The European migrant crisis has been playing a big part in European politics since 2015. Since Brexit was voted people have discussed the reasons that could be behind it, one of them being the wish to reduce the number of refugees accepted into the UK. In which ways could the European immigration politics be affected by this? Are there any articles or debates on the topic?

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    Do you have a source for the "wish to reduce the number of refugees"? Most Brexit debate focused on the number of Migrants particularly Eastern European EU Migrants, I'm not aware of any particular interest in reducing the number of refugees as a driver for Brexit.
    – Jontia
    Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 10:13
  • @Jontia, pri.org/stories/2016-06-24/… , politico.eu/article/… , en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alan_Kurdi_lifeless_body.jpg. I don't know about you or anybody else, but that last link was the one thing that almost convinced me to vote Leave. Any organization that can be so inhumane as to encourage this kind of appalling disaster deserves no good things. I still struggle to reconcile the actions of Merkel and Junkers alongside remaining in the EU.
    – ouflak
    Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 14:14
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    @ouflak but the image you've linked is caused by the EU not working together to accept refugees. A situation that would be exacerbated by the UK reducing the amount of refugees it accepts. The Vote Leave message of "Stop Refugees" (thanks for the text link), means you would get more situations like Alan Kurdi, not less.
    – Jontia
    Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 16:40
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    How would a message of "Stop Refugees" incite people by the hundreds of thousands to pay huge amounts of money (often everything they have), climb into 'boats' that weren't seaworthy by any measure, and die by the tens of thousands? Once Turkey agreed to take back refugees, the flow dropped by 97%. dw.com/en/the-eu-turkey-refugee-agreement-a-review/a-43028295 In this real world that we are all living in, the exact opposite of what you are saying is true. In any case, it's clear that the refugee crisis was driver for Brexit, not a central one, but an important one.
    – ouflak
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 7:53
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    Here is a good read: wapo.st/2TRJmmT Basically it suggests that immigration was a driving factor in the Brexit vote, but now immigration isn't the number one issue anymore
    – Carson
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 21:33

2 Answers 2


The successful leave vote gave a big push to other xenophobes and general euroskeptics, nationalists and far-right objectives within Europe.

As this is directed to blaming groups of people for general problems, the constructs like "immigrants are others; others are bad and causing or amplifying our problems" have gained public acceptance and in elections it can be observed that a shift took place to parties and movements that neither support the current state of the European Union nor its current immigration policy. Sometimes these populist groups even agitate against migrants in general and in the most racist ways imaginable.

In general the support for past immigration policies is dwindling and once agreed upon treaties and regulations are questioned and boycotted. UKIP as one of the main driving forces behind Brexit is now seen as a emulatable and imitable ideal by many far-right parties across Europe. The xenophobic elements in the Leave campaign didn't prevent its success, it fostered it. Nationalist elements across Europe took notice of this victory and employed the same. Formally pro-European elements took also notice and for a large part now are scared for lack of votes in the next election. These people and parties now want to be as right-wing and anti-immigrant as the populists, and pre-empt their goals in further restricting immigration, which wasn't all too welcoming even before that, as evidenced by all those people dying at sea or prevented from even entering eg Hungary.

The above doesn't say that everyone in Britain is a xenophobe, it doesn't even say that all Leave voters are xenophobic, stupid, nationalist, racist or vile. But it does say that most of them were. Additionally, most of the voters in favour of leave were those 'left behind', disenfranchised and otherwise less well-to-do or outright victims of the effects of current elites policies of capitalist economy, dissolved solidarity and a stupid craze for identity politics and cultural change at the cost of ignorance to material problem solving in too many cases.

All these factors and population subgroups and political attitudes are found across Europe. The effect of Brexit is that xenophobic, stupid, nationalist, racist or vile attitudes are on the rise and moved further from 'unspeakable' to 'daily talk-show' and partially translated into votes for parliaments. This made it all the more likely for stricter immigration laws to be passed, even anti-immigration positions to be discussed, or fences and walls to be built.

Even the free movement without border controls for European citizens is now again up for debate and the handling/distribution of migrants among EU states is to be re-negotiated under much less favourable conditions for a reasonable solution that serves all involved and respects basic human rights.

Anyone may doubt or dispute the observations, descriptions, analyses and predictions made above. But below are excerpts from journal articles were these exact findings are presented and discussed.

Moving beyond short-term public opinion accounts for Brexit this article considers how Britain’s historic policy and political dynamics on migration led to the outcome of the EU referendum and how the latter is likely to transform current immigration policies. To do so, we explore historic and theoretical tensions in UK migration policy and politics over the last six decades. We show how these unresolved tensions allowed Eurosceptics to harness negative attitudes to the increasingly salient issue of immigration. We argue that a sufficient proportion of the UK’s elite and electorate proved unable and unwilling to subordinate its desire for entirely domestic ‘control’ over immigration to the EU’s right-based regime, let alone see fellow EU citizens in the UK as anything other than immigrants, ultimately giving Leave victory.
James Dennison & Andrew Geddes: "Brexit and the perils of ‘Europeanised’ migration", Journal Of European Public Policy, 2018. DOI

The article argues for a cultural turn in the study of populist politics in Europe. Integrating insights from three fields—political sociology, political psychology, and media studies—a new, multi-disciplinary framework is proposed to theorize particular cultural conditions favorable to the electoral success of populist parties. Through this lens, the fourth wave of populism should be viewed as a “noisy”, anti-cosmopolitan counter-revolution in defense of traditional cultural identity. Reflective of a deep-seated, value-based great divide in European democracies that largely trumps economic cleavages, populist parties first and foremost politically mobilize long lingering cultural discontent and successfully express a backlash against cultural change. While the populist counter-revolution is engendered by profoundly transformed communicative conditions in the age of social media, its emotional force can best be theorized with the political psychology of authoritarianism: as a new type of authoritarian cultural revolt.
Lars Rensmann: "The Noisy Counter-Revolution: Understanding the Cultural Conditions and Dynamics of Populist Politics in Europe in the Digital Age", Politics and Governance, Vol 5, No 4, 2017. DOI

Why did Britain vote for Brexit? What was the relative importance of factors such as education, age, immigration and ethnic diversity? And to what extent did the pattern of public support for Brexit across the country match the pattern of public support in earlier years for eurosceptic parties, notably the UK Independence Party (UKIP)? In this article we draw on aggregate-level data to conduct an initial exploration of the 2016 referendum vote. First, we find that turnout was generally higher in more pro-Leave areas. Second, we find that public support for Leave closely mapped past support for UKIP. And third, we find that support for Leave was more polarised along education lines than support for UKIP ever was. The implication of this finding is that support for euroscepticism has both widened and narrowed—it is now more widespread across Britain but it is also more socially distinctive.
Matthew J. Goodwin & Oliver Heath: "The 2016 Referendum, Brexit and the Left Behind: An Aggregate-level Analysis of the Result", The Political Quarterly, Vol. 87, No. 3, July–September 2016. DOI

We tested an aversion amplification hypothesis that the impact of immigration concerns on threat and identification would be amplified when political trust was low. We hypothesized that the effect of aversion amplification on voting intentions would be mediated first by perceived threat from immigration, and then by (dis) identification with Europe. Results in both samples were consistent with this hypothesis and suggest that voters were most likely to reject the political status quo (choose Brexit) when concerns that immigration levels were too high were combined with a low level of trust in politicians.
Dominic Abrams et al.: "Immigration, political trust, and Brexit – Testing an aversion amplification hypothesis", British Journal of Social Psychology (2018), 57, 310–326, 2018. DOI

Discussing potential mechanisms, I examine public opinion data in the British Election Study 2015 and find evidence of adversity towards immigration to be a root cause. Other considerations such as the National Health Service (NHS), incumbency and the general trust in politicians as well as the political institutions seem not to play a role.
Max Viskanic: "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail: Did Immigration Cause Brexit?", SSRN, 2017. DOI

Philip Jessup would not be pleased. Exactly sixty years after he published his groundbreaking book on Transnational Law, a majority of voters in the United Kingdom decided they wanted none of that. By voting for the UK to leave the European Union, they rejected what may well be called the biggest and most promising project of transnational law. Indeed, the European Union (including its predecessor, the European Economic Community), is nearly as old Jessup's book. Both are products of the same time. That invites speculation that goes beyond the immediate effects of Brexit: Is the time of transnational law over? Or can transnational law be renewed and revived?
Ralf Michaels: "Does Brexit Spell the Death of Transnational Law?", German Law Journal,Volume 17, Issue S1 (Brexit Special Supplement) 01 July 2016 , pp. 51-62. DOI

The referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union was the largest exercise in mass public democracy in political history. Yet, the result of that referendum has seen a sustained campaign by remain supporting elite groups and their allies, to undermine, delay and ultimately prevent withdrawal from the European Union. This article explores the reaction of elite groups and their allies to the referendum result for what it tells us about attitudes towards mass democracy, the thin veneer of tolerance of public dissent from perceived elite wisdom, and the way in which elite groups and their allies seek to undermine and delegitimise the result and nature of the majority of voters. The article also explores what the neo-reactionary elite response to the result tells us about relationships between elite groups in a liberal democratic state and whether popular mass democracy will transform into a post-democratic polity.
Colin Copus: "The Brexit referendum: testing the support of elites and their allies for democracy; or, racists, bigots and xenophobes, oh my!", British Politics, April 2018, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 90–104. DOI

Laleh Khalili: "After Brexit: Reckoning With Britain's Racism And Xenophobia", Poem, International English Language Quarterly, Volume 5, 2017 - Issue 2-3: Women on Brexit. DOI

The unprecedented geopolitical shift resulting from Brexit reflects deep socio-economic fault lines within and beyond the UK. In many ways foreshadowing the US presidential election of Donald Trump, Brexit brought to the surface and gave a public voice to socio-economic divisions that were deeply embedded, sometimes illogical, but until now had either been ignored or hushed out of ‘respectable’ public debate. This Discussion Forum emanates from a spontaneous seminar organized 2 days after the Brexit vote on June 25, 2016 as part of the SASE conference held in University of California–Berkeley and followed by an open call for papers by Socio-Economic Review. The papers here draw attention to the origins of the Brexit vote in deep-seated socio-economic divisions (O’Reilly), widening differences in economic performance across sectors and regions of the UK (Froud, Sukhdev and Williams) and the growth of poor quality jobs (Warhurst). Meanwhile, the political dynamics of the Brexit vote were also shaped by the fractured nature of UK business elites (Morgan), divisions between locals and cosmopolitans (Grey) and creative but muddled actions of elites that arguably generated consequences they themselves failed to fully anticipate (Wood and Wright). From the perspective of Europe, Brexit reflects a history of dysfunctional economic policy in Europe that prioritized market competition in ways that neglected and ultimately undermined solidarity (Boyer). Here, Brexit reflects a political strategy to both renationalize and recommodify solidarity in the face of fears over migration, and which are likely to have major consequences for social solidarity in Europe more generally (Frerichs and Sankari). However, Brexit is unlikely to provide a durable social and political solution to the wider tensions between globalization and democracy, which also affect all countries throughout Europe (Rona-Tas). Ultimately, the Brexit vote underlines social divisions that combine class inequalities with regional ones, not just in Britain but throughout Europe (Le Galès).
Jacqueline O'Reilly et al.: "Brexit: understanding the socio-economic origins and consequences", Socio-Economic Review, Volume 14, Issue 4, October 2016, Pages 807–854. DOI

We analyse the voting pattern in the June 23rd referendum on the continued participation of the United Kingdom in the European Union and evaluate the reasons for the results. We find that output, education and the share of older people at the regional level can explain attitudes towards immigrants and the European Union. Thus, regions where GDP per capita is low, a high proportion of people has low education, a high proportion is over the age of 65 and there is strong net immigration are more likely to be apprehensive of the European Union, be suspicious of immigrants and not want them as neighbours and, most importantly, to vote for Brexit. The fear of immigration does not seem to be fully justified in terms of the literature on the labour market effects of immigrants in the UK. Using the British Election Study, we find similar results. Thus negative attitudes towards immigration and EU enlargement are correlated with voting for Brexit using data on individuals.
Agust Arnorsson & Gylfi Zoega: "On the causes of Brexit", European Journal of Political Economy, Volume 55, December 2018, Pages 301-323. DOI

[…] the Alternative for Germany displays a good combination of populism, nativism, and authoritarianism, which are three core ideological features of populist radical right parties. This thesis also aims to find out what the rise of the Alternative for Germany means for the future of Europe. This thesis claims that the populist radical right ideology that the Alternative for Germany stands for is a serious threat to the European integration project which has provided a framework for peaceful resolution of political and economic differences in Europe. In particular, the key ideology of the Alternative for Germany, nativism, is in sharp contrast to European integration and European values.
Hülya Ecem Çalişkan: "The Rise Of Populist Radical Right Parties In Europe: The Case Of The Alternative For Germany (Afd)", Master Thesis, Middle East Technical University, 2018. (PDF)

This paper examines the link between recent EU crises and the development of party-based Euroscepticism across Europe. It draws on data from expert surveys with qualitative data to outline the way in which we can empirically see the link between the impacts of the crises in European states, and how far, and in what ways, Euroscepticism has been mobilized by political parties in those states. It identifies four main frames through which the EU is contested in European states which focus on: economic factors, immigration, democracy/sovereignty and national factors. It also shows that there has been a clear difference between the impacts of the different crises. While the Eurozone crisis had a particularly powerful effect in the party systems of those countries most affected by the bailout packages and the migration crisis had a particularly strong effect on party politics in the post-communist states of central Europe, Brexit has had a very limited impact on national party politics, although this may change in the longer-term.
Paul Taggart & Aleks Szczerbiak: "Putting Brexit into perspective: the effect of the Eurozone and migration crises and Brexit on Euroscepticism in European states", Journal of European Public Policy, Volume 25, 2018 - Issue 8: The Politics and Economics of Brexit, p1194-1214. DOI

This article offers comparative findings of the nature of populist Euroscepticism in political parties in contemporary Europe in the face of the Great Recession, migrant crisis, and Brexit. Drawing on case studies included in the Special Issue on France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom, the article presents summary cross-national data on the positions of parties, the relative importance of the crisis, the framing of Euroscepticism, and the impact of Euroscepticism in different country cases. We use this data to conclude that there are important differences between left- and right-wing variants of populist Euroscepticism, and that although there is diversity across the cases, there is an overall picture of resilience against populist Euroscepticism.
Andrea LP Pirro & Paul Taggart & Stijn van Kessel: "The populist politics of Euroscepticism in times of crisis: Comparative conclusions", Politics, Vol 38, Issue 3, 2018. DOI

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    Or maybe Peoples finally awoke and elites tremble? ;) Too ideologically loaded langue? Yes, but you started. :D While I roughly agree with main conclusion concerning occurring ideological shift, I think that you should try to use a bit more neutral language.
    – Shadow1024
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 20:14
  • What successful Leave vote? [Wry grin] Commented May 17, 2019 at 12:22
  • A summary would help. Commented May 17, 2019 at 17:37
  • I think that you may miss a key point. If someone is at the bottom of society and additional people in need are being let in, then his handouts and social services would be cut, in order to arrange funds to help someone who is in even deeper problem. Moreover those newcommers with high crime rate would not be neighbours to social elites, but to those on the on the bottom and they would feel the brunt of crime hike. Thus from purely economic self interest, lower classes are quite rational in trying to elect anti-migration politicians.
    – Shadow1024
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 19:39
  • Maybe I have a bit slanted perspective by watching Polish politics, but we managed to elect a party which is both nationalistic to keep refugees (or "refugees") away but its main selling point was welfare on kids. I may have my personal dislikes towards them, but I have to admit that for lower strata of society their offer was much more tempting than any classical left wing.
    – Shadow1024
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 8:02

You may be interested in this article

TL;DR (and also my point of view): It won't really change anything. As Britain never really sheltered refugees, due to their geographic position and (Warning: opinion-based) xenophobic tendencies. The EU immigration politics are a complete mess, as many Government see them as a threat for their re-election*. As long as this is the case, it will stay this way. There are many many refugees trying to get to Britain, but they can't due to the Channel. So Brexit won't affect this.
The only thing that may have an effect on politics is the fear, that maybe some countries will follow the Brits, but AFAIK no other EU-country is that stupid.

*note: Many poor and less educated people tend to blame their problems on foreigners. A government that lets more of them into the country loses the votes of those people, and right wing populist/extremist parties gain in power. To prevent that, many governments try to block them as much as they can.
(Opinion based:) The actual way to fight extremist is to provide better standards to the simple workers and employees and unemployed people as well (As Portugal is doing it), but this is another topic.

  • 1
    the UK are #6 in the EU for taking migrants over the last 10 years, the sangatte refugee camps show that the channel does slow people down, but that doesn't mean they don't still try
    – mgh42
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 0:18
  • There is a difference between migrants and refugees. Because the first migrates by choice, and the latter by force. The reason the UK has such high migration rates is their colonianist past. Those migrants are there because the UK tried to make half the world British some time ago.
    – miep
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 10:33
  • This answer is being discussed on meta.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 21:11
  • "Britain never really sheltered refugees, due to their geographic position and (Warning: opinion-based) xenophobic tendencies" - The problem with this is there isn't a gneralised 'Britain' that this can apply to. There's plenty of xenophobia in Britain but it is also a very diverse and mutli-cultural society, there are plenty of cosmopolitain demographics too. Also, a statement like that ignores the rise of explicitly xenophobic political parties in other european countries (Hungary, Italy, Poland, France etc.etc), this answer ignores that context Commented May 11, 2019 at 10:21

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