Which UK cities will suffer most from the end of Freedom of Movement?

Cambridge: well, this is all stuffed, for a start. Image: Getty.

Theresa May’s government has been unclear and uncertain about almost everything to do with life after Brexit: whether Britain would remain in the customs union or single market; whether it’ll mean a bigger state or a smaller one; even whether it will make us poorer. (The prime minister has repeatedly refused to say “no”.)

On one matter, though, May and her minions have remained entirely consistent: Brexit means an end to freedom of movement. All those foreigners coming over here, fixing our plumbing, picking our fruit, caring for our elderly? We’re finished with ‘em. Go on, sling your hook.

This is bad in about 16 different ways, of course. It’s bad because it’s meant two years of uncertainty for three million European people who’ve made their lives here, not to mention their partners, children and friends. It’s bad because it means revoking the rights of British citizens, not just those of perfidious foreigners, and nobody seems, even now, to have given much thought to the question of what happens to those Britons who live on the continent. And it’s catastrophic in the way that it’s given succour to a far right that’s now unshakeably convinced that approximately 52 per cent of the electorate are exactly as racist as they are.

But there’s another, more immediately quantifiable way in which ending freedom of movement is bad: it’s going to knacker the economy. And, not for the first time, we have figures.

The Centre for Cities think tank recently published a report quantifying the contribution EU migrants made to the economies of the major English and Welsh urban areas. It found, in an entirely unshocking revelation, EU migrants were more likely to be in work than their UK-born neighbours (70 per cent compared to 58 per cent). They’re also better qualified (33 per cent have degrees, compared to 26 per cent of Brits).

As much as I love immigrants, this disparity is unlikely to speak of any great superiority in moral character. Rather, I suspect, is’s accounted for largely by age: younger people are both more likely to have jobs and degrees, and to skip countries in search of economic opportunity. But it nonetheless means that EU migrants make up an unusually productive slice of the UK’s population.

You can see this in which cities are going to be hit hardest by any reduction of EU migration, too. Britain’s most productive cities, those which contribute most to the country’s taxbase, are those of what the Centre terms the “Greater South East”: London and its satellites, Oxford, Cambridge and so on. Which cities do you imagine have the greatest number of EU27-born residents?

In what seems unlikely to be a coincidence, and with a couple of notable exceptions (Peterborough, Luton, Bradford), those cities are both a lot richer and a lot less Brexit-y than the bottom 10:

From one point of view – the wrong one, but a point of view, nonetheless – the “problem” of EU migration is solving itself. The Centre for Cities’ report also noted that EU migration to Britain’s cities has already slumped, in 51 out of the 58 English and Welsh cities surveyed.


But as the research suggests, in terms of the economy, freedom of movement was never a problem in the first place: quite the opposite. In fact, that slump in the number of in-comers “raises serious concerns about the ability of these cities to prosper if restrictions on migration increase post-Brexit”.

The report concludes that there is a serious risk that Brexit will lead to labour shortages – and that the government’s “no deal” plans should include a two-year extension of freedom of movement to avoid them. Since the government’s commitment to ending freedom of movement is its single, most steadfast commitment, and since its no deal plans are invisible to the naked eye anyway, I am not entirely convinced this will happen.

This is not the first report which has made the argument that freedom of movement, far from being a drain on the British economy, is one of the key things propping it up. It’s highly unlikely to be the last, either. And yet, we are told that, whatever else happens, freedom of movement absolutely must end.

The government’s entire Brexit strategy, if you can call it such, has been built on a single, questionable assumption: that the British electorate cares more about cutting immigration than it did about the national economy.

There is one, tiny upside to this entire clusterfuck: if that assumption was wrong, we really won’t be waiting long to find out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

This article previously appeared on our sister site, the New Statesman.

 
 
 
 

In New Zealand, climate change is driving an eco-nationalist revival

The green and pleasant land of the South Island. Image: Getty.

“Ten years ago I would have called them settler f*****g land squatters,” Mike Smith, Maori-dom’s most tenacious activist, said last November as he reflected on the agriculture industry’s central role in driving climate change. “Now I have to try and get these people on board.”

Smith is infamous for taking a chainsaw to Auckland’s most prominent tree on a damp October night in 1994 in protest of the “Pākehā” – or white European –dominated government’s fiscal envelope restraining treaty settlements. Now he’s turned his hand to another cause close-to-home for the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous population: the environment.

“We’re super vulnerable, like we are to anything,” Smith says. “When it comes to climate change it’s like the poorest people in the world are going to be hit the hardest first, and that’s a lot of us.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appears, at least rhetorically, the most sympathetic leader to his cause in a decade. In her campaign launch speech late last year, she made the future government’s position clear: “Climate change is my generation’s nuclear free moment.”

This message should resonate with followers of her Labour party: the NZ left has long nurtured an environment-orientated “culture-of-protest”. So Ardern’s call to arms was bound to gain her loyal support among children of the 1960s and ‘70s, who led the march against nuclear ship visits, spurring on the government of the time to wriggle out from the US nuclear umbrella, and place a ban on foreign nuclear ship visits.

Now, it is to the tycoons of deep sea oil exploration they aim to close NZ’s ports.

In this, Smith is not short of support locally, with marches run by grassroots organisations and international animal welfare funds beginning to gain traction with every day New Zealanders. In this, Ardern’s prediction is correct: the Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA), is reminiscent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), an earlier cluster of left-wing pacifists and nature lovers who drove the creation of the nuclear free zone.  

In December, 15,000 passionate protesters marched through the capital. And with the government’s recent ban of offshore oil exploration projects, Jeanette Fitzsimons, former Green party co-leader and the head of CANA, is optimistic about similar change to the energy and farming sectors.

The Labour-NZ First-Green party coalition seems focused on setting a new global precedent, weaning NZ away from a United States which has jettisoned the Paris Agreement. The move replicates another 20 years ago, when New Zealand’s anti-nuclear movement was central to an upsurge in New Zealand nationalism. Now, the same sense of going it alone on foreign policy is apparent both locally and in Parliament.

Dr. Gradon Diprose, a senior lecturer at Massey University, argues that this echoes an older expression of colonial nationalism, that saw “New Zealand as a land of natural abundance”. This: “eco-nationalism” is centered on “protecting certain visions of picturesque landscapes and unspoiled natural beauty”. The slogan “Clean, green New Zealand” is prevalent in popular culture and tourism marketing. The public seems to have latched onto it too, and ranked keeping NZ’s waterways “clean and green” top of a recent survey of of kiwis’ top concerns.

Three decades ago, it was the 10 July 1985 sinking of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior that thrust local activists’ fears into the public eye, resulting in an almost nation-wide expression of climate-protectionism.


The bombing, a French intelligence operation sparked by Greenpeace’s calls for an end to foreign nuclear testing in the Pacific, galvanised a great deal of change to New Zealand’s overseas defence policies. A lack of censure from New Zealand’s Western allies drove Wellington to distance itself from the United States, while the shock of seeing a friendly nation violate NZ’s sovereignty left many at home seething.

Thirty years on, the foreign policy split throughout the Anglosphere, regarding Russian-Western relations, globalism, and the old international rules-based order, is becoming wider. Climate change is just the tip of the iceberg.

Most Kiwis you talk to will shake their heads in disapproval at US president Donald Trump’s scandalous outing last year in Helsinki. But US defiance of internationally brokered climate resolutions is something they can see clearly reflected in rural communities across the country.

The country saw records broken at both ends of the extreme weather spectrum last year. As 2018 kicked off, Kiwis sweltered through the hottest summer on record, while in Golden Bay, a small inlet near the northern tip of the South Island, residents endured the largest flood in 150 years. So, when President Trump tweets “So much for Global Warming”, the majority of New Zealanders look back fondly on NZ’s 1985 decision to boycott the “ANZUS” treaty, putting New Zealand at odds with its war-time ally America on defence legislation.

Public calls to take the same track on environmental regulation have become louder in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, received a frosty “unwelcome” while on a flyby to the capital in 2017, with the New York Times’ Washington correspondent, Gardiner Harris remarking: “I’ve never seen so many people flip the bird at an American motorcade as I saw today”. Protests against President Trump’s stance on climate change are beginning to gain greater traction further still, with the hundred-strong “march for science” setting the tone for the new government later that year.

New Zealand certainly isn’t afraid of radicalism, and its activists are persistent. It’s already banned single use plastics in supermarkets. Plenty more is to come, Smith says.

And yes, reform is going to inhibit sometimes vital industries: “It doesn’t matter which way you spin the dice on this, whatever’s being done is going to hurt. People who are looking for a painless way of mitigating climate change, [but] I don’t think there is one.”

But among Smith’s troupe of climate agitators, the feeling is that, without drastic change, “the land”, the heart of the Maori ethos, is going to be hurt far more.

Back in Auckland, NZ’s financial hub, an electric scooter craze is gripping the city. This, too, has gained the support of local environmentalists. In New Zealand, a national sense of pride is always coupled with a certain eccentricity. In a country this size, change always starts small.