Britain should only take immigrants from rich European countries – a move that would cut Portuguese, Greeks and Poles out of the UK’s open labour market – according to the head of think tank Demos.
David Goodhart, director of Demos, has told the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills that EU immigration policy needs to be changed, because it is making the EU unpopular.
“The price that the EU pays in terms of unpopularity and mistrust is too high for the relatively modest economic gains associated with unqualified free movement,” Mr Goodhart told the civil servants and MPs canvassing opinions on the UK’s position in Europe.
Mr Goodhart – who calls himself “post-liberal” on Twitter and is author of a recent book, The British Dream, about how immigration has fractured British society – suggests that Britain should only take immigrants from countries which have an income per head which is 75 per cent of the EU average.
That would mean Britain would not open its labour market to anyone coming from a poor country. With an EU average income per head of $32,518 according to 2012 IMF figures, it is a definition which would exclude Greece, Poland, Portugal, Lithunia and Latvia, among others.
Mr Goodhart says this will stop poor EU countries “exporting unemployment” to richer EU countries like Britain. In this scenario people from those countries would still be able to come over to the UK if they had job offers, but would not be able to come over and then look for jobs, as they can now.
Mr Goodhart also wants a cap on the number of European immigrants per year, and for British businesses to be incentivised to employ British-born workers over workers born in continental Europe.
Immigrants from Europe should also have to wait two years before getting access to basic benefits including job seeker’s allowance, housing benefit and social housing, he proposes.
Mr Goodhart says the influx of 1.5 million eastern European immigrants since 2004 has had benefits for British employers and better-off citizens, and that these immigrants are likely to be net contributors to the welfare state.
But he says that immigration from eastern Europe has caused problems for people at the bottom end of labour market.
And he argues that eastern European immigration has caused cultural problems with some eastern Europeans mixing in well, but that others “live quite separately in their own enclaves and have little contact with the British population”.
Mr Goodhart admits that many of his proposed changes would be “largely symbolic”, and that the economy would still demand skilled immigrants from eastern Europe.
“A highly motivated Latvian graduate with relatively low wage expectations is still likely to be more attractive to employ than many young British citizens at the bottom end of the labour market, even with a state employment incentive that excludes the Latvian […] Nonetheless, the symbolism is important.”
But he says that a symbolic gesture towards national favouritism would make the EU more popular among Britons and take away support for political parties like Ukip.