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Leaving Europe so we can adopt Aussie-style immigration rules won’t solve a thing

February 21, 2016 2:59 PM
By Stuart Bonar in Liberal Democrat Voice

European flagsNigel Farage told the media last year, "I am saying that if we have an Australian-style points system, immigration would not be a problem." He made the point again earlier this month, speaking to Sky News.

The fact that inside the European Union we can't adopt a more restrictive Australian-style points immigration system is for many the single biggest reason there is to leave the EU. Rid ourselves of the shackles of Brussels, crack down, and, as Farage himself said, "immigration would not be a problem."

It's a point summed up by their migration spokesman, Stephen Woolfe MEP: "To restore Britain's borders, we need to leave the EU & implement a fair & ethical Australian style points based system."

Well, I'm on holiday in Australia this week, and I've been reading the papers. And one thing I can definitely say is that an Australian-style points system is no silver bullet when it comes to immigration.

This week the country's population topped 24 million. This was reported in Wednesday's Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) under the headline, "Cut immigration to preserve our way of life: Carr". Bob Carr is an Australian former foreign affairs minister.

Another newspaper, the Daily Telegraph (the Australian one) quoted Carr, "People wonder why their youngsters can't get housing in the big cities." And yet another newspaper, the Australian, quotes him as referring to "Australia's 'breakneck' immigration growth".

The next day's letters pages picked up where Carr left off. William Bourke, from Wollstonecraft, wrote to the Daily Telegraph about the "economic, environmental and social disaster that is unfolding" because of the level of immigration. In the letters section of the SMH, under the heading, "Swelling population has too high a price", D'Arcy Hardy of North Turramurra called for a review of the "real cost" of immigration on public services. And Terry Daly, from Randwick, wrote to complain about "overburdened schools, hospitals, transport, high property prices, and a corresponding stagnation in wages".

There is clearly deep disquiet in some quarters about the level of immigration, despite this being the home of the Australian-style points system. So, if those Australians who don't like immigration are left unsatisfied by it, why should it be enough for British people who don't like immigration? Some people just don't like immigration, and no system that lets in even a single people will ever be acceptable to them.

Last October even saw the launch of new political party here, the Australian Liberty Alliance, dedicated to campaigning against the impact - as they see it - of immigration on Australia. They launched with the help of Geert Wilders.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Friday, one of the party's Senate candidates for New South Wales, Kirralie Smith, quoted messages she'd received that complained about political correctness and sharia law. The same newspaper earlier in the week ran a front-page story about halal-certified rations for the Australian Army. That article also triggered a torrent of angry letters. This all sounds more than a little familiar, doesn't it? It's like an average day in the Daily Mail or Daily Express.

Easy access to Europe's single market is linked to free movement of people. You cannot have one without the other. The price of bringing in an Australian-style system would not only be Britain's exit from the EU; it would also mean new barriers between British businesses and the rest of Europe as we left the single market too. That would put us in a worse position than Norway or Switzerland, both of which accept free movement in exchange for selling their stuff freely and easily in Europe.

Worst of all nobody seems able to say how long this would take to sort out or what the trade-offs would be.

An Australian-style points system is no panacea. It doesn't seem to satisfy those Australians who don't like immigration, and I am sure it wouldn't satisfy Brits who don't like immigration either. And to decide to leave Europe so that we can implement this system is just crazy - massive cost, massive disruption and massive risk, all for a system that won't make a prickly political topic any less prickly.

* Stuart Bonar was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Plymouth Moor View.