December 20, 2018 2.46 pm This story is over 33 months old

Barry Turner: There’s no free trade without free movement

A booming economy needs migrants

The Home Secretary informed us that after Brexit the UK will bring down immigration to sustainable levels. This sustainability however appears to be of the same nature of the one applied in environmental matters, there is no actual measure of it. We do not know what is ‘sustainable’ or even what it is we are trying to sustain.

Is it population numbers? Is it employment? Is it housing capacity or the NHS? Well we just don’t know. All we know is it will be sustainable.

Maybe we can find the answer in an introduction to basic economics, after all after Brexit we will not only be able to control immigration but we will be able to expand our economy by making free trade deals too. Therein lies the problem. You cannot have free trade and controlled immigration. As the legendary Margaret Thatcher was so enthusiastic to tell us “you can’t buck the market”.

Those who have studied economics will be familiar with the concept of ‘the market’. It is that unseen but all encompassing energy, something like The Force familiar to all lovers of Star Wars. Mrs. Thatcher was the ultimate Jedi of market economics, the Obi Wan Kenobi of Laissez Faire capitalism.

The philosophy of the free market is governed by unfettered supply and demand. The free market simply does not work, indeed does not exist in a world that is regulated. If it is regulated it is not free. The free market is governed only by its own needs, which are the interaction between capital and labour. There is no role for government or Home Secretaries in a free market.

The Brexiteers tell us that a no deal Brexit will not only not harm our economy but that it will set us free to make trade agreements with the world. They tell us our economy will blossom with great new deals with the growing markets of the world. You never know, they might be right. A new trading dawn with money to be made for all.

If it is true we will see a huge increase in immigration into the UK. The markets will need it. If our economy grows we will need the workers to support it. The Brexiteers tell us that that they will all be scientists, entrepreneurs and techno-wizards. They tell us we can control who we let in and it will only be ‘the best’.

The problem is that scientists, entrepreneurs and techno-wizards seem to have an aversion to harvesting carrots and bagging onions. They do not seem keen on mixing cement or serving meals in care homes either. In our expanding booming post Brexit economy it seems likely we will still need people to do those jobs. We will need hundreds of thousands of immigrants and it will be the booming economy that decides how many, not the Home Secretary.

The trade deals we get with the big world will include a requirement to take one of its biggest exports, people. India and China have already made it clear that free trade with them includes visa relaxation. The rest of the world too will expect us to take not only their goods in exchange for ours but their people too. If we want free trade there will be free movement of labour. There is no free trade without it.

If post Brexit Britain is an economic powerhouse and a free trade wonderland, there will be many more immigrants coming here. That is what sustainability means in the market. It won’t be the government that controls this and it certainly won’t be the Brexiteers. A booming economy is a magnet for migrants and a booming economy is not possible without them.

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Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law and Public Administration at the University of Lincoln.