Leaving Europe so we can adopt Aussie-style immigration rules won’t solve a thing


Nigel Farage told the media last year, “I am saying that if we have an Australian-style points system, immigration would not be a problem.” He made the point again earlier this month, speaking to Sky News.

The fact that inside the European Union we can’t adopt a more restrictive Australian-style points immigration system is for many the single biggest reason there is to leave the EU. Rid ourselves of the shackles of Brussels, crack down, and, as Farage himself said, “immigration would not be a problem.”

It’s a point summed up by their migration spokesman, Stephen Woolfe MEP: “To restore Britain’s borders, we need to leave the EU & implement a fair & ethical Australian style points based system.”

Well, I’m on holiday in Australia this week, and I’ve been reading the papers. And one thing I can definitely say is that an Australian-style points system is no silver bullet when it comes to immigration.

This week the country’s population topped 24 million. This was reported in Wednesday’s Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) under the headline, “Cut immigration to preserve our way of life: Carr”. Bob Carr is an Australian former foreign affairs minister.

Another newspaper, the Daily Telegraph (the Australian one) quoted Carr, “People wonder why their youngsters can’t get housing in the big cities.” And yet another newspaper, the Australian, quotes him as referring to “Australia’s ‘breakneck’ immigration growth”.

The next day’s letters pages picked up where Carr left off. William Bourke, from Wollstonecraft, wrote to the Daily Telegraph about the “economic, environmental and social disaster that is unfolding” because of the level of immigration. In the letters section of the SMH, under the heading, “Swelling population has too high a price”, D’Arcy Hardy of North Turramurra called for a review of the “real cost” of immigration on public services. And Terry Daly, from Randwick, wrote to complain about “overburdened schools, hospitals, transport, high property prices, and a corresponding stagnation in wages”.

There is clearly deep disquiet in some quarters about the level of immigration, despite this being the home of the Australian-style points system. So, if those Australians who don’t like immigration are left unsatisfied by it, why should it be enough for British people who don’t like immigration? Some people just don’t like immigration, and no system that lets in even a single people will ever be acceptable to them.

Last October even saw the launch of new political party here, the Australian Liberty Alliance, dedicated to campaigning against the impact – as they see it – of immigration on Australia. They launched with the help of Geert Wilders.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Friday, one of the party’s Senate candidates for New South Wales, Kirralie Smith, quoted messages she’d received that complained about political correctness and sharia law. The same newspaper earlier in the week ran a front-page story about halal-certified rations for the Australian Army. That article also triggered a torrent of angry letters. This all sounds more than a little familiar, doesn’t it? It’s like an average day in the Daily Mail or Daily Express.

Easy access to Europe’s single market is linked to free movement of people. You cannot have one without the other. The price of bringing in an Australian-style system would not only be Britain’s exit from the EU; it would also mean new barriers between British businesses and the rest of Europe as we left the single market too. That would put us in a worse position than Norway or Switzerland, both of which accept free movement in exchange for selling their stuff freely and easily in Europe.

Worst of all nobody seems able to say how long this would take to sort out or what the trade-offs would be.

An Australian-style points system is no panacea. It doesn’t seem to satisfy those Australians who don’t like immigration, and I am sure it wouldn’t satisfy Brits who don’t like immigration either. And to decide to leave Europe so that we can implement this system is just crazy – massive cost, massive disruption and massive risk, all for a system that won’t make a prickly political topic any less prickly.

* Stuart Bonar was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Plymouth Moor View.

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  • jedibeeftrix 20th Feb '16 - 10:40am


  • As a sometimes reluctantly pro EU liberal and a supporter of free movement, I think we have to come to grips with the lack of popular support for mass immigration or be consigned to history. The reality is that the vast majority, over 70%, of the population want reduced immigration into Britain and the Lib Dem vote went down every time Nick Clegg took on UKIP. We can sit there and decry populism all we like, but in a democracy power ultimately rests with the electorate and all politicians can be replaced at the ballot box. We need to stop treating immigration and the EU as the key selling points of the Lib Dems. The stance is not only not popular. it’s actively unpopular and more likely kill us off than change anyone’s mind.

  • So your prefered solution rather than have an Australian system that has some control, is the EU system where there is no control.

    Presumably the reality that the 1 million migrants who flooded into the EU last year who will in the majority be given asylum, will in 3 years time will be allowed to move to the UK. I assume you are also aware of the Somali asylum seeking population of the Netherlands who on being given asylum , uprooted themselves as a 200,000+ community, moved to London where over 80% if them are benefit claimants, and are not economically active.

    That is what having no rules gives you, even the Austrialian system you are slagging off, does not allow that to happen.

  • Glenn, I’m not sure what the figures are on support for the death penalty, but even if 70%+ of the population was still for it, I’d still expect – and agitate for – the Lib Dems to be dead against it. Democracy does not and should not equate to blunt majoritarianism or the fallacy of appeal to the majority (argumentum ad populum).

    Immigration has never been popular. I’m a Classicist, and Juvenal’s railing against immigration to Italy from the Levant – “the Syrian Orontes has long since flowed into the Tiber” (Juv. Sat. III 61-65) – could be straight out of a modern Daily Fail op-ed. It would be a monstrous betrayal to shut up and fall in line with the anti-immigration bandwagon just because it’s popular, or as a calculated move to increase support for the party.

  • John Grout.
    I agree up to a point. My argument is not that we should become more populist on the issue, It’s that we should stop putting quite so much emphasis on it as it is possibly having a detrimental effect on the Lib Dems and on the cause. It’s not an argument liberals are going to win anytime soon and we have to live within the electoral reality, is all I’m trying to say. The out campaign wants this to become an immigration argument because it’s their strongest card. we need to point out that they are actually opposed to the average citizens rights not just to those of migrants. Look at the attacks on legal aid etc.

    By the way, I’m not entirely sure about the figures on the Death penalty either. but I seem to remember reading somewhere that the against side now has a lead.

  • Perhaps I’ve missed something. Due to our membership of the EU we effectively have two sets of immigration rules: those we can apply to EU residents and those that apply to Non-EU/Rest of the World (RoW). Are people saying that the EU gets to dictate the UK’s RoW immigration policy?

    With respect to the EU, I was under the impression that the welfare changes being sought by David Cameron, were intended to make the UK less attractive to those who didn’t have employment here. Additionally, I understood that discussions were being had to restrict the movement of migrants from the RoW who gain EU residency, so that they couldn’t simply gain residency in any country and then abuse the EU free movement and move to the UK.

  • What are the outers actually proposing? Is the Common Travel Area agreement with the Irish Republic (which long predates our joining the EU) to be scrapped? Are Farage/Gove/Galloway proposing a wall across the Emerald Isle? What about the 2M+ citizens of other EU countries who already live here? Are they to be evicted? What would be the status of all the UK pensioners in Spain and the Dordogne?

  • I’m afraid this article – by focussing on the xenophobes and malcontents who we know will always exist – is completely missing the point.

    In Australia, where the government has a large degree of control over immigration, 69% of the population are happy for immigration levels (which are already quite high) to either stay the same or increase.

    In Britain, where the government has much less control over immigration, around three quarters of the population want immigration levels to be reduced. Even half of the non-white population want immigration reduced, which would seem to prove that this isn’t just about racism.

    Can you appreciate the difference between the Australian experience and ours? In Australia, the system has a clear majority of public support. Here, the opposite is the case. This being so, I very much doubt that the debate in Australia is anything like as toxic as it is here.

    Those are all valid questions, but I have another one which denizens of this site ought to be able to answer (though curiously nobody ever does) – what are the Lib Dems actually proposing?

  • GWYN WILLIAMS 20th Feb '16 - 3:26pm

    Is it the Australian Points System or the policy of immigration that has support in Australia? Immigration into Australia has been popular for over 60 years. This has been due to a populist attitude to immigration by the Government, such as the white Australia policy. Australia is a vast country with a low population density. It has huge natural resources.
    The UK is a small country with a high population density. The UK has exploited and exhausted most of its natural resources. To prosper in the future the UK must be open to new ideas and new people. We have to accept the principles of free immigration to and free emigration from the UK.

  • The population of Australia is about 23 million and it’s the size of a continent.

  • Gwyn Williams, the problem is that Australia and Canada don’t want many of us. They are very picky. Unfortunately the majority of us have not got the choice to leave the UK. Why should we? If you said that to the indigenous population of any other country you would be condemned.

  • “There is clearly deep disquiet in some quarters about the level of immigration, despite this being the home of the Australian-style points system. So, if those Australians who don’t like immigration are left unsatisfied by it, why should it be enough for British people who don’t like immigration? Some people just don’t like immigration, and no system that lets in even a single people will ever be acceptable to them.” – with the utmost respect, do you think that given a choice people in Australia and/or the UK would choose “mass uncontrolled immigration” or “an Australian points system”? Granted some might still not be happy, however at least out of the EU, they could directly vote in a government that make the points system at a higher level, etc.?

  • I believe there are around 2 million UK citizens living in the EU so not all one way

  • As Nigel has said so often, we need to leave the EU well we now have that chance

  • It’s plain to me that most of us have no idea of what the rules of immigration to the UK are so we can have endless arguments and never reach an informed conclusion. If we are going to take this on as part of our IN campaign (and I don’t see how we can avoid it) then I think it would be very useful to include a simple guide in our literature.
    With regard to Australia, I’m not sure whether those who have commented have taken into account that it is a vast desert with settlements around the coast. With global warming areas which could previously have been farmed are retreating back to desert. My daughter lives in Perth where new houses are being built with small backyards and no garden because land is expensive and demand for property high. It may well be the case in other areas. This may begin to explain the stirrings of the anti immigrant brigade. Of course Australia operated a whites only immigration policy until the sixties I think so racism is likely to be part of the present complaints about immigration.

  • Rebecca Taylor 24th Feb '16 - 5:19pm

    To answer some questions/points raised here:

    – The EU has no control whatsoever over the UK’s immigration policy towards non EU nationals. We can do as we wish.

    – UKIP are now rather dishonestly telling South Asian communities that if the UK leaves the EU then their families/friends will be able to come to the UK far more easily. Given UKIPs fairly recent policy of stopping all immigration and the views of some of their members and supporters towards people of South Asian origin, I find that highly unlikely.

    – EU freedom of movement only applies to EU citizens. So any genuine refugees granted asylum in another EU country only have the right to live there; they can’t freely move to another EU country (including the UK). If they remain in an EU country long enough to apply for and be granted citizenship and become an EU citizen, they can then benefit from free movement. That process takes the best part of a decade in most countries.

    – The UK is the biggest beneficiary of EU free movement as more British citizens than any other individual EU nationality live in another EU country. The total number is at least TWO MILLION and it’s probably higher due to some British immigrants not being properly registered as resident where they live. #ironyalert

    – The UK isn’t even the EU country with the highest total number of EU migrants (Germany & Spain have more) or highest percentage (Luxembourg, Belgium & Cyprus are much higher).

    – Even freedom of movement for EU citizens is conditional; if you want to stay for more than 3 months, you need to be able to show you can support yourself and have health insurance coverage. Countries can use a “habitual residence test”, which involves verifying things like source of income (whether a student, worker or pensioner), health coverage and housing situation. In the UK we have no system of population registration, which makes this more difficult. In Belgium where I used to live, to register as resident I had to show my employment contract (proof of income), my rental contract (proof of housing) and social health insurance coverage (I showed proof of joining the Belgian mutuelle system).

  • Thank you Rebecca – would you please try to rebut each of these points: http://www.ukip.org/busting_the_eu_myths ?

  • David Inman 25th Feb '16 - 5:02pm

    I am nearly 80 and wheelchair-bound. I depend on carers 3 times a day. The care company I use has tried but failed to employ enough UK carers. Last year they started employing Romanians. These now form about three-quarters of the workforce and I get on very well with them all. If restrictions are placed on EU citizens working here, the care sector would be unable to cope. I suspect the same is true of agriculture, restaurants and hotels. I believe that they should not be able to claim benefits straight away, and one carer told me that she had to prove she had work in order to get a NI number. We need to press the leave campaign as to how they would deal with this, as Australian type quotas would not.

  • It has long bothered me that the people who tend to vote for UKIP etc and argue against EU immigration are so often the kind of people who could actually benefit from the open doors if they chose to make it work. I know that I’m going to come over a bit Norman Tebbit here, but frankly the argument that “they’re coming over here using our NHS and taking our jobs” really doesn’t wash when, if you’ve got a bit of gumption, you can go to France and use a more efficient health service, or to the Netherlands to get a degree, or retire to Spain or Italy.

    The fact is that, instead of shying away from immigration because it’s a policy the “people” don’t like, we should be out there shouting the benefits of it. (And for those who say “well, I can’t speak French or German”, I say “Didn’t you complain about those Polish workers who came here and couldn’t speak English?”)

  • @Keith – with the utmost respect, it seems logical what you say – however, I am not sure that people should be coerced to leave their country: ie the UK.

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