This is no way to “Take Back Control” of immigration

by David Hannay | 18.11.2019

Anyone following the debate over immigration in the first two weeks of the election campaign could be forgiven for thinking they had been invited into a Mad Hatters’ Tea Party.

The party which is advocating the Brexit-at-any-cost solution of Boris Johnson’s October deal is proposing (belatedly) to drop its unrealistic and unrealised target of limiting net migration to “the tens of thousands”. Instead it vows to introduce what is rather vaguely described as an Australian-style, points-based system – apparently ignorant of the fact that its application in Australia has resulted in a steady and substantial increase in legal immigration. 

For the Conservatives, reducing immigration is now to be achieved not by reducing immigration from third countries, over which we have always had control even as a member state of the EU, but by clamping down on freedom of movement from the rest of the EU, which currently only represents just over a quarter of the overall immigration total. The approach is summed up in Michael Gove’s insidious question: “Why should we treat a Slovenian better than a Bangladeshi.”

The other main party is struggling to handle its hesitations over the positive reference to “freedom of movement” backed by its September party conference. This is despite the fact that its commitment to hold a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal necessarily involves the possibility of continued compliance with the EU obligation on freedom of movement between its member states.

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    Meanwhile, debate over the May government’s White Paper on immigration has revealed plenty of defects in those proposals and given rise to any amount of misleading rhetoric. To take a few examples:

    • The £30,000 income guideline for immigrants is clearly far too high and risks inflicting serious damage on many sectors of the economy, as the CBI and other business representatives have pointed out;
    • The government’s current mantra of only admitting “the brightest and the best” is fatuous in the extreme. Clearly seasonal agricultural workers and relatively low-paid social carers are never going to fall into that category. But they are needed if the NHS and British farming are not to be in real trouble. With unemployment at historic lows, our own citizens show no sign of taking up the slack;
    • The need for more trained medical professionals to help staff the NHS is so obvious that the government is already planning to create a loophole in any new rules to exempt them;
    • Admitting students and researchers who have offers of places at our universities is equally desirable if we are to sustain our second place world-wide in the higher education market. This is, after all, one of the few sectors of our economy which is now a world leader and has the potential to remain so. The shift in government policy to allow two years of post-study access to the labour market is welcome but insufficient. 

    We can draw two broad conclusions from all this. First, our politicians are nowhere near identifying an evidence-based, economically viable and humane immigration policy. Trying to hammer one out in the next few weeks of election campaigning will lead to substantial self-inflicted harm. 

    A second broad conclusion is that it was utterly wrong to make immigration from Europe a touchstone of whether we should stay in the EU or leave, and it is foolish to make reducing immigration from the EU an object of policy post-Brexit. If we can not work out a rational policy for immigration from third countries, what on Earth is the meaning of that dishonest slogan Take Back Control?

    Edited by Andrew Gowers

    Categories: Uncategorised

    4 Responses to “This is no way to “Take Back Control” of immigration”

    • “We only want the brightest and best ” mantra I find particularly revolting. What sort of mentality does this reveal ? Who would want to come to work in the UK ( and for the UK ? ) in response to such a policy ?

      How can the Conservative Party have sunk so low as to propose such a policy and such an attitude to the rest of the world, let alone Europe. The beauty of the EU and Freedom of Movement as one of its pillars has been the pooling of our resources for the benefit of the whole community of nations which has indeed led to greater benefits in so many fields than if we had sought to ” go it alone ” out of some sort of feeling of natural superiority.

    • East Europeans waited and suffered for many years, waiting for their Freedom of Movement. You are throwing it away. What morons!

    • Immigration rules were always two-faced. The main goal was to obtain cheap, ready-trained labour. Now that they want to limit immigration they claim they are going to apply a points-based system. Any points-based system which needs to reflect the actual demands for labour over such a wide range of skills and abilities is going to have an extensive “fudge” feature. Probably called “Political Expediency” it will act as a tap to allow all, some or none into the country. That is about as refined as it will get.

    • Apparently, the Conservatives intend to introduce visas, even for short term visitors to the UK. There will always be some who will jump through any number of hurdles to visit the UK, but if I was a visitor, say wanting a long weekend in London, the thought of having to fill in forms and apply months in advance , would swiftly relegate the UK to about 48th on my list of potential destinations.

      You can bet the tourism industry will not be thanking the hopelessly over-promoted Priti Patel. Its also a bit galling coming from Priti Patel, someone who wouldn’t be in the country, if her parents had faced an immigration regime similar to the one she wants to introduce.

      Also, lets not forget, any measures we take to make European visitors jump through lots of hoops, will almost certainly be reciprocated. So spontaneous trips to Europe, maybe even for a sports event, become a thing of the past. In other words, everyone’s a loser. Their immigration policy alone, is sufficient reason to give the Conservatives a very wide berth at the coming election.