Britons ready to sacrifice trade deals than allow higher levels of immigration from India/non-EU states

Vidya Ram London | Updated on March 06, 2019 Published on March 06, 2019

Delhi has expressed its concerns over London’s immigration policy, particularly towards students and professionals   -  REUTERS

Britons don’t want higher levels of immigration from India and many other non-EU countries even if it comes at the price of not securing a free-trade agreement, new research in the UK has found.

Only higher levels of immigration from the US, Canada and Australia would be tolerated in exchange for trade arrangements, a polling carried out on behalf of the Henry Jackson Society — a neo-Conservative think tank — found.

Opinion polling

The research points to one of the tensions at the heart of Brexit: While the British government pushes its vision of a “global” Britain, reaching out beyond Europe, with public opinion stacked against immigration from beyond the EU as well as from within it, the government could struggle to reach deals to boost trade with these nations.

Opinion polling conducted in early January suggested that just 9 per cent of the public were willing to accept significantly higher levels of immigration from India, with just 26 per cent willing to accept slightly higher levels, according to the research.

The same applies to a range of countries from South Africa, to China to Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Turkey, Russia, Japan and Saudi Arabia as well as to the EU and individual member-states such as France, Germany and Italy.

Critics of the government’s approach to Brexit have long questioned its ability to forge trade deals with non-EU countries as it attempts to revamp its trading priorities following Brexit.

While a trade deal with India has been repeatedly touted by the UK government, Delhi has highlighted its concerns around London’s immigration policy, particularly towards students and professionals.

“The UK has not really started to discuss what it is we are willing to give to others,” said David Henig, UK Director of the European Centre for International Political Economy and a former senior civil servant at the Department For International Trade. He pointed to another ongoing debate on whether Britain in its effort to gain a trade deal with the US should be willing to concede to lower standards when it came to things like food. While the government’s immigration white paper had suggested change was afoot, the willingness of the British public to support these was yet to be tested.

Henig said it was “premature” to conclude from the initial white paper that Britain’s planned post-Brexit immigration regime would be in line with the asks of would be FTA partners such as India.

“That is certainly the way they want to spin it but we will have to see when it comes into force…the evidence is that we don’t always follow through on this and besides the EU will be asking for this too…”

Fundamental approach

While Britain is overhauling its immigration regime to bring in a system based on the skills set of the person wanting to come to the UK rather than on their origin, it has been adamant that its fundamental approach has been welcoming of the “brightest and the best.”

Last year in evidence to a parliamentary committee, Britain’s foreign office insisted that India accounted for the largest number of individuals staying in the UK illegally.

In addition, according to official figures out last week, Indian professionals accounted for the majority of tier-II work visas in 2018.

In an acknowledgement of the significance accorded to Britain’s immigration regime by India, earlier this year officials from Britain’s Home Office travelled to New Delhi to “road test” the proposals for a new post-Brexit immigration system.

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Published on March 06, 2019
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