The referendum became a vote on immigration and opened doors to Britain’s darker places; however the forces of light have not reacted well. I am still hopeful that facts and reason will prevail, but recent history does not auger well.
The story goes that when Henry Ford was asked about the secret of the success of his Motor Car, he said it was about inspired, breakout innovation, if he’d asked his potential customers what they wanted, they’d have asked for faster horses. So when parts of the UK want “Take back control of our borders”, what does one say. More Immigration controls? Or do we as progressives look for inspired change?
Labour’s initial & otherwise recent reaction, has been to address the tiny minority of cases where mainly EU migrants potentially depress wages. The problem is that like triangulation, once one agrees with part of a case, or a piece of evidence it becomes very hard to disagree with conclusions, but in a small minority of cases, migrant labour marginally suppresses the wages in an industry, or locality. The progressive’s first response to this is in Labour market reform, Labour’s 2015 manifesto offered a minimum wage, prohibition of zero contracts and the mandating of local vacancy advertising, five years earlier the Labour Government had allocated funds to communities with high immigrant arrivals and large communities but the manifesto was rejected and the Tories have turned off the money. The Labour market pivot has been rejected once.
The only ways to “Control Immigration” are to place a cap, or run a points system. Points systems, supported by Farage and Johnson during the referendum campaign are designed to ensure that business gets the skills it needs. It is not designed to restrict numbers. There is room at the edge of the current immigration system to tighten it up which might make fairness more visible and the system more acceptable to those who voted to leave. Anushka Asthana in the Guardian identifies the fact that the EU agreement is that there is unrestricted right to come to the UK to work but that the British choose not to put in place any ability to enforce the return of those who cease work and don’t even ask EU citizens if they have a job on entry. In the rest of Europe, they do ask for proof of a job and/or proof of ability to support oneself, we don’t; there is room to negotiate here, but there are two problems. The first is that immigration is in the interests of the majority of the citizens of this country, migrants work, pay taxes and spend. They essentially also undertake work for which the domestic skills supply is low. The alternative to a points based system is a cap and is exceptionally unjust, to applicants and employers. Furthermore it just doesn’t work! Ask the US Federal Government and we have a wall.
All this is before we consider the entry of overseas students, overseas academics and refugees, and the right to remain of long term residents in the UK. Are we in the UK seriously talking about reducing the overseas student programs which are part of the UK’s soft power and a source of income to the UK. I have not looked at asylum numbers, but we should proud of having a reputation that makes people in fear for their lives want to come here. On the left we might be sympathetic to placing different, more generous criteria on the entry of these four classes of migrants but that is not where the state of debate is now, with the exception of one or two honourable exceptions.
I was and remain disappointed in the united response of Labour’s Leadership, both Watson and McDonnell in declaring that free movement of Labour is dead. One would think that it might like to ask its members what they want; this is an issue for Conference.
Furthermore, the difficulty for Labour is that 63% of its voters voted to Remain, we don’t know how many of these actually want a Free Movement of People and not just a Free Movement of Labour. They want the right to learn, love, work and retire in Europe; it isn’t a small number. If Labour’s Leadership take us towards a Fortress UK, I question whether this is vote enhancing; I have not tested the argument that every step of triangulation i.e. compromise with UKIP may win you a vote up North, but it loses them in London and the Cities.
It’s a complex issue; but it is bound up with xenophobia and stupid nostalgia.
In an open and generous fashion, I genuinely ask my Left wing comrades, what policy changes do you want? And do you really think it’ll be enough?
[*] This was written over the summer from notes made in July, it was published in October but backdated to before Labour Party Conference. Part of the delay was caused by an original desire to look at comment on the Home Office figures, but it was taking too long. The featured image was taken from publicdomainpictures.net, and is public domain. This is the second of waht was originally planned as four articles, the first is here, “The day after the night before”, and deals with the shock and potential strategies.
 It should be an absolute demand (and offer) that current EU migrants will suffer no legal discrimination as a result of Brexit or the negotiations of Brexit. This may involve changing the landing conditions of all the EU citizens to “Unrestricted Right to Remain”, or granting them British Citizenship, possible dual to all those EU citizens who have been here longer than 5 years; otherwise we may find that many of them will apply anyway. (The problem of how to deal with Irish citizens and the border with Eire also shows the stupidity of this route.)