History Will Judge Theresa May’s ‘Hostile Environment’ On Immigration As Economically Damaging And Dangerous

Instead of a bidding war on who can be toughest on immigration, defeating hateful hard-right parties means standing up to meddling anti-foreigner myths

13/03/2018 16:38 GMT | Updated 13/03/2018 16:38 GMT
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Throughout history, at times of economic crisis and difficulties we have seen the danger of scapegoating vulnerable and minority communities, often accompanied by a rise in the far right as happened in the 1930s. Following the crash of 2008, we are currently seeing the rise of the far right across Europe and even an emboldened KKK in the US.  The governments of the US and across Europe are enacting draconian policies which contribute to a hostile climate on migration, Islamophobia and racism.

Far right parties are gaining ground electorally, often using anti-immigrant hostility and Islamophobia as their cutting edge. The recent Italian elections saw far right parties rise at the cost of the centre ground and social democracy in an election which was marked by parties engaged in a bidding war on who could attack migrants hardest and which saw a fascist go on a shooting spree wounding six people of African origin in the run up to the election.  These far right groups are also as racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic as ever.

Against this backdrop, history will judge Theresa May’s reactionary ‘hostile climate’ on immigration, first launched whilst the Prime Minister was Home Secretary, as economically damaging and politically irresponsible. Her ‘Go Home’ vans remain a source of shame.

The Government’s immigration policy is now in deep trouble. The cross-party Home Affairs Committee has called for the government’s ‘tens of thousands’ net migration target to be scrapped, arguing immigration policy should be set instead in light of our own economic needs as well as our commitment to international humanitarian obligations.  Theresa May’s insistence on maintaining an arbitrary net migration target of under 100,000 has never once been met.

With EU migration falling, the quota restrictions on non-EU migrant workers is turning away much needed health workers. The National Farmers Union has also raised concerns about fruit and vegetable produce that is rotting due to labour shortages.  Last summer we also saw the fiasco of a British-born citizen and EU citizens being served deportation notices. 

The Tory hard Brexiters are determined to curb migration at any cost to our living standards, and Cabinet as a whole has been trying to use people as ‘bargaining chips’.  In contrast to the Tories, Labour offers fair rules and reasonable management of migration.  Our priorities are growth, jobs and prosperity.  We make no apologies for putting these aims before bogus immigration targets.

The hostile debate is no more exposed than on international students.  Reducing their numbers makes us poorer.  MPs from across the House agree that international students have no place in any migration target, leaving Theresa May almost completely isolated on this policy.  The Business Department estimates that the economic value of international students is set to rise to £26billion by 2025.

Instead of a bidding war on who can be toughest on immigration, defeating hateful hard-right parties means standing up to those peddling anti-foreigner myths and offering a clear and radical alternative to the failed economic strategy of the Tories. The Corbyn-led Labour Party does just this.

There needs to be a sea change approach to our approach on immigration.  There is far too much heat and not enough light on the topic. The cost of living crisis, scapegoating, and the impact that this has on emboldening the far right are all linked. 

This needs a clear and robust response. We have to set out clear policies, and a positive alternative, which is why I am proud to be addressing the Stand Up To Racism UN Anti-Racism Day demonstration on 17 March 2018 in Central London, with other events also taking place in Scotland and Wales on the same day.

Diane Abbott is the shadow home secretary and Labour MP for Hackney North