This week, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid produced the government’s long promised immigration white paper. Coming, as it did, just before the Christmas recess it was a very poor present to Parliament.
The reason for the delay was clear. Ministers talk about a new, open, even global Britain after Brexit. Yet, they have run a ceaseless propaganda campaign against migrants and migration. Ministers seem unaware that people and the labour they provide are the most important factor in producing goods and even more so in services. We are supposed to believe we can build a new, global Britain at the same time as erecting new hurdles to the skills, the experiences, the languages and the diversity that migrant workers can bring.
The Tories are split down the middle – as has been so vividly revealed this week. Javid, when questioned on the BBC, refused to talk about the target of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands. But within hours of her Home Secretary’s radio interview, the Prime Minister was still insisting on her commitment to the target. It seems some Tories, like Theresa May, want simply to campaign against migrant workers and migration. Others, like her Home Secretary, seem to want to do this and to meet the needs of our economy at the same time. The Prime Minister’s approach is pure dog-whistle. Her Tory Party critics on this issue are no better. They simply want to have their cake and eat it.
Further, the Government is attempting to introduce an entirely new system of immigration before we have the slightest idea of what our new relationship will be, or what even our transition arrangements will be.
Surely, this puts the cart before the horse? Our arrangements with the EU should be based on our economic needs, our prosperity and the needs of our public services. Our immigration policy should fit in with that. Instead, the Government intends that our immigration policy takes primacy, and all our future trading, security, and other co-operation with the EU fits in to that. This is the mess they are in, that they have led the country into.
Ministers can’t agree on the £30,000 salary threshold and have now gone to “consultation”. What have they been doing these past months? A £30,000 limit is not a skills-based system at all, as the Home Secretary must know. It is a threshold which excludes trainee nurses, research scientists, speech therapists, as well as skilled construction workers, agricultural workers and many more.
Some obvious questions arise. Will the new system mean a levelling down, so that migrants from the EU are treated to the same hostile environment as those from outside the EU? What is the impact assessment of the damage that will be done to our GDP and GDP per head? And who in the Home Office or government will carry the can when our prosperity is damaged by these illogical new rules to go with the existing illogical ones?
Some in the media like to suggest that Labour is not clear on Brexit. Or that it isn’t clear on the issue of immigration. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the Summer, I devoted three separate speeches to Labour’s new immigration policy.
If I summarise the key points here, they serve to clarify everything that remains wrong about this Government’s approach.
Labour will honour all its existing legal and moral obligations to all non-EU migrants, the ‘Windrush Generation’. We will also honour the similar obligations we have made to the millions of EU citizens who have already made their homes here. This Government is committed to doing neither.
We have committed to put our economic needs and our public services first. Our negotiations with the EU are the priority. Instead, the Government puts its constant campaign against migrants first. It is important to note that the net migration target has never been legislation, and its absence here provides no reassurance at all. That target has never once been met. But it has not stopped Ministers from claiming this is the centrepiece of their policy.
We have pledged to end indefinite detention, to close the abominable Yarl’s Wood and Brook House centres and to uphold the right to a family life. The Government commits to none of these.
We offer a genuine skills-based immigration system, to allow the recruitment of overseas workers, to meet the skills and labour shortages we have in the public and private sectors, while increasing training and enforcing the minimum wage and other protections. The Government offers none of these. It is split over introducing an income-based system, and we have already seen employers up in arms over the dislocations this will cause. Ministers airily suggest they can determine the labour component of our economic needs, and for our public services. Its entire track record speaks to the contrary.
We have waited a long time for the Government’s immigration white paper. But it was not worth the wait. Once again, they have put bogus ‘clamp-downs’ on migration ahead of the real needs of our economy, prior to any settlement with the EU, against the interests of our public services, our research capacity, agriculture, and the very people we need to attract.
If this was a Christmas present, Parliament should be searching for the receipt and asking for its money back.