‘EU retaliatory migration sanctions will hurt Brits living abroad’
RT:Studies show that migration within the EU is beneficial to the British economy. So why are the British opposed to it so much?
Petros Fassoulas: I think the issue of migration has been used as a scapegoat to conceal certain structural faults within the British economy. The question here has to do more with the lack of skills in Britain which has attracted people from other parts of Europe to come and work [in the UK]. There are certain shortages in the labor market that cannot be filled domestically and that is why people from abroad are coming over to fill them. But in some cases there has been pressure locally on public services, on housing, and schooling because of the arrival of immigrants from other parts of the European Union. And the government rather than addressing the shortages in schooling, housing etc., investing in infrastructure, prefers to blame immigration not least to accommodate and address the xenophobic rhetoric used by the UK Independence Party.
RT:What impact will it have to the British economy if the UK limits migration?
PF: The Office for Budget Responsibility, the independent body set up by the government to monitor expenditure by the UK government, calculated that if migration from other EU [member-states] was completely cut, it will lead to the ballooning of the UK national debt. When people come over to work and they pay taxes, those taxes are used to pay for public services. If these people were not in the UK, the UK will have to borrow more in the markets to pay for social services, healthcare, and other things that the taxes of EU immigrants are paying for.
RT:At the same time, millions of UK citizens live and work in the EU. If Britain limits migration, might not the same be done to its citizens?
PF: I wouldn’t speculate how other member states might retaliate in the case of such a move. But it is true that over 2 million Brits live around the EU, some of them work, some of them receive benefits, and some others are just retiring now in the other countries. So they would indeed be hurt if other member states chose to impose similar restrictions on British citizens in case the UK government imposes such restrictions to EU citizens coming over here.
RT:The British are considered to be very hospitable and open-minded. So why are they so unhappy about the increasing flow of the immigrants?
PF: There is misunderstanding about the benefits of immigration in the UK economy mostly because our political leaders and, to some extent, our business leaders haven’t explained, haven’t taken the time to appease the fears people have of immigration. As a result, people feel a little bit reluctant to be as welcoming as they should be. But the British in general are a very open-minded nation, they are traders, travelers, they understand the benefits of free markets and open borders. And that is why they appreciate the opportunity to work and live anywhere they want around the EU. I think if we had an informed conversation about the benefits of immigration we would see a change of opportunity in the UK, and people will be much more welcoming, because at the end of day the British are indeed very hospitable nation.
RT:Why do Brits think they should be entitled to work and travel in Europe while at the same time denying this privilege to others?
PF: I think there is a problem in perception here. There is a feeling that far too many people have come to the UK, and at the same time not enough British have gone around the EU. People overestimate how many EU citizens live in the UK and underestimate how many British citizens live around the EU. And this is why there is feeling that it is ok for us to go out there and live and work in other member states. But we should limit the amount of people that come over here because far too many of them have come. We do explain that in fact the number of EU citizens living and working in the UK is very small and the vast majority of them contribute significantly in the economy.
RT:What can you say about freedom of movement around the EU? Do Brits really benefit from it?
PF: It is a significant issue. The free movement of people is one of the greatest achievements of the process of the European integration. The ability to travel across the EU, set up shop, build your life, study, and retire if you want in any member state - is significant indeed. It contributes massively in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) not just of the UK but of the EU as a whole. So it is important to ensure that this fundamental freedom is not compromised because it will have economic as well as political consequences. And it is important that leaders deal with it, address concerns that people might have, resolve the areas where the problems might arise and ensure that we continue to enjoy this fundamental freedom.
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