The day after the Brexit vote, our phones went crazy.
Everybody and their auntie was looking to catch the next visa out, most especially those startled ‘Remain’-ers who suddenly had a new incentive to vote ‘Leave’ with their feet.
And it wasn’t just all talk. Recent statistics have confirmed a post-Brexit drop in net UK immigration. We think those immigration figures are set to drop further.
By contrast, one year on, and our enquiry rates have still not dropped to pre-Brexit averages.
Here are the reasons we think Brexit could be your early warning sign to leave the UK -- now. And to go with them, a few notes about an alternative reality, on offer just across the pond.
Number Five: The bad news is here to stay.
Didn’t like the Brexit referendum result? Well, the June 2017 general election result may not be the welcome news that it might have first appeared.
Teresa May’s election black-eye means that, like Brexit or hate it, Brexit negotiations will be pursued by a weak, minority government propped up -- and you couldn’t have made this up -- by a wee radical unionist Irish party that can’t hold their own devolved government together at Stormont, but are now the go-to support for the government at Westminster. (#ToryBlushing).
That could leave the UK with the worst of all possible outcomes. The ‘Hard Brexit’ that would satisfy the staunchest Brexiteers may be less likely, but the ‘Remain’ result is (apparently) not on the table either. That leaves a negotiating team which is politically ham-strung, and that much less likely to produce an optimal result for the UK.
Instead, emboldened EU negotiators smell blood in the water. They have every reason to show how bad it gets for nations who dare to leave the bloc, while the UK doesn’t have the internal political cohesion necessary to stare-down their EU adversaries. (#BrexitDisaster.)
Meanwhile in Canada: star Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is enjoying not only the adoration of Canadian voters, but the wistful well-wishes of easily half of all US voters as well, who would swap Trump for Trudeau in a heartbeat. Canada’s ‘soft power’ in the world continues to increase.
Number Four: Brexi-nomics, the sequel.
A weak negotiating position is a disaster for the UK, because the EU may be about lots of different things, but it has always been about trade.
And we’re not talking ‘free trade’ anymore: that’s what you get if you stay in the EU. Costly trade and protectionist barriers are what you get if you leave. Whatever we might say about who our ‘most important’ trading partners are, trade with the EU does not need to falter much for the UK to feel the economic impacts profoundly.
Given that nearly 10 years on, headlines continue to reflect the fact the UK has not entirely escaped the shadow of the financial crisis, and it won’t take much of a downturn to rip the guts out of the tepid ‘recovery’ we’ve had in the years since.
So recall the pre-Brexit economic forecasts of terrible weather ahead with Brexit, which it seems we never got? That forecast might not have been wrong -- just early.
Meanwhile in Canada: Prime Minister Trudeau recently celebrated the go-ahead on a major free trade deal with the EU. Just the sort of deal the UK will hope for, and might well be denied. Worries that the Trump administration might dismantle NAFTA have faded, along with Trump’s political prowess getting his agenda through Congress.
Number Three: Tougher immigration controls ahead.
The connection between economic troubles and stricter immigration controls is well-established, and Brexit demonstrates how this connection is disturbingly close at hand. But Brexit is just part of a larger trend, which anyone thinking of leaving the UK should be mindful of.
It may seem darkly comical from a distance, but Donald Trump is in the White House today in no small part due to a promise to build a wall along the States’ Mexican border. The folks that message resonated with most are the economically squeezed “middle-Americans” who felt the recovery had passed them by. The connection between economics and immigration politics doesn’t get much clearer than that.
And it doesn’t end with the States: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently announced the abolition of a key Austalian visa (the 457), which had been a path to Australia for tens of thousands of people every year. Turnbull is betting that an ‘Australian jobs for Australian workers’ policy might boost his flagging polling figures. The Australian immigration service followed that up with tighter age limits, and by dropping still more skills classes off their high-demand immigration list.
Together, these events – and more like them, from Denmark (described in this space last year), to dark and angry noises from Austria to Hungary – demonstrate what might be just the start of a wider trend towards tightening borders, and less generous terms for voluntary and economic migrants.
Perhaps the West has reached ‘Peak Globalisation’, and is now headed down the other side. If so, Brexit could be the sign that flashing ‘Motorway Ends: Exit Here.’
Meanwhile in Canada: Canada was just named as the second best destination for migrants of all destinations worldwide, and Trudeau’s government has been instrumental in increasing immigration numbers. Not that that’s unusual: Canada has remained at the top of the ‘best quality of living’ leader board for years.
Number Two: Brexit uncertainty
Whatever else Brexit introduces to the UK economy or political geography, without question we are suddenly in uncharted waters.
This is the kind of uncertainty that markets hate: uncertainty that holds the potential to delay inward investment, defer domestic hiring decisions, and cause those with choices – multi-national businesses, jet-setters -- to choose somewhere else…somewhere less uncertain.
The most attractive emigration destinations simply don’t suffer from this uncertainty: Canada continues to welcome migrants to help stoke its robust economy. And Canada is not alone in providing certainty and stability: despite the recent trend towards tightening, Australia’s immigration policy offers opportunities across a wide range of emigration categories. And irrespective of Trump, the US continues to welcome huge numbers of immigrants annually.
These are destinations that consistently rank among the nations with the highest living standards worldwide, and none have such profound uncertainty hanging over its politics or national economy as is caused by Brexit.
Number One: the Brexit ‘last call’
As surprise upsets go, the Brexit vote was surely one for the ages. I had planned to watch the early returns, and then get a good night’s sleep.
I shuffled into the office the next morning dazed, not having slept a wink: Britain was leaving the EU!
And then the phones began to ring.
But of all the new clients we took on that day, and virtually all we’ve talked to since, I can’t recall any who said that Brexit was the only reason they, personally, were leaving the UK.
Indeed, for EU nationals of various stripes, the folks for whom Brexit holds the most uncertainty (and still does), the Brexit vote added a fresh, compelling reason to add to the list, but to a person, they were already thinking of leaving the UK.
In the end, that’s probably the balanced way to regard the Brexit situation. There may be tough times ahead, uncertain political arrangements, and a healthy dose of geopolitical drama. But for many, that won’t matter: they’re staying.
Brexiteers and Bremainers alike: they’re staying.
The Scottish are staying, recalcitrantly. The Northern Irish are staying, vexatiously. The Welsh are staying, grudgingly. They’re British after all, and they’ve seen off worse than this.
And there, hidden among the ranks of the many who frankly wouldn’t dream of leaving, are those who, truth be told, dream of little else. Some have never been further south than Brighton, but are fit to burst if they can’t leave.
Others, including some who may already have two (or more) passports, former homes distant in time and space, and migration stories already under our belts, are tied to the UK by love, or money, or circumstance. Many of us love it here: we’re all for staying for a little while longer.
But then we hear ‘Brexit!’ and it sounds, to our ears, like nothing so much as our local publican, announcing last call for drinks. We like this pub, and we might have stayed a while longer.
It’s Brexit time, so we’ll have just one more…and then it’s really time to hit the road.