The UK has a growing problem with prejudice against immigrants and foreigners1,2,3. A smattering of horrible racist gangs such as Combat 18 and National Front dispersed into a series of more media-savvy outfits, giving leadership, expertise and followers to Britain First, UKIP and the English Defence League (EDL)4. They run on a popular3 platform of anti-immigration and anti-EU rhetoric. These groups, spurred on by misinformation and distortions in online social bubbles of hate, became so popular as to shift the Conservative Party, the UK's main party, to the extreme right of mainstream politics. Nationalism, prejudice and racism has become overt over the past 10-15 years5, and mainstream defence of human rights and democracy is under attack along with ill-defined "lefties".
Some very popular papers report on immigration in entirely skewed and negative terms6,7. The formula is that everything bad can be tied to immigration, foreigners and fraudulent asylum seekers.2. The UK does not have high levels of immigration3 but it is impossible to reach a sensible view of the truth by relying on the hot-blooded, xenophobic and misleading diatribes of some popular newspapers such as The Daily Mail2, The Express, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph and The Sun.2,8. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights singled out The Sun as a source of hate due to its dehumanisation and demonisation of migrants9. These newspapers are also the most popular. How can the populace ever vote in elections wisely, when their understanding of migration is tainted with this type of horrible bias? The emotional response (even if followed up with more careful news reports seen elsewhere) is hard to replace with balanced tolerance. There is nothing to stop the papers endlessly peddling this type of trash: it sells because it panders to fear and ignorance, and in being sold, they encourage those traits in readers.
“Opinion polls consistently show that Britons are concerned about immigration, which they think is running out of control. [...] Television images of Afghans pouring into the Channel Tunnel particularly offended the island mentality. For the last three years, fewer would-be refugees have made it to Britain, thanks to better border security [...]. The number of asylum-seekers is now the lowest it has been for more than a decade. Oddly, though, public disquiet is as strong as ever.”
An Ipsos Mori poll in the summer of 2013 found that across multiple areas of popular opinion, including such hot topics as crime, benefit fraud and immigration, public opinion was in sync with the sensationalist headlines of cheap newspapers, rather than in sync with reality. People think that recent immigrants make up an astounding one third of the population (in reality, it is 13%). Non-whites are thought to make up 30% of the population. The reality is that only 11% of the British population is Asian or black. A few popularist media outlets - and pseudo-documentaries - have concentrated on the "waves" of immigrants who come to the UK in order to claim benefits, even though the vast majority come here to work, and go home when they're done (just as us Brits do when we work abroad). "The public think that £24 of every £100 of benefits is fraudulently claimed. Official estimates are that just 70 pence in every £100 is fraudulent". Across the board, people blame 'foreigners' for financial and social woes in a way that is often not actually racist, but is certainly very uninformed - and misinformed. They think that foreign aid is one of the top 3 three things the government spends money on - after a long series of misleading articles by the Daily Mail newspaper - and several anti-foreigner parties have campaigned with the policy that this has to end. But in reality, foreign aid makes up 1.1% of the budget, and lots of that goes to countries where we have a national interest in fostering stability anyway. These things really ought to be no issue at all, but numbers get inflated along with people's concerns and biases.
Countries such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden all accept a higher rate of asylum seekers than the UK and yet these countries do not have the problems that many in the UK complain about. Denmark's rate of 74% makes our 43% look positively timid. Although papers such as the Daily Mail make it seem otherwise, the influx of Asylum Seekers is very low compared with skilled and employed immigrants. Some single-issue parties make themselves popular purely on an anti-immigration and anti-foreigner stance.
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is one of many to raise the alarm bells about the tone of voice that many in the nation are taking.
“I have talked with others who are worried not only by the scale and the costs of migration but because, they say, `the government has lost control of our borders.”
"Britain: Leading, Not Leaving: The Patriotic Case for Remaining in Europe" by Gordon Brown (2016)1
“British society... has morphed during my years on air into a space where... people who once felt compelled by common decency (or `political correctness´ as they often prefer to describe it) to keep their most vile views to themselves, now feel free to shout them from the rooftops.”
The 2016 referendum on the UK's membership of the EU has highlighted the popular concern about the EU's free-labour-market policy, especially (for racists and nationalists) the free movement of labour.
Irresponsible popular newspapers such as The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Telegraph, have ran long campaigns, spreading misconceptions and hostility to Europe, even though neither "troubles to keep a staff correspondent in Brussels" to see what is going on there. As a result of British prickliness "many EU countries are fed up with Britain and especially, with the Tories". In a democratic institution involving so many countries the only way to get what you want is to compromise, so senior Conservative leaders have expressed hope for a more harmonious relationship, including Mr Cameron and William Hague.10
“Why is the Tory party so Eurosceptic? One answer is that it reflects public opinion. So the real question should be why so many of the British (and more specifically, the English) are so hostile to the European project. Eurobarometer polls consistently put Britain at or near the bottom of the heap in answers to such questions as whether EU membership is a good thing or how much trust people have in the EU institutions. The explanation for such views is to be found partly in the country's geography and history, partly in its experience as a member and partly in ignorance and prejudice. [...] Making things worse is a profound ignorance of what the EU does and how it works.”
One effect, because of the sensationalism of the press, is a massive exaggeration in the popular mind of how many EU immigrants there are in the UK. Even those who accept and embrace the EU (i.e. 'Remain' voters in the 2016 referendum) think there are twice as many EU immigrants as there really are:
Source: Ipsos MORI poll (2016)11
Europhobia is a compound effect of various elements of trash culture combined: xenophobia, adult ignorance, distrust of intellectuals and reliance on poor sources of news on politics.
The National Front (NF), the British National Party (BNP), and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) are three well-known anti-immigration and anti-foreigner parties in the UK. They nestle alongside like-minded groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and horrible thugs such as Combat 18. Leadership and membership swap between all these organisations relatively freely with most of them being offshoots of one-another. Some are merely drinking clubs for racists and who get an inordinate amount of attention from the media, whilst others (such as UKIP) have had genuine impact on the populace of the UK. They all have anti-EU policies. Their policies are dangerously shallow and single-minded. They appeal to nationalists of the most hateful and simple kind. On account of the long-term damage such parties do to the UK and to other European countries, Russia has been quietly and effectively supporting right-wing parties12,13 in order to further its own interest in a fractured Europe14.
The average age that supporters of these parties left school is significantly lower than for other parties: 55% and 62% of UKIP and BNP supporters (respectively) left school at or before the age of 16; nearly double the average rate of the 4 main parties (at 32%). Possibly linked is the employment status of UKIP and BNP supporters which show an outstandingly high number of manual workers and unemployed, and the lowest proportion of professional and managerial workers.15
Liberal debater James O'Brien comments that some outlets are free from this prejudice, such as The Guardian and other "pockets of resistance", however, they have small readerships and are "preaching almost pointlessly to the choir"2. As for many others, he says that the hate and division is being intentionally stoked by editors such as Gallagher of The Sun. Some papers are particularly prone to prejudice and spreading hate.
“The likes of Kelvin MacKenzie at the Sun and latterly Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail, inarguably the two most powerful and toxic propagandists of the last 30 years, were [also] offering up generous portions of xenophobic fire and brimstone on a daily basis.”
2015 saw an international crises as large numbers of desperate refugees fled across the Mediterranean; in April 2015 over 1300 people drowned there. A study was conducted by the Cardiff School of Journalism.
“Media also differed widely in terms of the predominant themes to their coverage. For instance, humanitarian themes were more common in Italian coverage than in British, German or Spanish press. Threat themes (such as to the welfare system, or cultural threats) were the most prevalent in Italy, Spain and Britain.
Overall, the Swedish press was the most positive towards refugees and migrants, while coverage in the United Kingdom was the most negative, and the most polarised. Amongst those countries surveyed, Britain´s right-wing media was uniquely aggressively in its campaigns against refugees and migrants. [...]
This can be seen, for instance, in the low proportion of articles which featured humanitarian themes (Daily Mail 20.9%, The Sun 7.1%, EU average 38.3%) as well as the high percentage of articles which emphasised the threat that refugees and migrants pose to Britain´s welfare and benefits system (Daily Telegraph 15.8%, Daily Mail 41.9%, The Sun 26.2%, EU average 8.9%).”
"Press Coverage of the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in the EU: A Content Analysis of Five European Countries" by Berry, Garcia-Blanco & Moore (2015)7
The reason is that the popular press is heavily right-wing in nature, and, Europe has higher press standards in general; outlandish claims by right-wing extremists were routinely questioned and debated. Whereas in the UK, anti-immigrant parties were given the freedom to speak - nay: shout, rant and rave - without interruption, and in most papers their dehumanizing views were reinforced by the rest of the paper's editorial and opinions sections.
This creates an environment where people are radicalized against immigrants, making fact-based debates impossible. The Guardian was much fairer in its approach, and the Daily Mirror also managed to run some balanced articles16.
The worst of all the UK's national press outlets, the The Daily Mail, has run decades of campaigns against immigrants; this itself was a follow-on from the 1940s where it wholeheartedly supported the Fascist regime in Germany. It does not attempt a neutral approach7, nor let mere things like fact checking get in the way of a good hate story.
Asylum seekers in London. The Daily Mail regurgitated a report from The Economist about an increase in foreign workers in London, inserting negative and untrue commentary about asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, distorting the facts to the point of complete falsehood.
“The Economist report was almost entirely good news: the influx had given London the highest growth rate in the century; 67% of these foreign workers were from high-income countries; many of them were better educated than most Londoners; they were particularly diligent workers; and, by pushing up the price of houses, they had allowed a mass of Londoners to fulfill their dream of selling up and moving to the countryside which, in turn, had boosted the economy of rural towns. But in the hands of the Mail, this became bad news about the usual enemy.
The Mail opened its story with two sentences which were 100% fiction: 'London has become the immigration capital of the world, according to a report. More foreigners are now setting in London than even New York or Los Angeles.' Nothing like that appeared in the Economist report. The story went on to insert a killer paragraph, which was also pure Daily Mail, based on nothing at all from The Economist: 'Hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants, as well as failed asylum seekers, have set up home in the capital in the past ten years.' [... The Mail continued, ] claiming that these foreigners were 'forcing many Londoners to flee the capital as property prices soar'.”
Most migrant workers do their job and go home, paying taxes while here, and not even bothering to stay for pensions or the welfare of old age. The Daily Mail strikes fear into the populace with its inflated stories, misleading numbers and bias. People read the paper and get angry about immigration in general, furthering the type of trash culture attitude that makes people vote for anti-immigration single-issue parties, and buy the Daily Mail in the first place.
Asylum seeker protections, resulting from a court case. "It could have been reported like this: 'A High Court judge yesterday moved to protect children who have fled from rape, murder and massacre in war zones. In a ruling which was welcomed by refugee groups and specialist lawyers, Mr Justice Burnton attacked local authorities that have denied housing to refugee children simply because they could not prove they were under 18.' The Mail reported it like this: 'The beleaguered immigration system was dealt another blow yesterday when a High Court judge made it harder for officials to catch fraudulent young asylum seekers.'"17
False documentation. This example highlights that this type of news reporting infuses normal issues that are almost nothing to do with immigration. "The Mail ran an investigation into the easy availability of false identity papers. They could have linked this to all kinds of people, who might want to cheat the system - professional fraudsters, benefit fiddlers, escaped prisoners, wanted criminals, runaway fathers, runaway sex offenders, undischarged bankrupts, defrocked priests, disqualified drivers and discredited journalists. They focused the entire front-page story and inside spread on 'bogus asylum seekers and fanatics'."17.
Housing standards improved for the old and vulnerable. Housing is a thorny issue in a country as crowded as the UK. Given the pressures, too many corners are cut, and thus, the law requires a higher standard of housing for old people, reports Nick Davies. However asylum seekers could still be housed in substandard accommodation. When standards are improved for the older and vulnerable, how was it reported by the Daily Mail? 'WHAT KIND OF COUNTRY DO WE LIVE IN WHEN FRAIL OLD LADIES ARE TURNED OUT OF THEIR HOME TO MAKE WAY FOR FIT YOUNG ASYLUM SEEKERS' and 'WIDOWS ORDERED OUT, THEN ASYLUM SEEKERS MOVE IN'.17
Immigrants pushing down wages. This was a key feature of The Daily Mail's campaign against the EU in the mid-2010s. In the wake of this, after a drawn-out dispute, the Daily Mail was forced to increase the wages it paid its London cleaners of its Kensington offices. The Daily Mail paid the workers somewhat less than the London Living Wage, refusing to pay more than £7.50 an hour - that's a torturous salary of 15k, in London. After a trade union campaign and subsequent threatened strikes in early 2018, they relented. Why is this important? Because the 31 cleaners were mostly immigrants. In this case, while publishing multiple newspaper articles accusing immigrants of bringing down wages, the Daily Mail itself was forcing down wages. It's not the immigrants, it's the greedy bosses. In 2017, Paul Dacre, the long-term editor at the Mail at the time, earned £2.37 million.2
“[The Daily Mail] routinely peddles the notion that immigration drives down the wages of `ordinary´ workers had its offices cleaned by adults earning about £15,600 a year, while its editor received £2.37 million [until] a campaign undertaken in early 2018 by the United Voices of the World trade union. On behalf of the 31 cleaners, they secured over 100,000 signatures on a petition demanding they be paid the London Living Wage.”
The Sun. Many are conscious of the daftness of their campaign against immigrants and asylum seekers after a long series of outlandish claims, but the paper often goes well beyond ridiculous into truly dark territory with its aggressive anti-foreigner approach7. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights singled out The Sun as a source of hate due to its dehumanisation and demonisation of migrants9. In any other industry in the developed world, being criticized from such a source would lead to a change of management. The Sun carries on regardless, blind to the needless confusion and suffering they are causing.
A recurring falsehood comes from the UK's 3-monthly employment figures, which are routinely misinterpreted by tabloids newspapers, who have been repeatedly corrected.
“The figure of 414,000 from which the "4 in 5" statistic is derived does not refer to new hires. It refers to the net increase in jobs - in other words, new hires minus people who switch jobs, retire, stop working and so on. The proportion of new hires filled by non-UK born workers in 2014 was about 17.5%, according to London School of Economics´ Jonathan Wadsworth. What´s more, non-UK born workers includes not just foreign nationals but UK nationals born abroad, such as Boris Johnson.”
A Sunday Times internal investigative group called Insight was once given a directive to investigate immigration and asylum. "They found that it was true, as right-wingers had alleged, that the asylum process was in chaos; but they also found impressive evidence that immigration was good for the country" reports Nick Davies; immigrants paid much more in taxes than they extracted, boosted the economy, and were better-educated on average that Brits themselves. But the Sunday Times' editorial team forbade their own investigative group to write on the positive findings; "they were allowed to write only the first part of the story"17. This type of selection bias operates in full swing on hot topics such as immigration and skews the public's understanding of immigration issues.
An Island Nation of Ex-Slave-Owners: It is a truism that without immigration, island nations such as the UK simply wouldn't exist. Not only does denying the value of legal immigration deny our own history as an island, but, long after we were established as a people, we engaged ourselves fully in the slave trade, forcibly bringing thousands of foreigners into our midst18, many of whom were forced into poverty-stricken areas with poor employment where there were few prospects to emancipate themselves and make their ways home. We are not morally justified in now chastising the descendants of those that we forced to come here, any more than we be angry with our own ancestors for coming here to this island, as immigrants themselves. If an islander wants to remove immigrants, (s)he should probably start with removing hirself!
Plenty of Brits Live and Work Abroad. The UK is an international country, with ties all over the world. In 2010, 9% of Brits worked abroad19 and there are 1.3 million British expats in Europe20. As we can go work in other countries, others can come work in ours. Economics isn't a zero-sum game, and wealth-building in the modern world requires an international labour force that comes and goes in two directions.
If you argue that there should be fewer foreigners, then, you are also making that argument that we shouldn't be free to live and work abroad ourselves. This logical conclusion is nowhere argued for by anti-foreigner plebs, underlining the fact that their opinions are a result of emotional, and not moral, factual or logical considerations.