The economists are right, we will all suffer if Britain pulls up the drawbridge to refugees

Britain can show it is open and outward-looking, both as an economy and a society - or we can rely on walls and borders

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The Independent Online

Forty years ago, a Tory prime minister faced a choice – recognise the UK’s moral and legal obligation to refugees, or listen to the voices calling for us to put up the shutters.  

Many in the press and Parliament would have preferred us to wash our hands of the East African Asians. Fortunately for them and for us, Edward Heath did the right thing. Now politicians describe them as “one of the UK’s greatest success stories”. We face a similar choice today. Europe, and Britain, have a responsibility to the million refugees who crossed the Med last year. The UK can and should do more. That is why more than 120 economists, many of them senior in the worlds of academia and policy, have published an open letter asking David Cameron to admit more refugees.

This week, legislators have a chance to take concrete action. The Lords will debate proposed amendments to the Immigration Bill which would allow more refugees with strong family links here. That is an example of how Britain could quickly, efficiently and at low cost offer safe, legal routes into the country for refugees – accompanied by the readymade integration assistance and support networks furnished by family members. 

But helping refugees is not just a moral issue. It is an economic one. Economists are almost unanimous on the economic benefits of immigration. As Philippe Legrain from LSE’s European Institute points out in his forthcoming paper on this topic, welcoming refugees is not only a humanitarian and legal obligation: it is an investment that can yield substantial economic dividends.  

In the UK, immigration over the past two decades has boosted jobs and growth. And it has had little impact on our own jobs or wages, while providing extra tax revenues to help us fund public services in the future. 

Britain can show it is open, confident and outward-looking, both as an economy and a society. Or we can rely on walls and borders. If we choose the latter, it won’t just be refugees who suffer. We will all be poorer.