Rethinking Europe

Theresa May, Xenophobe: The Political Utility of the EU

Theresa May has long been obsessed with immigration. On that issue, she has managed to connect with some UK voters.

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Takeaways


  • In her time as the UK’s Home Secretary, from 2010 to 2016, Theresa May was obsessed with immigration.
  • Employers in the UK simply soaked up as many cheap European workers as they could find.
  • Skilled people from European immigration added to Britain's productivity.

In her time as the UK’s Home Secretary, from 2010 to 2016, Theresa May was obsessed with immigration.

Not for openness

In particular, she showed a downright xenophobic distaste for the number of students coming from overseas to do their degrees in the major economic growth sector of British universities.

She has also always disliked the fact that the European Union, since its founding days in the 1950s, has been based on the concept of freedom of movement of capital, goods, services and citizens.

Others feed the pain

The UK labor market, as shaped by Tony Blair and all his successors, was rich on employment, but low in pay and skills.

Employers simply soaked up as many cheap European workers as they could find. Given that these were skilled people, Britain’s productivity also profited.

A long tradition of importing labor

This approach just continued the past practice – all those many years when Irish, and then Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi workers poured into Britain from 1950 onward.

The job back then, as now, was to do all the jobs the true-born Englishman wouldn’t touch.

The EU as whipping boy

The difference to last century’s practice is that, in the 21st century, the populist right (and some left) politicians now have a convenient (and not even racist) target to blame for immigration – the enlarged European Union.

Hence all the vitriol directed at Brussels. It is a curious form of blame-shifting, if not a perverse reflection of self-hatred.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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