be lose out to foreign competition. Its not immigrants coming over here and taking your job you need to worry about, but them staying at home and your job simply moving somewhere else. And smugglers will just find a way around any trade barriers anyway. That is after all one of the reasons why such polices were largely done away with in the first place.
And its pretty clear the Tories ain’t going to help, given that they are running around signing trade deals with every Tom, Dick and Harry in the world. Trade deals which often favour the other country at the expense of the Uk. For example, while UK traders have to fill out dozens of forms and go through customs checks, EU lorries entering the UK typically get waved through, as the UK dare not impose more complete checks knowing it would probably lead to empty shelves in supermarkets. Which should not come as a surprise, as trade deals tend to benefit the larger trading block or the country who can just walk away from the table (something the UK can’t really do).
Brexit: Rise of the Machines
Furthermore, what is the governments response to businesses complaining about how brexit red tape is hurting their businesses and risking unemployment for workers? Oh, just move to the EU and set up there (i.e. sack all your UK workers and hire foreign workers instead). And when the aforementioned farmers complain about a lack of seasonal workers, what is the government’s response? Oh just switch to using robots to pick fruit instead (British jobs….for robot workers?). Let’s just unpack that one.
Automating a process cost a lot of money and its questionable if any, but the very largest of UK food companies, can afford that (certainly not small farmers). There is also a long learning curve because when robots screw up, they tend to screw up in a big way (e.g. crash, smash, burn down the factory, weld something together they weren’t supposed to do).
But ignoring the obvious practical obstacles, if farmers could switch to robots, they’d aren’t going to simply replace the 50 or so they can’t hire from Europe. No, they’ll sack ALL their UK fruit pickers as well. They will still need some workers yes, but generally these will be people with an education to program the robots (a college or university diploma), which generally most of the sort of people who work in farming will lack (and I’d also further note most college graduates voted remain rather than leave, so this is a move that benefits remain voters at the expense of Tory leave voters).
This is pretty much what happened in Japan, where strict immigration laws combine with automation to eliminated a whole host of working class jobs and entry level jobs. This created a “lost generation” of Japanese who haven’t worked for many years (if ever), creating a sort of underclass within society. And as this impacted on tax revenues ( unemployed people claim benefits…and robots don’t pay income tax) it led to the land of the rising sun, becoming the land of the rising debts, a trend we are likely to see replicated in the UK’s finances.
Post-brexit we could see something similar happen in the UK, particularly in those northern brexit voting towns. You see, there’s another thing about immigration. Most migrants tend to head for the larger cities (which voted overwhelmingly remain and where support for the Tories is at its lowest) where there are employment shortages. They tend to shun areas with high unemployment (which tended to vote leave).
Post-brexit these trends will continue to become even sharper. What foreign workers and foreign investment does come in will mostly go to the major cities, which should continue to see some job growth (though just not as strong as it would have been without brexit). While in rural or ex-industrial towns, the job market will collapse. This will lead to further inequality in the UK and more people being driven into poverty. And already poverty in some parts of the UK is already so bad the UN has had to give involved. But, much as they were warned, brexit and immigration controls aren’t going to help these communities. They are going to make an already bad situation even worse.