The government’s immigration policy is in a mess on every front including policy, legislation and implementation. In addition, the negotiations with the EU 27 are going badly, with previously agreed policies being torn up as Theresa May conducts the only negotiations that matter to her, the ones with her own backbenchers. The chaos caused is having serious consequences across a range of sectors, with perhaps the most chilling occurring in the NHS.
The frequently postponed Immigration Bill will not now appear until the autumn. This is an ill-starred Bill, which has now been postponed at least four times. Previously, in a fitting motif for the entire government, its intention had been to proceed without evidence to a Bill last year, having asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to provide that evidence by September this year.
The MAC is charged with examining the impact of Brexit on the labour market. But we already know through leaked analysis (from a pro-Brexit government), that a forced reduction in migration will have a large native economic impact on growth and prosperity, larger than the benefits of any prospective trade deal. But this is a government which treats evidence as an irritant at best, more often as the cause for further internecine fighting.
The centrepiece of the government’s policy is also in deep trouble. The cross-party Home Affairs Committee has called for the government’s ‘tens of thousands’ net migration target to be scrapped. It argues that failure to meet it undermines public confidence and that UK immigration policy should be set instead in light of our own economic needs as well as our commitment to international humanitarian obligations. MPs from across the House also agreed that international students have no place in any migration target, leaving Theresa May almost completely isolated on this policy.
Labour’s immigration policy will be based on the fair and reasonable management of migration. This Tory mess must end.
It now appears that the Prime Minister has reneged on a previous agreement with the EU regarding the rights of EU citizens here and UK citizens in the EU. At the very least the EU negotiators understood that the entire ‘standstill’ arrangements for the transition period between March 2019 and December 2020 would include unchanged rules for EU and UK citizens arriving in each other’s jurisdictions. This is pure cake and eat it, with the Prime Minister demanding the benefits of the Single Market while refusing what she mistakenly believes are the costs. This has not been a successful approach to date.
None of this should be regarded as important only inside the Westminster bubble. The consequences of this chaos are already grave. Real people’s lives are affected and we are all worse off as a result.
The stupid and discriminatory immigration rules now mean that as EU migration is already falling away, the NHS cannot recruit trained medical workers from outside the EU because the monthly quotas have already been reached. The Tories’ immigration policy is exacerbating the staff shortages in NHS. This blockage is also being replicated across a range of economic sectors.
The fixation on reducing immigration has led to a generalised chaos in the Home Office itself. Immigration detention was introduced as a measure which would be of short duration, a matter of days while claims were investigated. Instead, we have detainees being kept for years on end, at the discretion of officials, and huge pay-outs to a small sample of those held illegally.
All of this needs to come to an end. We should set immigration policy to meet our needs and humanitarian obligations. We should examine all cases promptly and efficiently, allowing all those with an entitlement to stay, and promptly deporting those who don’t. Labour’s immigration policy will be based on the fair and reasonable management of migration in this framework. This Tory mess must end.
Diane Abbott is the shadow home secretary and Labour MP for Hackney North