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Facts and Fiction in the UK Immigration Debate

06/10/2015 15:26 BST | Updated 06/10/2016 10:12 BST

Businesses are astonished by the irresponsible rhetoric and pandering to anti-immigration sentiment from the Home Secretary. In her address to the Conservative Party Conference, Theresa May portrayed immigration as almost exclusively negative.

It was yet another example of the Home Secretary turning away the world's best and brightest, putting internal party politics ahead of the country, and helping our competitor economies instead of our own. Lambasting her own record in office, she claimed there was "no case, in the national interest" for the immigration figures she has presided over.

The Government's approach of wedding themselves to a bizarre and unachievable net migration target is very hard to understand. A speech that was devoid of almost a single factual accuracy, Theresa May's comments have led some commentators to suggest that the Home Secretary is "fanning the flames of prejudice in a cynical attempt to become Conservative leader." A fascinating speculation if, as the Times reported, the Prime Minister Cameron no longer backs Ms May in her argument with George Osborne, the chancellor, and Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, and Sajid Javid, the business secretary, over student migration claiming that the Home Office's policies risk penalising universities and damaging Britain's reputation abroad.

Even the government's own Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) seem to disagree with Ms May. Having been asked by her to examine the evidence, the MAC concluded recently that the myth of the job-stealing-immigrant is nonsense. Immigrants do not steal jobs, they help fill vital skill shortages and, in doing so, create demand and more jobs. If they did steal jobs, we wouldn't have the record levels of employment we currently do.

The Office for Budget Responsibility says immigration is helping cut the deficit thanks to the taxes immigrants pay. An Oxford University study found immigration actually reduced waiting times for outpatient referrals. A study by the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, meanwhile, found no evidence of overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or public services in the UK. Then there is the OECD, whose studies have shown that immigration makes Britain richer and British public services more sustainable. These points were reflected in David Cameron's comments this morning when he said the UK has "built one of the most successful multi-racial multi-ethnic democracies anywhere on earth."

It is about time the Home Office stopped undermining business and the government's own efforts to secure productivity growth. Political leaders should stop vilifying migrants and acknowledge the hugely important contribution they make to this country's economy.

While employers recognise public concerns, heated rhetoric cannot be allowed to prevail over cool-headed leadership. That is why the Institute of Directors (IoD) has called for a Comprehensive Immigration Review to set out a sensible plan for managing inward migration in a way that supports our economy, works for our businesses, and addresses public concerns.

The Government must address public concerns over immigration with real solutions, but they must be equally clear about what the issues actually are. There is a sensible and mature debate to be had about the costs and benefits of immigration. At the moment, however, the whole issue is being poisoned by inflammatory rhetoric and policies that bare no relation to the evidence.

Seamus Nevin is Head of Employment and Skills Policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD)