Exploding Europe: Germany, the Refugees and the British Vote to Leave

Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, SPERI Paper No. 31, September 2016

Postscript to Wolfgang Streeck, ‘Scenario for a Wonderful Tomorrow’, London Review of Books, Vol. 38, No. 7, 31 March 2016, pp. 7-11.

It is now clear that a major, if not the most important, reason why the British voted to leave the European Union was immigration. The United Kingdom had long had large numbers of immigrants from the Commonwealth. Accession to the European Union added the free movement of labour within the Internal Market, as one of its ‘four freedoms’. Eastern enlargement in 2004 brought a wave of immigration from Poland and other countries, promoted by the New Labour government of the day which waved the transition period allowed by the treaties and let mobility into the British labour market take effect immediately. There are reasons to believe that this was in response to longstanding skill deficits among the domestic workforce, due to under-investment in education, and generally to pressure British workers, in particular at the lower end of the wage scale, to become more ‘competitive’. The result was growing popular resentment against the government’s immigration and labour market policies, including the cosmopolitan moral rhetoric deployed in its defence. (…)

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