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Immigration and the UK: Reflections After Brexit


  • Marco Alfano

    () (University of Strathclyde and CReAM)

  • Christian Dustmann

    () (University College London and CReAM)

  • Tommaso Frattini

    () (University of Milan, LdA and CReAM)


The recent referendum in the UK on membership of the EU has sent shockwaves across the political establishment not just in the UK itself and throughout Europe, but also around the world. In the runup to the referendum, economists were (perhaps for the first time) united in pointing out that the economic case for Brexit is rather slim, that hardly any well-argued reason could be given by the Brexit camp as to why it may be a good idea to leave the EU, and that the economic consequences could be severe. That lack of economic argument in favour of Brexit, which should have been the key battleground in the run up to the referendum, led the debate to focus on one particular issue, Immigration. Like the free movement of goods, capital, and services, a fundamental pillar of the EU, and a non-negotiable requirement for any new member state, is the free movement of people. It is that particular aspect of EU membership that became the strongest single assertion of the Brexit camp. The inability to control immigration f m within the EU was made a symbol for everything else Brexit stood for (such as the idea of “sovereignty†or the pain of being subjugated to “rules made in Brussels and not the UK†), but – again – fact-based arguments against free mobility on economic or welfare grounds were hard to find. Nevertheless, free mobility within the EU became quickly the scapegoat for the economic and social woes that had distressed the country since the great recession, and perhaps even earlier, such as crime, real wage decline, inequality, unemployment, access to social services, health provision, and benefits and transfers. “Immigration†and everything people associated with it and were encouraged to believe by a relentless campaign of the majority of the tabloid press decisively contributed to the decision that the UK took on June 23, 2016. Immigration and free mobility will likely again be central in the negotiations between the UK and its European partners in developing a model for Brexit that minimises the economic costs fo both the UK and the EU.

Suggested Citation

  • Marco Alfano & Christian Dustmann & Tommaso Frattini, 2016. "Immigration and the UK: Reflections After Brexit," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 1623, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
  • Handle: RePEc:crm:wpaper:1623

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Christian Dustmann & Tommaso Frattini & Caroline Halls, 2010. "Assessing the Fiscal Costs and Benefits of A8 Migration to the UK," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 31(1), pages 1-41, March.
    2. Christian Dustmann & Tommaso Frattini, 2014. "The Fiscal Effects of Immigration to the UK," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 124(580), pages 593-643, November.
    3. Sara Lemos & Jonathan Portes, 2008. "New Labour? The Impact of Migration from Central and Eastern European Countries on the UK Labour Market," Discussion Papers in Economics 08/29, Department of Economics, University of Leicester.
    4. Marco Manacorda & Alan Manning & Jonathan Wadsworth, 2012. "The Impact Of Immigration On The Structure Of Wages: Theory And Evidence From Britain," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 120-151, February.
    5. Christian Dustmann & Albrecht Glitz & Tommaso Frattini, 2008. "The labour market impact of immigration," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 24(3), pages 478-495, Autumn.
    6. repec:cep:cepbxt:05 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Christian Dustmann & Tommaso Frattini & Ian P. Preston, 2013. "The Effect of Immigration along the Distribution of Wages," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(1), pages 145-173.
    8. Paolo Lucchino & Dr Chiara Rosazza Bondibene & Jonathan Portes, 2012. "Examining the relationship between immigration and unemployment using National Insurance Number registration data," National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) Discussion Papers 386, National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
    9. repec:nsr:niesrd:386 is not listed on IDEAS
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    JEL classification:

    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • J68 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Public Policy

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