• 01:33
  • 20.08.2017
The truth about immigration targets

The truth about immigration targets

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The Home Secretary Amber Rudd was one of the sturdiest Remainers of the referendum campaign, and is one of the few members of the Cabinet to “get” business. Last year she memorably told a television audience that she wouldn’t accept a lift home from Boris Johnson. Now, however, she finds herself locked in the boot of the Brexitmobile with Boris at the controls, heading for the cliffs. She appears to be trying to make the best of things. It is not entirely convincing.

It is to the great credit of Ms Rudd that she was able to launch what can only be described as the Government’s “non-policy” on immigration with a straight face. The non-policy is to ask an independent body, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), to come up with what’s described as “evidence” about migration and what business needs.

Everything, Ms Rudd indicates, is possible, even though the system that works well now will end when the UK leaves the European Union. She assures us that there will not be a “cliff edge”, yet is vague about interim arrangements. Laughably, the work of the MAC will be completed a mere six months before the UK is due to depart Europe.
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Plainly the Government is divided about what to do, and plainly they have used the traditional trick of kicking the problem out for consultation and advice. There is no problem with what Ms Rudd calls “a new informed, evidence-based EU migration policy”, but the country is entitled to ask why, a year after the referendum, we are only now getting round to discussing it, and why it will only be ready a few months before it is needed. It is a grievous dereliction of a high duty. The Government increasingly seems to adopt an attitude of “it’ll be all right on the night”. It won’t.

At any rate, asking the MAC to tell Ms Rudd at leisure things she already knows full well is silly. It is a ludicrous timetable for a disastrous policy. The least the Government can now do is to commit to a sensible period during which the new policy can be introduced post-Brexit; it should also issue a unilateral guarantee to EU nationals living in this country that their rights will be properly protected. Everything from farming to the building trade to the NHS to hotels and restaurants will be damaged by a nervous exodus of EU workers. German carmakers need to know they can continue bringing engineers into Britain to work; Indian companies need the same assurance about their managers and consultants having visas; the Chinese would like their students to enjoy greater access to UK higher education. All these are essential for business and trade deals. In or out of the EU, a migration policy is urgently needed. Yet government action here, as in so much else surrounding Brexit, is utterly absent.

Even with a lengthy period of policy consideration and an orderly implementation, the Government’s approach would be deeply flawed. As Sir Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat leader, tells us today, the health of the British economy risks being broken on a series of misconceptions and prejudices about migration that successive Conservative leaders have failed to confront.
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Indeed, as Sir Vince knows from watching David Cameron at first hand in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, the only reason why had the calamitous 2016 EU referendum was because Mr Cameron was running scared of Ukip on the immigration issue. That, in turn, was a direct result of his failure – and that of his Home Secretary Theresa May – to implement their pledge to limit migration to the “tens of thousands”. It was a bad policy that could never be implemented because of the UK’s commitment to the EU to allow freedom of movement of labour. The only way it could be brought in, at least theoretically, was if the UK left the EU. That was the toxic logic used to such devastating effect by Nigel Farage and the Leave campaign.

Even then, though, the policy would be economically damaging because of the effect on businesses needing to bring talent to the UK and the supply of skilled and unskilled labour the economy requires to grow.

Without migration, Brexit cannot succeed. No one has yet thought to tell the British people. It is time Ms Rudd was her naturally honest self and dropped the immigration target, as The Independent has called for.
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