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Should greens back immigration controls?

Two senior green campaigners have today released a paper calling on UK environmentalists and people on the political left to recognise the need for action on immigration. PM patron Jonathon Porritt and Colin Hines argue in The progressive case for taking control of EU immigration – & avoiding Brexit in the process that progressive politicians should adopt a policy of “no new mass immigration” and end reflexive support for the principle of free movement of people.​

Jonathon Porritt

They maintain that doing so will increase social justice, help address environmental problems, weaken the influence of right wing populism and be of benefit to many countries which currently lose people through emigration to the UK and other developed countries.

Migration and globalisation

The paper outlines the extent of population growth and the role of net migration in driving it in the UK and describes how public concern about immigration has been consistently high and was a major contributing factor to the Brexit decision.

Porritt and Hines affirm their own belief in the value of immigration, the obligation to respect the rights of existing immigrants and their profound opposition to racism and xenophobia. They argue that progressive politicians have, however, long had a confused approach to immigration and that ignoring or rejecting public concerns on the issue is counterproductive and unjustifiable.

In the view of the authors, population pressure has contributed to inequality and declining quality of public services in the UK – although they maintain that the root cause of these problems is government policies starving services and infrastructure of resources.

They also maintain that freedom of movement tends to favour the wealthy and the neoliberal globalisation agenda, by depressing some wages and enhancing the power and freedom of corporations and employers, rather than workers.

Migration and economic development

The paper addresses the challenging issue of how migration tends to push up environmental harms, as people move to places with greater economic development and higher environmental footprints. (That dynamic applies to British emigrants too – two of the top three UK emigration destinations, the US and Australia, have higher per capita CO2 emissions than the UK.)

The authors affirm that despite potential environmental harms, people living in developing countries have a fundamental right to economic development. It states:

“First and foremost, we have to redouble the commitments that we make to improve people’s economic and social prospects in [potential emigrants’] own countries. And the crucial thing is to tackle the root cause of why people feel they have no choice but to leave friends and communities in the first place.with genuine and effective action to improve people’s economic situation in their own countries.” 

The population taboo

In a concluding note on population, the paper says:

“In a world where overall population growth projections are rising, and where global migration is also on the increase, it is a complete dereliction of environmentalists’ duty to protect the planet to continue to ignore population growth and not to campaign for its reduction. Without this decrease, all solutions to other aspects of ecological and social concern are made far more difficult to deal with. This refusal to engage becomes harder and harder to explain.”

Population Matters’ support

In a statement about the paper, PM director Robin Maynard said:

An early draft of this report was titled, ‘Getting real about immigration’ – being directed at the Green Party and the green movement generally that would have been a good title; even better with one small change, ‘Getting real about population’.

As Colin Hines and Jonathon Porritt demonstrate, the green movement, which prides itself on being ‘progressive’, has been willfully blind to the issue of population, whether here in the UK or globally. It is particularly ironic, that by dismissing the concerns of a broad swathe of the British public about immigration and overall population growth, the greens find themselves in harness with neo-liberal free-marketeers and unscrupulous employers, who exploit fine principles about ‘free movement of people’ to force down wages and avoid investing in training. As NHS budgets are squeezed, desperate hospital trusts are forced to suck in already trained doctors and nurses from elsewhere – such as Romania, where the number of doctors has fallen by one-third over the past 5 years – making the UK the second largest importer (or should that be depleter?) of health workers in the world.

The latest projections, released last month, by the Office of National Statistics estimate that the UK population will grow to just under 70 million over the next 10 years and by another 16 million over the next 100 years. Globally, the world population is projected to reach over 11 billion people by 2100 – with much of that increase occurring in countries already suffering from the impacts of climate change, conflict and economic stresses. It is indeed time for the green movement to ‘get real’ about the issue of population. Not least, in supporting PM’s call for the UK Government to develop a Sustainable Population Policy.’


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