Skip to main content


The unspoken secret of Denmark’s success

Copenhagen: no immigrants, please. Nick Pederson/Getty

Denmark is often hailed as the world’s ideal country, says Ed West in his Substack newsletter. It’s the least corrupt, the third most equal and the third freest. “Getting to Denmark” is sometimes used as a shorthand to mean “reaching the pinnacle of political development”. Yet the “sting in the tail”, for liberal admirers, is its “almost comically right-wing” stance on immigration. If rejected asylum seekers refuse to leave, they are locked in “return centres” until they change their mind. The government is doing everything it can to kick Syrian refugees out of the country. And Britain’s Rwanda resettlement policy was originally thought up by Denmark.

These hardline policies are controversial within the country, but they’ve led to a significant drop in asylum applications. They also probably explain why, “almost alone in the Western world”, the Danish centre-left remains strong: it actually followed its voters on immigration. Conservative views on multiculturalism combined with a strong welfare state isn’t a contradiction – social democracy depends on high levels of trust, which in turn depend on “strong external barriers”. As Mette Frederiksen, Denmark’s centre-left prime minister, puts it: “The price of unregulated globalisation, mass immigration and the free movement of labour is paid for by the lower classes.” Think of hygge, that trendy Danish concept of cosiness – snugness ultimately depends on security.