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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Immigration may become a bigger issue than ever when voters realise how little change they’ll get from Theresa May

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Today’s report by the Migration Advisory Committee is music to my ears. For the first time I can remember, an organisation with some official standing has acknowledged what I have warned of repeatedly: reckless mass immigration has hurt Britain.

The MAC, which advises the government on its immigration policy, believes that allowing millions of people to come and live in the UK merely on the basis that they hold an EU passport has affected wages for the lower-paid and resulted in house price increases. One of its key recommendations is an end to preferential treatment for those from the European Economic Area.

I hold no prejudice against anyone on the grounds of their nationality, their religion, or their race. I have never done so. But this double whammy of wage compression and a rampant property market should have been acted upon years ago.

Whenever I have talked about the impact of mass immigration in this way, I have been accused of “racism”. No matter how many times I’ve stated that my concerns are primarily based around its practical consequences, I have been lambasted anyway.

I remember discussing the issue on the BBC programme Question Time in 2014. The millionaire “comedian and campaigner” Russell Brand – so influential in some young lives – was another panellist. He accused me of being a “pound shop Enoch Powell” for having stated that people were beginning to feel the consequences of the UK’s population explosion. 

Admittedly Brand was playing to the gallery, as comedians are prone to do, but it’s extraordinary to think that a politician could be criticised in this way on national television just for telling the truth about such an important matter as people’s quality of life.

Now, with the chairman of the MAC, Professor Alan Manning, saying the impacts of EEA migration have not had “big benefits”, it’s refreshing to think those days of gratuitous abuse might be behind me and indeed all who believe that Britain’s open-door system needs a radical re-think.

Having established that the MAC report is a vindication of what I’ve said so often over the years, however, I remain deeply concerned about the future.

For while the MAC has accepted that common sense is urgently required when it comes to immigration, it looks like the country is not going to get the kind of policy it deserves post-March 2019 when Brexit is implemented.

The MAC report makes 14 recommendations. Among them is that there should be “a less restrictive regime for higher-skilled workers than for lower-skilled workers”. This means, on the surface, that fewer workers from overseas will be allowed to take up lower-skilled jobs in the UK labour market in the future. 

Currently, 20,700 higher-skilled workers are allowed into the UK each year. They are given a Tier 2 (General) work permit. But the MAC has recommended that the Tier 2 route be loosened after Brexit to accommodate those in the mid-skilled range from all over the world, including the EU, and also, crucially, that the cap be abolished. This will clearly come as a surprise to anyone who thought the UK will take a more rigorous approach to how many people can come here to work. 

The MAC also proposed in its report that a major safeguard for UK jobseekers, the Resident Labour Market Test, be scrapped. This is worrying. We hear a lot about the low unemployment rate at the moment, yet this is misleading because such figures take no account of the underemployed – those who wish to work more hours but cannot find suitable work. As research by Migration Watch UK has found, there are about four million UK-born people who are not working but are looking for work or who are working but want to work more hours. It is surely wrong to propose the abolition of a measure that was put in place to protect opportunities for UK workers. 

A further problem I foresee is that Theresa May’s Chequers proposal advocates the UK remaining glued to the EU’s regulatory structure on workers’ rights. Being aligned to EU rules means all directives concerning workers’ rights will continue to apply at the European Court of Justice. This will put Britain in a worse place than it was pre-Brexit. The notion that Britain will be in charge of its own affairs in this regard is a myth.

This brings me to another point: Theresa May herself. How to put this politely? She has a disastrous track record when it comes to tackling immigration. As Home Secretary, she vowed to cut non-EU immigration levels to the UK. Her words probably sounded tough at the time, but in reality, this was the only part of Britain’s immigration system over which our politicians had any control. Mrs May was simply tinkering with the one part of the train set she was allowed to play with. And guess what? Despite the hard talk, the number of non-EU nationals who came to Britain actually went up. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

From Daniel Hannan to Michael Gove, many politicians over the last few months have expressed their delight that immigration is no longer an issue that dominates British politics. Both of these Tory soft Brexiteers are now hopeful of a liberal Brexit. But I predict that when the Brexit-voting public realises that little or no change will materialise over Britain’s future immigration policy, the issue may become even bigger than it was before. If you don’t believe me, just look at the rest of Europe

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