Migration is a critical issue for the European Union (EU). The free movement of workers throughout the EU is enshrined in Titles IV and V TFEU; and Article 45 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This proposal aims to establish a permanent database of quantitative and qualitative data documenting Europeans’ attitudes towards formal migration and the free movement of persons in the wake of Brexit.
The UK’s withdrawal from the EU affects both British and EU labour markets across a range of sectors, including manufacturing, services industries, knowledge-based high-tech industries and education. Workers’ and businesses’ recruitment and employment decision-making will be affected by this profound shift in the EU labour market. In addition, the future EU-UK relationship will also impact upon social, health and labour policies, such as wages and pensions. For example, one of the key focuses of PROCAM’s research programme is ‘virtual migration’, where major sectors of the UK economy ‘near-shores’ particular skill sets (workers from the EU and non-EU European countries), ‘offshores’ other labour requirements (workers outside Europe) and ‘reshores’ specific tasks by importing human capital in both physical and virtual form both within and outside the EU.
The Project on Comparative Migration (PROCAM) analyses the implications of intra- and extra-EU migration in the context of the post-Brexit EU. Australian policy makers have a particular interest in the future development of the EU Single Market and its labour markets after the UK’s exit from the EU. Australia is currently negotiating a FTA with the EU. Australia is also finalising a FTA with the UK, which may include freedom of movement provisions that exceed GATS Mode 4, which covers the free movement of persons in the delivery of services. In 2017, the former Australian Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott, called for not only ‘absolutely free’ trade between the UK and Australia, but also the freedom of British and Australian citizens to reside in each other’s countries without restrictions. Consequently, as the UK seeks to fill labour market shortages following the cessation of free movement to and from the EU, both UK and Australian immigration policy in the current decade will also have major impacts upon EU, UK and Australian citizens’ immigration decisions.
As a consequence, the UK’s exit from the EU has had profound and immediate effects upon the movement of EU workers to and from the UK, and between the UK and Australia. The 2016 UK Brexit referendum was heavily influenced by EU labour market issues. Proponents of Brexit argued that EU immigration policy had had a negative impact upon the UK economy. A June 2016 IPSOS poll revealed that 48% of UK voters perceived immigration as a major issue, while 32% considered the EU a major issue. A 2015 Ipsos-Mori survey found that the average UK respondent greatly overestimated the proportion of immigrants in the country. The 2016 British Election Study asked respondents to identify, using their own words, what issue was most important when deciding how to vote in the referendum. Approximately 15,070 unique answers were collected. Responses were aggregated into ‘word clouds’. There is no empirical ground to doubt that Brexit was a vote against immigration. In 2019, a UK Migration Watch survey found that 37% of respondents said immigration by people coming to join family members who already live in the UK was bad for the country. Arguably, the free movement of workers has become a key concern for many UK voters. In their view, free movement has been the cause of unemployment, diminution of wages and working conditions and, increasingly, casualised employment.
Clearly, if migrant workers return from the UK en masse to their countries of origin, this would introduce significant distortions into their respective labour markets, as well as the UK labour market. However, this scenario is not highly probable. It is far more likely that, due to potential legal restrictions and other factors we propose to analyse in this work programme, the UK is less likely to be a viable option for migrant workers. The Johnson government’s policy platform states it will introduce an Australian-type points system to control immigration.
Thus, the migration route leading to the UK will have to be replaced by other routes, within the framework of a smaller EU labour market. Given that freedom of movement to the UK for EU citizens is likely to be more restrictive in the wake of Brexit, a major question raised by PROCAM is what countries will become the chief immigration destinations following Brexit? Conversely, if the UK implements a relatively-open, merit and skills-focussed immigration regime, will this continue to attract skilled EU workers? These are critical questions for EU and national public policy makers in the 2020s.
The implementation of new restrictions on the movement of workers between the EU and UK following Brexit’s implementation will not be exclusively the result of a legal-regulatory regime. Behavioural and attitudinal factors will also play a major role in preventing migrant workers to and from the UK. Importantly, migration studies also need to consider that Brexit not only led to the gradual polarisation of opinions among UK citizens, but it also resulted in variegated reactions, behavioural changes and perceptions of migrants already living in Britain, as well as EU citizens residing outside the UK. Drawing upon these premises, PROCAM’s analysis focuses on the impacts of Brexit on Europeans, particularly upon behaviour-change and expectations relating to UK migration policy.