Harrogate: Future EU migration and public trust

We held our fourth Yorkshire and Humberside National Conversation discussion in Harrogate, a prosperous commuter town and tourist destination in the Dales, some 15 miles north of Leeds. Twenty years ago, Harrogate’s population was largely of white British ethnicity. Today, nearly 6% of the population has been born overseas, as a result of migration from overseas and the arrival of people who had previously lived in Leeds and Bradford.

I think even in Harrogate, five, six or seven years ago you wouldn’t have heard a foreign language on the street for example, and now you hear it all the time. It’s just an observation, I’m not saying it is right or wrong but just an observation that it’s the way it has been.

Harrogate’s migrant population is diverse. As well as Leeds and Bradford commuters who have been born overseas, migrants have come to Harrogate to work in its hospital. The council has taken in a small number of Syrian refugees, brought to the UK through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. But two-thirds of international migrants have come from the EU. We were told that the hospitality and retail sectors were dependent on migrant workers and we also had a long discussion about future EU migration.

In each of the places we visit, our citizens’ panel discussions debate the future options for EU migration after Brexit.  We ask people about changes that they would like to see made. Then we ask the citizens panel to vote on then discuss a series of policy options: retaining free movement, introducing quotas for low-skilled jobs, having the same rules for EU as non-EU migration, or bring in short-term visas. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland we have also asked participants if they like to see the devolved administrations given responsibility for visas. Although we do not yet know the UK Government’s preferred options for future EU migration –a number of options have been set out in a Government position paper and in the media.

Our citizens’ panel participants mostly want UK Government control over EU migration, with comparatively few people wanting to keep the current free movement rules. Generally our panels are equally divided on quotas for low-skilled jobs and applying the same rules for everyone, regardless of their country of origin. What is clear, however, is that there is very little support for temporary visa regimes, even in places such as Harrogate, where there are a lot of migrant workers working in seasonal jobs such as tourism.

“Think of the people who run business, perhaps in hospitality or maybe in building, the business managers need the continuity.”

Citizen’s panels also do not trust the Home Office to enforce a temporary visa regime. They use ‘common sense’ economic reasoning and, as in Harrogate, think about the impact of short term visa regimes in their local area.  Most importantly, our citizen’s panels want migrants to integrate, learn English and contribute to their local community. They associate short term visas with population churn and transience: “never knowing your neighbours”.

As the Government draws up its plans for future EU migration regimes, it is essential they take into account the public’s views on temporary visas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *