By Hugo Dixon
Hugo Dixon is Editor-at-Large, Reuters News. The opinions expressed are his own.
If the UK leaves the European Union, the main reason will probably be because people fear immigrants are overrunning the country. The best way of assuaging these concerns is to show how free movement of people within the EU benefits the economy and society overall, while acknowledging that some groups may be harmed and working hard to improve their lot.
So far, David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition party has not done this effectively. The field has therefore been left open to the UK Independence Party, which wants to pull Britain out of the EU and which has cleverly fanned and exploited the native population’s fears about immigration.
There are multiple concerns. One is that immigrants are taking British jobs. Another is that they are “scroungers,” coming to live off benefits. Other fears are that they are depressing wages (especially among the low-skilled), are responsible for a crime wave, make it harder for the native population to find homes, and are overloading schools, hospitals and other public services.
Most of these concerns are untrue or exaggerated when looking at the country as a whole, as the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) made clear in a report published last week. It focused on low-skilled immigration because that has been much more controversial than high-skilled migration.