Immigration as a Source of Euroscepticism in Britain

 14. září 2016  Natália Poláková  komentáře

In the past year immigration policy has been a widely discussed issue not only among the legal and executive powers, but among the public itself. The rising interest of citizens in the impact of immigration has played an important role in shaping the immigration law in Europe, most notably in Britain.

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From the historical perspective Britain has always been considered a welcoming nation, which stems from the majesty and cultural diversity of the British Empire subject to the controversy of imperially-led foreign policies. In the first half of the 20th century Britain opened its doors to a great number of immigrants from the Commonwealth regions to provide British capitalists with cheap manpower as well as assume its responsibility to protect the citizens from its former colonies. However, British disease, a relative economic a political decline beginning in the 60’s, gradually led to the enactment of the restrictive immigration acts of the 60’s and 70’s.

The history repeats itself and forty years later in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and economic downturn the British government along with radical-right wing populism embodied in the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) are again calling for the immigration curbs. Since the accession of the central and east European countries (A8) to the European Union (EU) in 2004 more than one million economic migrants have arrived in Britain. Unlike the situation of the 60’s and 70’s Britain is now bound by the EU law Freedom of Movement for workers unable to introduce its own restrictive immigration acts to curb high levels of the EU immigration. Moreover, the EU nationals living in the UK are entitled to social security as well as welfare benefits, which are believed to have created a fiscal burden on British economy and have stolen people’s jobs. The EU immigration has, therefore, become one of the principal factors driving Euroscepticism in Britain culminating in a present discussion of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, commonly shortened to Brexit.

The objective of this paper is to analyse the role of EU immigration following the 2004 EU enlargement in the rise of Euroscepticism in Britain from the perspective of political parties and public opinion. The paper argues that immigration is a social and cultural aspect of Euroscepticism rather than economic. It further explores the issue of EU immigration as a product of populist ideology and biased media coverage. It focuses on the period of 2008 onwards but at the same time outlines the historical roots of Eurosceptic tendencies in order to demonstrate the evolution of the phenomenon.

Euroscepticism in Britain

Euroscepticism is in academic literature mostly associated with right-wing radicalism and nationalism. However, Eurosceptic tendencies in Britain throughout the UK membership in the EU may have been found in both political spectra. Instrumental political personalities and their respective attitudes are selected to demonstrate a Eurosceptic tradition and inheritance in British politics.

Concept of Euroscepticism

Euroscepticism emerged as an exclusively English phenomenon reflecting the country’s “otherness” and “awkwardness” toward the continental Europe. It may also serve as a broader term pointing to a wide range of political, economic, historical and cultural factors which distinguish Britain from the rest of Europe (Harmsen and Spiering 13-16). 

A Eurosceptic is a “person having doubts or reservations regarding the supposed benefits of increasing cooperation between the member states of the European Union” and generally opposes further political and economic integration in Europe (“Eurosceptic”). The term was coined in the mid-80’s in British newspaper circles to refer to Margaret Thatcher’s disapproving judgement of the EU policies. “Euro-sceptic” was then interchangeably used with older expressions such as “anti-marketeer” or “anti-integrationist”, in other words an individual opposing British membership in the Common Market and European integration respectively (Harmsen and Spiering 16).

It is important to note that Euroscepticism does not represent a compact system of thought, ideology, but a sum of critical attitudes and distrust toward the EU varying in strength, intensity as well as the nature of negative arguments. It may be found in two forms as party-based and popular Euroscepticism. Taggart was the first scholar to define party-based Euroscepticism as “the idea of contingent or qualified opposition, as well as incorporating outright and unqualified opposition to the process of European integration”. Moreover, he later transformed the term on the basis of the soft-hard dichotomy where the soft Euroscepticism represents a “contingent opposition” to the EU while hard Euroscepticism acts as a “principled opposition” (Taggart and Szczerbiak 6).

Thus, soft Eurosceptics tend to be critical of the EU policies and demand reforms suited to national interests, which may be demonstrated by the Conservative government under David Cameron’s leadership. On the other hand, hard Euroscepticism is associated with the political parties such as UKIP, which insist on withdrawing from the union. Unlike party-based Euroscepticism, popular Euroscepticism is present among the public and may reflect either individual political preferences, or personal dissatisfaction and lack of benefits from the EU membership.

Euroscepticism assumed a political tone in the late 80’s when Prime Minister Thatcher expressed her critical stance towards the centralist policies proposed by European Commissioner Jacques Delors, which she later marked as “creeping back-door socialism” (Thatcher 634). In 1988 in her Bruges speech she said:

“To try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate would be highly damaging and would jeopardise the objectives we seek to achieve. Europe will be stronger precisely because it has France as France, Spain as Spain, Britain as Britain…” (“Speech to the College of Europe”).

Furthermore, Thatcher advocated for liberalisation and deregulation in the terms of trade and economy, a crucial aspect of the Conservative ideology of neoliberalism and adherence to Anglo-Saxon capitalism. Vasilopoulou argues that the EU embodies “a continental model of dirigisme and state involvement”, essentially different from the Anglo-Saxon one, which relies on a weaker state, low taxation and international trade (5). Forster also observes that rejection of the European integration corresponds to the “image of Anglo-Saxon independence” (91). Thus, the core of British Euroscepticism may be defined as an opposition to the political union, which threatens political sovereignty and overshadows the benefits from the economic cooperation paramount to British national interests.

Apart from differences in political and economic ideology, Britain maintains a special relationship with the Commonwealth nations and the United States based on historical ties dating back to imperialism as well as overall kinship with the English-speaking countries sharing linguistic and cultural similarities. Other factors take into account British island mentality where “the English Channel acts as a psychological barrier to relate with Europe” emphasizing the country’s individualism and stubbornness to establish closer links (Poláková 2016).

Historical Overview of British Eurosceptic Tendencies

Notions of Euroscepticism originated in the post-war period and early integration process talks. Winston Churchill disillusioned by the failure of the appeasement politics with Nazi Germany vehemently supported Franco-German alliance and consolidation of continental Europe calling for “the United States of Europe” (“Winston Churchill’s Zurich speech”). Churchill’s vision of Britain within the European integration, however, did not differ much from the present-day Conservative attitudes alluding to his famous quote:

“We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed. If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea.” (qtd. in Danzig)

Despite being supportive of the European integration from the beginning, Britain refused to participate in Schuman’s plan. It also withdrew from the negotiations in 1957 leading to the Rome Treaty establishing European Economic Community (EEC), partly because the UK did not expect such a great economic success. Instead, Britain opted for “the open sea” represented by close ties with the United States and the British Empire. However, having lost the last imperial battle in the Suez Canal as well as having missed the opportunity of being an EU founding father, Britain bitterly watched the decline and fall of its empire and soon addressed the EEC with its first application to join in 1961.

Nevertheless, the process of accession to the EEC proved unexpectedly arduous comparable to today’s effort to withdraw from the EU. French President de Gaulle did not conceal his hostility toward Britain and just as Churchill identified British exceptional but uneasy position within Europe vetoing first and later second application to join the continental club:

“She has, in all her work, very special, very original, habits and traditions. In short, the nature, structure, circumstances peculiar to England are very different from those of other continentals. How can Britain, in the way that she lives, produces, trades, be incorporated into the Common Market as it has been conceived and functions?” (qtd. in Grant 1)

It is essential to note that Churchill was by no means Eurosceptic, neither were the succeeding Conservative prime ministers as they represented the “Party of Europe” of the 60’s and 70’s negotiating the accession to the EEC. They understood that the integration was vital to Britain in the terms of trade and political dominance in the world even though they did not share a vision of unification. Thus, Euroscepticism did not explicitly spring up in the Tory politics. The Labour, more socialist in nature, opposed British membership viewing it as a “capitalist club” dangerous to workers’ conditions, which on the other hand perfectly suited Conservative intentions to revive British economy (Forster 40).

The first signs of hard Euroscepticism may not have gone unnoticed in the 1975 Referendum on Europe, only two years after Britain joined in. The leading figures Enoch Powell and Tony Benn on the extreme right and left respectively aimed their popular discussion at food prices, not the sovereignty issue, which was remote to public understanding (Young 112). Forster further points out that “the public was more worried about prices, the cost of living and their economic well-being” than political aspects of the integration (39). Eurosceptic populism follows the same fashion till the present day as the UKIP manifesto heavily concentrates on an easily perceived object such as immigration rather than complicated political and economic concepts. In the end 67 per cent of Britons preferred to vote for status quo to remain in the EEC because voting leave would mean embracing left and right-wing radicalism.

Prime Minister Thatcher, one of the vote remain campaigner in the 1975 referendum, is considered another prominent character of British Euroscepticism. She triggered Eurosceptic movement due to her constant arguments with European Commission over Britain’s budget contributions but at the same time was instrumental in reforming the EU policies and strived for establishing the Single Market, one of the pillars of today’s EU. Therefore, her attitudes toward the EU during her political career cannot be explicitly expressed as Eurosceptic.

In fact, she took Britain further into the integration than any other British leader. However, as already mentioned her European policy cherished mostly British economic interests. When her successor John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty drawing Britain into a purely political project, which did not encompass her neoliberalist inclination, she grew into a permanent Eurosceptic critical of the EU integrationist policies for the rest of her life.

Thus, mostly Europhile Tories of the 70’s and 80’s followed Thatcher’s Eurosceptic stance while the Labour Party found “European social policies fitting in their manifestos” (Poláková). Jacques Delors’ proposals on social policy and working rights harmonisation also won an incredible favour among British trade unions, Thatcher’s long-term nightmare. On the other hand, the infamous withdrawal of the pound from the early monetary system known as the Black Wednesday and the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 led to the rebellion in the Conservative cabinet with Euroscepticism reaching the top and Alan Sked forming a predominantly Eurosceptic political party UKIP.

UKIP gained a relatively small success in the mid-90’s as the new pro-European Labour government under Tony Blair quietened Eurosceptic voices for the next decade. While the Conservatives were deeply split in a European question, UKIP faced multiple leadership crises. However, both emerged in the 2010 general elections, precisely in the middle of the financial and debt crises, which made the EU increasingly vulnerable to Eurosceptic echoes coming not only from Britain, but majority of the member states.

Eurosceptic Surge

In the 90’s UKIP portrayed a “single-issue pressure group”, whose objectives concentrated on the unconditioned withdrawal of the UK from the EU and forcing the Conservatives to adopt a more radical and cautious attitude toward the EU (Ford and Goodwin, “Revolt on the Right” 43). Despite UKIP had no intention to challenge well-established political parties, the Tories and Labour, securing only 1.1 percent of the vote share in the 1997 general elections, its unexpected early success in the 1999 European Parliament (EP) elections accounted for seven percent. In the 2004 and 2009 EP election results lifted UKIP’s spirit as it obtained more than 16 percent winning twelve and thirteen seats respectively (Ford and Goodwin, “Revolt on the Right” 64).

However, the post-2008 financial crisis prompted UKIP to advert to the soaring immigration, the Labour Party allegedly failed to manage, with its 2009 EP election campaign “SAY NO to unlimited immigration: Take back control of our border” (qtd. in Hunt). Moreover, the rise of UKIP following the 2010 general elections may be contributed to the unpopularity of Conservative Prime Minister among his party’s Eurosceptic supporters and critics of his centre-right politics. UKIP represents “little more than a second home for disgruntled Conservatives” who disdain Cameron’s light compromising approach toward the EU (Ford and Goodwin, “Understanding UKIP” 278).

UKIP’s notable victory in the 2014 EP elections astonished Britain’s political and media class when the party secured incredible 26.6 percent (Ford and Goodwin, “Revolt on the Right” 64). At that time not only UKIP’s policies were arguing for changes in the EU membership, but also increasingly Eurosceptic circles of Cameron’s cabinet were pushing for reforms and compelling Cameron to set out a new EU agenda heading to the Brexit.

While the Tories have again divided over the European question with Cameron endorsing the EU membership and prominent Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, backing the Brexit, united UKIP along with the Vote Leave campaign have appealed to the so-called “left-behind voters”, powerful enough to swing the results of the June referendum on Europe (Ford and Goodwin, “Understanding UKIP” 278).  The social profile of the UKIP voters as well as the parties’ approach to the immigration issue is to be closely examined.

EU Immigration in the Brexit Discussion

A present-day Eurosceptic movement in Britain assumed a radical approach embodied in the campaign advocating for the Brexit, withdrawal of the UK from the EU. The political parties, mostly referring to the Conservative Party, are bitterly split in their attitudes, so is the British public who faced another Referendum on Europe on June 23. The reasons given to promote the Brexit range from political values, EU democratic deficit, disenchantment with the Eurozone economic situation to culturally diverse aspects such as immigration, which beside its economic impact transformed the British society.

Although Britain had attracted thousands of immigrants every year since the break-up of its empire, it was only in 2008 when the financial crisis and British labour market difficulties made the immigration issue a primary public concern in Britain. A growing fear of the immigration effects surprisingly coincides with UKIP’s anti-immigration rhetoric which intends to mobilise the public against the EU membership.

This paper briefly explains why the Labour is believed to be responsible for the role of EU immigration in today’s Eurosceptic wave. Further, various studies focused on the impacts and public perception of immigration inflows are evaluated and interpreted vis-à-vis the actions of the political parties.

Open-door Immigration Policy

Since 1993 the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the basis of the EU law, guarantees the EU nationals the four freedoms – the free movement of goods, capital, services and people, of which freedom of movement for workers is central to the discussion of this thesis. This fundamental freedom, pursuant to Article 45 TFEU, guarantees every EU citizen “the right to move freely, to stay and to work in another member state” including “equal treatment in basic employment conditions, remuneration, dismissal and the receipt of social advantages” (“Freedom of Movement for Workers”). In addition, ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, a major revision of the original Rome Treaty, made it for Britain almost impossible to influence a decision-making process of the EU immigration and asylum legislation.

However, not only the four freedoms led to the massive immigration to Britain’s booming economy of the 90’s and early 2000’s, but also Labour Government’s stance toward the 2004 enlargement of the A8 countries. [1] Despite the accession treaties permitted the UK to restrict the A8 immigration for maximum of seven years, Tony Blair’s government pursued an open-door immigration policy. “Open door” literally refers to “the policy of freedom of admission of foreign imports or immigrants to a country” (“Open door”). While other EU members decided to temporally restrict their labour market access to the new member states, UK along with Ireland and Sweden gladly welcomed EU economic migrants (Vargas-Silva 3).

In fact, relaxed immigration rules toward the foreign jobseekers were in line with overall British European policy as Britain had always been more supportive of the enlarged rather than centralised EU. Tony Blair preferred a more reasonable balance of power within the EU challenging the key Franco-German axis as most of the new entrants were the post-Soviet republics committed to the free market economics representing potential British allies in the EU decision-making processes (Gowland, Turner and Wright 174).  Furthermore, Labour’s striking positive approach toward the enlargement was linked with their ambition to make Britain a “leading player” in the EU (Gowland, Turner and Wright 169).

In 2004 the Office for National Statistics already registered more than 53,000 migrants from A8 gradually rising to a yearly inflow of 89,000 in 2008, an increase of 63 percent. In 2015 the annual EU immigration surged to 257,000, of which 69,000 accounted for the A8 immigrants and the overall number of the EU immigrants living in Britain totalled three millions (“Net Migration Statistics”). Thus, today the impact of the enlarged EU is “the very thorn in the British side” and British interests have eventually turned against Britain itself (Poláková).

Whereas Tony Blair does not regret “opening UK borders” claiming the migrants did “good work” and made “great contribution” to the country, the Conservatives are pressing for a net migration target intending to eliminate the consequences of a “soft touch” of the Labour government and reduce immigration from “the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands” (qtd. in Winnett). Even Ed Miliband, the current Labour leader, admits the Labour “got it wrong” on immigration (qtd. in Winnett). Moreover, UKIP argues that “this policy has been a deliberate attempt to water down the British identity” introducing a cultural threat of the EU immigration in their 2010 manifesto (“UKIP Manifesto April 2010” 5).

Although the British economy has evidently benefitted from the A8 immigration, “political costs” and salience of immigration in the public opinion have been too high (Geddes 290).

Benefit Tourism

In 2010 a new Liberal Democrats – Conservative coalition under David Cameron promised a “hard line” on immigration. Nevertheless, the pledge considered unachievable from the beginning proved to be a disappointment to the voters who switched from the Labour mainly due to more anxiety over the immigration levels rather than the Labour economic policies during the financial crisis (Dennison and Goodwin 171). Indeed, the surging immigration was one of the central issues already in the 2010 general elections and gained even more importance in the 2015 round.

In January 2013 the possibility of the referendum on Europe was brought forward when David Cameron, pronounced as a Eurosceptic since taking over the party leadership in 2005, proposed renegotiation of the terms of the EU membership – a “better deal” for Britain and Europe (“EU Speech at Bloomberg”). However, his Bloomberg speech mostly alluded to the extensive financial regulations and carried no record of ‘immigration’ in reference to the EU, which somehow proves that the recent EU immigration was not selected as Conservatives’ strategical argument to support negative attitudes toward the EU.

Cameron’s soft Eurosceptic nature triggered discontent among the hard Eurosceptics within his own party as well as pressure groups. Hence, later in 2013 he delivered a speech on immigration where he exasperated over the A8 immigrants and consciously or unconsciously highlighted its future significance in the UK-EU negotiations:

“Ending the ‘something for nothing’ culture is something that needs to apply in the immigration system as well as in the welfare system. So, by the end of this year and before the controls on Bulgarians and Romanians are lifted, we are going to strengthen the test that determines which migrants can access benefits…“ (“Speech on immigration and welfare reform”)

In 2014 “benefit tourism”, arrival of the EU workers to Britain in order to seek welfare benefits, stirred outrage among the public when the Telegraph revealed: “More than 600,000 European Union migrants who are not in employment are living in Britain at a cost of £1.5 billion to the NHS [2] alone. “ (“True Scale of European Migration”) The figure later turned out to be misleading but helped to deliver a negative image to the public. In fact, the unemployment rate of the EU nationals accounted for 7.5 percent compared to 7.9 percent of the UK nationals. The European Commission even stated that “mobile citizens are less likely to receive disability and unemployment benefits” than the natives (qtd. in “Benefit tourism – the facts”).

In the same year the government introduced changes to welfare rules – to   acquire ‘worker’ status in the UK an EU national needs to earn at least £150 per week for at least three months in order to qualify for access to child benefits, child tax credits, jobseekers’ allowance and housing benefit (Geddes 292). In particular, a number of EU claimants increased in the period of 2008 to 2015 from 65 090 to 113 960, which corresponds to a rise of 75 percent, whereas a number of A8 claimants more than tripled totalling 58 630 in 2015. However, the A8 nationals represented only 1.1 percent of all welfare claimants compared to 5 percent of the non-EU migrants (Keen and Turner 10).

Moreover, London School of Economics finds out that in 2013 the EU migrants financially contributed to the welfare state more than they actually received and their net contribution was even higher than the one of the UK nationals (Dustmann and Frattini 27). Therefore, the arguments advocating for an immensely negative economic impact of the EU immigrants are groundless. Nevertheless, according to the Policy Network, an independent think-tank, 57 percent of Britons agree that a right to move freely, one of the four freedoms, should be limited while 73 percent think the migrants should be allowed to qualify for the welfare benefits only in their country of origin (Vasilopoulou 12).

On the other hand, Blinder, an Oxford University researcher, assigns these anti-migration attitudes to the phenomenon of “imagined immigration” which is socially and politically constructed (90). Despite the majority of the people do not dispose of official government statistics on the current immigration levels, they tend to demand restrictive immigration policy based on individual preferences (Blinder 96). A negative coverage of the immigration issue in the press, frequent policy debates as well as a lack of understanding increases the sensitivity of perception of the immigration in the country, thus, the people may virtually observe more migrants than the real figures demonstrate.

Deal on Europe

Soon after forming the 2015 Conservative government David Cameron delivered another speech on immigration where he focused on „three big things“ – illegal  immigration, labour market rules and ultimately he addressed the spike in the EU immigration. He declared that reducing the incentives for people to come to work in the UK as well as changes to the welfare system were an “absolute requirement” in the EU renegotiation. (“PM speech on immigration”).

Finally, Cameron’s calls for an immigration cap were reflected in late 2015 in an official letter to the President of the European Council Donal Tusk where he proposed to “restore a sense of fairness” in the immigration system as population flows were “far higher than anything the EU’s founding fathers ever envisaged“. Net migration running at 300,000 a year is according Cameron “unsustainable” and exerts pressure on the welfare benefits (“A new settlement for the United Kingdom in a reformed European Union”).

The EU deal presented in the letter materialized in February 2016 where Cameron managed to achieve a special status for the UK. According to a “new emergency brake” the EU migrants have to wait for four years until they qualify a full access to Britain’s benefits. While Cameron considers the deal on welfare a “breakthrough agreement”, a number of critics dispute that Cameron’s deal will not tackle immigration at all as majority of the EU migrants are either single or young childless couples unable to claim the benefits (“PM Statement following European Council meeting”; Wilkinson and Hughes).

Moreover, UKIP’s Nigel Farage described the deal as “pathetic” because Britain did not “get back the border controls”, therefore, no reduction in immigration levels will be observed. He further argues that the four years’ time will coincide with the UK’s minimum wage rising to a living wage attracting even more migrants (“UKIP leader Nigel Farage: UK EU draft deal ‘pathetic’”). The pro-Brexit campaign Vote Leave notes that the ‘emergency brake’ on immigration is controlled by the European Commission, not Britain, and may be repelled by the European Court of Justice, thus, Cameron’s deal will not eventually make any difference (“The Government’s omnishable renegotiation”). On the other hand, the in-out referendum planned on June 23 was included in the deal and happened to be one of the fulfilled vows of the Conservative government.

Immigration and Populism

First of all, European issues had historically very low salience in the minds of voters. Indeed, according to Ipsos MORI in 2010 – 2015 only six percent considered the EU an “important issue facing Britain”. In February 2016 the numbers rocketed to around twenty percent colliding with the extensive Brexit discussion and the upcoming referendum Britons were dragged into. While the immigration issue index in 2012 averaged 22 percent, in 2015 the importance of immigration doubled reaching 44 percent of voters concerned about immigration. (“Issue Index: 2007 onwards”).

Ford and Goodwin argue that the very low importance of the European issue in the public opinion encouraged UKIP’s leader Farage to pursue a so-called “fusion strategy” as he sought to link Europe with immigration in the minds of voters to embrace an electoral victory. Traditional radical right appeals – immigration, identity and hostility toward the elites – proved to be susceptible to socially distinctive electorate which is more receptive to radical right wing politics. UKIP predominantly attracted the “left-behind voters” represented by old, male, working class, white and less educated people (“Understanding UKIP” 282).

The social profile of UKIP’s voters is a possible product of an expanding middle class and university educated workers who tend to dominate the British politics. Thus, disenchantment with political elitism as well as an education gap constitute some of UKIP’s success. Moreover, an inflow of immigrants, mostly cheap low-skilled manpower, threatened a labour market position of the native blue-collar workers pushing the wages down. Supporting UKIP and voting to leave from the EU may be a rational decision as these vulnerable groups are usually “losers” from globalisation and they do not benefit from the EU membership as much as the white-collar workers and businesses (Poláková).

On the other hand, support for UKIP may be determined by a generation gap where 57 percent of UKIP’s supporters is constituted by an older generation (55 plus) whereas young people (under 35) account for only 12 percent of UKIP’s votes. Older Britons grew up in a dominantly white Britain having a little contact with the migrants in the 60’s and early 70’s. They witnessed multiple waves of immigration and polarised anti-immigration attitudes stipulated by characters such as Enoch Powell. Such voters knew the UK as the Empire standing apart from Europe rather than in Europe (Ford and Goodwin, “Understanding UKIP” 280). Therefore, a sort of post-imperial nostalgia may drive hostility toward the EU to a certain extent. Unlike their older counterparts, Britons born in the 70’s onwards were already raised in a culturally and ethnically diverse society lacking a traditional British identity known as Britishness as well as deep-rooted nationalist inclination.

According to the British Election Study more than 80 percent of UKIP’s supporters perceive immigration as bad for economy and culture respectively. The same percentage sees the immigrants as a fiscal burden on Britain’s welfare state although as mentioned before, the immigrants tend to positively contribute to the public finance and services. The survey further demonstrates that 34 percent of UKIP’s voters with anti-immigration attitudes were to opt for a “leave vote” in the referendum on Europe (Dennison and Goodwin 177-178). These results confirm that a strong predictor of UKIP’s support is indeed an anti-immigration dimension of the party’s ideology.

Finally, not only UKIP, but also pro-Brexit campaigns warn the British public about the impacts of the EU immigration. Vote Leave especially questions the security of the open borders of the EU “immoral” immigration system which makes it “easier for terrorists and criminals to get into Britain” (“The EU immigration system is immoral and unfair”). European handling of the current refugee crisis as well as recent terrorist attacks performed by the EU nationals of a foreign origin have also contributed to the Eurosceptic debates of the xenophobic pressure groups. They act as a political machinery which threatens the overall EU stability and may have a long-term consequence depicted in the ultimate withdrawal of Britain from the EU. Immigration is not a primary reason of Euroscepticism but a mere excuse to achieve political resolutions.


Euroscepticism is not a new phenomenon but employment of the immigration issue in this context is considered to be quite novel. Roots of British Euroscepticism vary in different periods assuming either national economic interests or a fear of losing political sovereignty. However, complex integration and globalisation processes have led to an increased mobility of European workers and created a spill over effect in European labour markets. This freedom of movement gradually has triggered tensions between the native population and so-called economic migrants who benefit from the work, wage and social system conditions in respective countries.

Britain has been one of the countries witnessing an incredible economic success in the late 90’s and early 2000’s needy of foreign labour force. The Labour Party’s open-door immigration policy attracted thousands of workers from the central and east Europe following the 2004 enlargement which in the end proved to be uncontrollable raising a question of their burden on British economy and undermining of British identity. While according to the government’s statistics the economic impact of EU immigrants is demonstrated to have been favourable, a sense of political ‘correctness’ to curb immigration is driving the political elites toward the xenophobic rhetoric mobilising the most socially disadvantaged workers against the freedom of movement.

UKIP, a party created by a bunch of the Conservative backbenchers rebelling against the Maastricht Treaty, has appropriated the issue of immigration and identity as a solution to accomplish their objective to terminate the UK’s membership in the EU. Initially radical nationalist party protecting the glory of British sovereignty has transformed into a populist project which intends to intensify racial and cultural differences among the communities in Britain. Although multiple deals on welfare system and access to social benefits have been discussed and reached by the Conservative Party jointly with the EU in order to quieten the Eurosceptic tendencies, the public in Britain like in other major Western democracies has already yielded to radical right politics. The rise of UKIP’s support corresponds to the rise of anti-immigration and anti-EU feelings which played an important role in the June referendum. Whether Churchill’s ‘open sea’ is a safe option for Britain with a climbing number of right wing radicals is, however, highly debatable.


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[1] A8 refers to the countries of east and central Europe which accessed to the EU in 2004.

[2] National Health Service

Jak citovat tento text?

Poláková, Natália. Immigration as a Source of Euroscepticism in Britain [online]., 14. září 2016. [cit. 2024-06-21]. Dostupné z WWW: <>. ISSN 1801-1438.

[Nahoru ↑]


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