Jonathon Porritt calls for progressive case for taking control of EU immigration

| 7th December 2017
Black and white, low key portrait of Jonathan Porritt

Jonathan Porritt, author of The World We Made, feels the Green Party must still discuss population. 

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JONATHON PORRITT, author of The World We Made, joined the Green Party four decades ago. At that time the party keenly debated population growth, and the impact this would have on the environment. Today, Porritt argues, the referendum and anxiety around immigration means progressives still need to discuss this hotly contested issue.

These increasingly significant deficits are not caused by high levels of immigration: they’re caused by wretchedly inadequate economic and fiscal policy.

When I joined the Green party in the mid-1970s population was a big issue, regularly debated with enthusiasm and intellectual rigour. People joining the Green party today would have to wait a long time before even hearing the word mentioned – and then might easily find themselves ‘warned off’ from this no-go territory.

I just don’t get this. In a world where overall population growth projections are rising, and where global migration is still on the rise, it’s a complete dereliction of all environmentalists’ duty to protect the planet (particularly members of the Green party) to continue to ignore population growth and not to campaign for its reduction. Without such a reduction, all solutions to other aspects of ecological and social concern are made far more difficult to deal with.

A couple of weeks ago, myself and Colin Hines published a paper entitled The Progressive Case for Taking Control of EU Immigration – and Avoiding Brexit in the Process. This case is simple: Brexit could still be reversed; hard Brexit can certainly be avoided.

Population growth

But this won’t happen unless Labour, the Lib Dems and the Green Party stop dickering around and come up with some serious ideas about more effectively managing immigration into and between EU countries. Without that, many of those who voted Brexit will cry out in rage at the referendum result being seen to be ‘set aside’, given that concern about immigration was paramount in their minds at that time. 

Uncomfortable though this might be for contemporary greens – and indeed for all progressives – high levels of population growth and immigration go hand-in-hand. If net migration continues at around recent levels, then the UK’s population is expected to rise by nearly 8 million people in 15 years, almost the equivalent of the population of Greater London (8.7 million).

At least 75 percent of this increase would be from future migration and the children of those migrants. As already indicated, future population growth would not stop there. Unless something is done about this growth, it is projected to increase towards 80 million in 25 years and keep going upwards.

It’s important to be completely logical about this. For instance, the UK is already struggling to maintain critical infrastructure, to meet housing demand, and to invest sufficiently in education, healthcare and social services.

As Colin and I unhesitatingly pointed out in our paper, these increasingly significant deficits are not caused by high levels of immigration: they’re caused by wretchedly inadequate economic and fiscal policy, going back at least a couple of decades. But continuing population growth clearly exacerbates those deficits.

Resolutely defended

The UK’s Total Fertility Rate has not been above 2.1 children per mother since 1972, but ‘population momentum’ (the increase in the numbers of births when babies born at the peak of population growth reach reproductive age), plus net immigration, has led to a population increase of nearly 10 million people since 1972.

And these challenges can only get worse. We know, as a matter of increasingly painful inevitability, that the lives of tens/hundreds of millions of people (particularly in Africa and the Middle East) will be devastated by the effects of climate change.

We know that many of those people will have no choice but to leave their homes and communities if they are to have any prospect of survival, let alone a better life. And we know that many of them will seek to come to Europe, as the place that offers the best possible refuge in an all-encompassing storm that is not of their own making.

How can anyone suppose that an ‘open borders’ positioning is an appropriate response to that kind of backdrop? How can most progressives stick to the line that the EU’s principle of ‘freedom of movement’ should be resolutely defended, especially after resurgent right-wing populism has had such a negative impact on elections this year in France, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria?

All I can do, therefore, is to urge all environmentalists to open up their minds again and re-think the whole population/immigration nexus – from a radical, genuinely progressive perspective.  

This Author

Jonathon Porritt is an environmentalist and author.