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.

 
 
 
 

Wild boar are moving back to Genoa, and not everyone is pleased

A wild boar, c1933. Image: Getty.

Crossing the Ponte Gerolamo Serra in the Italian city of Genoa, I spotted a small crowd clustered by the river wall. I approached, intrigued, and peered over the wall to discover the subject of their delight: a sounder of eight wild boars – the adults sheltering from the heat in the undergrowth, while the juveniles foraged among the foliage that grows in the river bed during the dry summer months.

In any other city, such a sight might have been surprising. But in Italy, and particularly in the region of Liguria, where Genoa is located, the population of wild boars has been increasing at such a rapid rate that these incidents are now common. Across the country, it’s estimated that the population has risen from 600,000 to 1m over the past decade.

But while wild boars may look comically out of place trotting about the city, it’s actually a natural result of the way people have migrated – and the wars they have fought – over the course of recent history.

Making a comeback

A species native to Europe, the wild boar (or “cinghiale”, in Italian) largely disappeared from its historical territories during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their decline was widely attributed to the combined effects of habitat change, competition for space and resources and, of course, hunting.

Wild boars were a prized quarry, revered for their ferocity – and the danger involved in pursuing them. According to local folklore from the region of Liguria, the last truly wild boar was hunted and killed in 1814, in the province of Savona.

After an absence of more than a century, wild boar began to return to Liguria, and to the neighbouring region of Piedmont. A further influx occurred during World War I, when it’s believed that military activities in the south-east of France forced parts of the population back into Italy over the Alps.

Although hunting fraternities were quick to augment this fledgling population with wild boars transported from elsewhere, the return of the species was primarily due to natural causes. From the 1950s onwards, traditional agricultural practices were abandoned as more and more people moved from rural towns into the cities. This meant that large areas of formerly cultivated terraces and pastures were rapidly overgrown, fast becoming dense secondary woodlands.

A city gone wild

This spontaneous “rewilding” has become a controversial issue in the region. Many conservationists and environmental organisations consider the region’s return to a “wild state” a success. But others believe that the encroaching wilderness signals a loss of traditional woodland knowledge and a reduction of biodiversity, associated with the pastures and meadows.


The province of Genoa is among the areas most densely populated by wild boar in Italy, with an estimated 25 boar per 10km². Rewilding processes have brought woodlands to the city limits, blurring the boundary between rural and urban areas. The species has expanded beyond the hinterlands, colonising highly urbanised, densely populated city spaces in Genoa, drawn by the abundance of food waste created by humans.

In 2009, the infamous boar Pierino made his home at Righi, on the outskirts of Genoa, where he was routinely fed with focaccia by enthusiasts. Today, a family of wild boar call the Albergo dei Poveri – a historical hostel for the Genoese poor in the city centre – their home.

But while their antics are often recorded and shared with glee on social media, the threats posed by the presence of wild animals has become a preoccupation for the city’s municipal administration.

Boorish behaviour

Wild boar have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, and have proven to be particularly dangerous when with their young, attacking dogs and even people. The city council in Genoa has put forward many proposals to reduce the number of animals in the city, ranging from forced removals, to sterilisation, increased attention to waste disposal and approved hunts. About 90 wild boar were reportedly culled in 2018.

Needless to say, each of these measures has been hotly debated. Animal advocacy groups staunchly oppose the proposals, and sometimes obstruct the authorities’ attempts to take action, often sending patrols to care for the animals, and even give them names. But other residents are displeased with the animals’ presence in the city, and have consulted with the council on how to address the problems that they cause.

And so Genoa continues to grapple with thorny issues surrounding the presence of wild boar in the city, with the city authorities seeking to resolve a polemical issue that embroils the lives of animals and humans alike. So far, a collective, coherent and communally agreeable strategy has proven evasive; one that considers the need for public safety, hygiene and health with the ethical responsibilities towards to wild boar themselves.

Meanwhile, the animals themselves continue to lounge and forage beneath the Ponte Gerolamo Serra and elsewhere, bringing a little of the wilderness into the city.

The Conversation

Robert Hearn, Assistant Professor in Human Geography, University of Nottingham.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.