BY EFFIE DEANS
Should there be sovereign nation states with borders or should we reject that model of the world as archaic and cruel and work towards a world without borders where everyone is welcome and we share the resources of the world equally? Imagine if we could all live where we pleased, if there were no passports but we were all just citizens of the world and we each paid taxes to a world government that distributed the revenue so that no one was poor and the standard of living was the same everywhere. Would that not be Heaven on Earth?
The EU has become the dividing line in UK politics not because of economics, but because it represents to supporters particularly on the Left a move away from the nation state towards free movement and the merging of peoples. If it were genuinely possible to create a federal EU state then it would be a decisive step towards removing all borders. If people speaking different languages in the EU can share wealth, mix freely and share sovereignty then they could equally well do so with people from Africa, Asia and South America.
The main barrier to the EU succeeding is that people from the member states still think of themselves as primarily German or French or Polish. They still think of their country as the source of their identity along with their language and ancestry. But free movement, intermarriage and perhaps in time a common language spoken by all will lead to primary loyalty going to the EU and a common EU identity covering all member states. At this point there will be no objection to Germans sharing resources with Greeks, because Germans and Greeks will have a common identity. They will just be Europeans. Germans will be as willing to share with the French as they were to share with East Germans.
There is little doubt that this is the EU’s long-term aim. It is also the aim of those who favour borderless travel and unlimited migration. The main reason why British voters rejected the EU in favour of Brexit had nothing whatsoever to do with weighing up the pros and cons of membership, nor did it have much to do with extra money for the NHS. Brexiteers rejected the EU because they wanted British sovereignty (taking back control) and because they wanted to be able to limit migration.
I thought at the time that the best feature of the EU was that people from EU member states could freely live and work in the UK. Britain has an aging population. The UK birth-rate is below the replacement rate. So, if you want people to pay taxes to maintain public spending you have to either increase the birth rate or you have to import them from abroad. If you don’t get them from Europe you have to get them from outside Europe. Having left the EU, this is what we are now doing.
At present nearly 17% of the population of England and Wales was born abroad. The figure is 7% in Scotland and around 6.5% in Northern Ireland. There is an enormous fuss about people arriving in rubber dinghies. But the record numbers this year of 40,000 are trivial compared to the 573,000 who migrated in 2021. Net migration last year was 239,000 and has been at a similar level for years.
There is no attempt by government to limit migration. Quite the reverse, because it thinks the British welfare state would collapse without migration. There would not be enough tax payers to pay our pensions, our schools and our beloved NHS. The people we vote for to take back control of our borders, whether they are Labour or Conservatives, merely pretend to do so. I think part of the pretence is to talk occasionally about being flooded or invaded.
It would be relatively easy to limit migration if we wanted to. Cease giving visas to people from poor countries unless they have for instance £100,000 in their bank accounts. But our universities depend on the fees from foreign students. Our tourism depends on allowing people to visit who we know might choose to stay. The problem is not so much asylum, though there ought to be a legal way to tell the genuine asylum seeker from the economic migrant. But we could leave the European Court of Human Rights, ditch every treaty that prevents us stopping or deporting those we think are not genuine asylum seekers and it would not bring down the numbers of migrants one little bit.
If we successfully stopped the dinghies our politicians would merely increase the number of legal visas to keep net migration at around 250,000 per year.
It is national identity that stops the EU from achieving its goal. It was national identity that meant the Soviet Union disbanded even though it had a common language, which the EU lacks. It is national identity that threatens the very existence of the UK even though it is precisely the UK model that the EU has to emulate if it is to become a state.
If after more than 300 years and in the case of England and Wales nearly 800 years of being united the national identities of the parts of the UK are such that they still want separation, then what chance is there to merge the parts of the EU into a single nation state? If Welsh, Scots and English who universally speak each other’s language cannot bear to live in the same state how can Slovenes and Spaniards? Calling it a federation doesn’t change the essence of sharing a single state. Well one way might be when nearly everyone in Scotland and England, Wales, Spain and Slovakia has a mother from somewhere far away and a father from somewhere still further. That will bring down borders, because everyone will be from elsewhere.
But this is our problem. 100 years ago, when everyone living in the UK could trace his ancestry back to the Norman Conquest and when the cultural and linguistic differences between the parts of the UK were far greater than they are today, there were no serious independence movements and Scottish and Welsh nationalism barely existed. But now as all parts of the UK are more multiracial and multicultural, nationalism is on the march. But it is on a march to nowhere.
Both the UK and the EU are I think deliberately making it easier for migrants while pretending that they are trying to limit migration. They are removing borders and saying that anyone anywhere in the world can be British, or French just so long as they reach our territory either legally by means of a visa or illegally by means of a dinghy.
But if you continue down this route it makes both a mockery of Brexit and also makes it pointless. We would be better off having the advantages of the Single Market and free movement if we are going to allow unlimited migration anyway. We would be better accepting a world without borders and the gradual withering away of the nation state if that in fact is what a modern economy and welfare state requires.
But if that is the case and I begin to think that it is, then we are being conned. Neither Scottish nationalism, creating a border between England and Scotland, nor Brexit make any sense at all if the direction of travel is towards removing borders and citizenship. Both leaving the EU and Scotland leaving the UK become debates about nothing, merely to distract a population that still thinks it has a choice.
The Excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.