Archive for the 'Immigration' Category


Immigration, immigration, immigration – it hasn’t gone away you know.

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

Immigration was one of the major issues in the referendum debate. The influx of several million Europeans coming to a country which had made no serious effort to accommodate its biggest ever increase in population changed the political landscape and enabled in no small way the decision to leave the EU.

Since the vote the immigration issue has appeared to become less important. In part this is because immigration from Europe has reduced in the last two years. Improved wages at home, exchange rate movements and a perception of a colder welcome have all did their part in making the UK less of a favoured destination for Europeans.

With the issue now off the political hot list the UK’s politicians have marched off to the Westminster trenches to fire the minutiae of Parliamentary procedures and personality failings at each other.

In the wider world however things are different. This month the UN met a Marrakesh to approve a new compact on migration, something which has received little coverage in the UK media. The compact is wide ranging in its aspirations and inevitably has controversial parts most noticeably in blurring the status of legal and illegal migrants. A short overview of the compact can by found clicking here.

Across the world positions are being taken. Trump unsurprisingly wants no truck with the deal, Frau Merkel is all for it; the populist versus internationalist fault line is once again opening up. In Belgium the government has lost its majority and is wobbling, the Eastern half of the EU has rejected signing up to the deal.

This creates once more the scene for an EU clash between Merkel who wants to push her immigration problem on to the rest of Europe and a nationalist Europe which says no.Once again immigration is climbing back up the political agenda, climbing at a time when economies are running out of steam. 

For the UK little of this has yet hit the public consciousness. The government has said in principle it will sign the pact but what does that mean? Having seen immigration fall down the list of voter concerns the prospect of seeing it come back to life can’t be excluded.

In the Brexit mire where all sides look for reasons to open new lines of attack re-invigorating a touchstone issue is a real risk. If this does happen then the battle lines will be imported from a debate the UK simply is not taking part in.

Merkel and the Commission versus Trump and the Italians – the prospects are grim this won’t be debate but two tribes going to war. With mobile populations in the EU the UK cannot just expect to watch from the sidelines. Brexit aside the UK remains a favoured destination for people across the globe.

So time to for our politicians to do the boring stuff. Time to explain what we are signing up to, how it impacts us and what will be done about it, because if they won’t, the agenda it will be shaped for them. There are some imports we are better off without.



Taking Back Control

Monday, May 28th, 2018

At this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, Birmingham City Council had an exuberantly floriferous display celebrating the Windrush generation.  It is a reminder (to non-gardeners at least) that many of the plants we think of as essential to the British garden come from the farthest reaches of the world.  A gentle – and quintessentially British – pastime (often unkindly seen as an activity best suited for the limbo between retirement and death) owes its beauty and variety to imports from China, South Africa, Turkey and South America.

As in gardening so in other spheres.  Much of what we see as British has had foreign influences which have – over time – subtly changed and mixed with the local to create what we have now.  Being British – whether we refer to flora, horses, monarchs, the English language or even our financial system (which owed much to Lombards and the Dutch long before American bankers arrived) – has rarely involved an insistence on biological, racial or other tests of purity.  Almost in spite of itself, Britain has been a melting pot quite as successful as – and for longer than – its noisier American cousin.

And yet.  Two years ago Britain voted to leave the EU largely because of concerns about immigration, concerns which were in part expressed in crudely offensive ad hominem terms.  Britain is not alone in this.  Across Europe immigration is one of the top two concerns in countries as varied as France and Lithuania.  Politicians in Denmark, Germany, Austria, France and Italy have spoken about creating hostile environments, deportations and closing borders.

In all the words agonisingly written to explain this, the underlying assumption has generally been that the desire to control migration cannot be a good in itself but can only have arisen because of other factors: poverty, social exclusion, wage pressure, rage at globalisation, cocking a snook at the elites, lack of education, xenophobia, hatred of different religions and cultures, racism, a fear of terrorism, nostalgia for a non-existent age.  

All of these have been put forward as factors which far right populists have used for their own sinister ends.  Immigration is assumed to be a good with no or few downsides and only illiberal barbarians would try to control it. Easy to see why many think this: there is a natural sympathy for the poor and oppressed seeking a better life; scapegoating others has a long and dishonourable history; people like to think of themselves as friendly and welcoming; few closed societies are successful or pleasant.

But there is a liberal case for immigration control.  And it needs to be made – and by those who want to strengthen and preserve an open, welcoming liberal democracy.

It is the belief that a country is not simply a geographical area with space to be filled up but a society, a home, a family, whose members have mutual obligations and an often unexpressed sense of solidarity with and to each other.

It is the belief that to maintain a sense of society, the social cohesion and shared – if usually unexpressed – assumptions necessary to make democracy work, its citizens should be able to choose who is let in and on what terms.  All the more so when that democracy is seeking to make a welfare state work.

It is a belief that an immigration policy which does not have the consent of a country’s citizens lacks a fundamental legitimacy and that lack, if not addressed, is corrosive to a democracy’s underpinnings.

It is a belief in the rule of law and fairness – that if there are rules, there should be consequences for those who break them. When people see migrants breaking the law to get here without any consequences, it makes those who do respect the law feel they are being taken advantage of.

One of the reasons people were outraged by the injustices done to the Windrush immigrants or some EU citizens was that it looked as if a failure to deal with illegal migration was being compensated for by arbitrary harshness to those here legally.  It suggested a state which is incompetent, arbitrary and malicious.  If it can behave thus to those who have a right to be here, very few of us can be confident of not being caught by its capricious tentacles.

But that outrage does not mean that people want those who do break immigration laws to be allowed to get away with it.  The rule of law will be undermined rather than strengthened if countries fail to enforce laws because it is too difficult to do so or because they are afraid of emotional blow-back.

It is the belief that people in a country are not simply economic units but people with a shared history, culture, values, attitudes and that without this glue a society can end up fracturing or end up being held together by ever more authoritarian governance.  Without such bonds ever increasing diversity and differences risk weakening a society.

It is a belief that the economic advantages immigrants may bring are not – and should not be – the only relevant admission criteria: a willingness and ability to integrate on the host society’s terms are necessary if society is not to atomise into mutually uncomprehending or hostile groups.  Otherwise tolerance can end up being little more than turning a blind eye to behaviour which undermines the very liberties a society claims to cherish.

It is an understanding that change can be destabilising and unsettling and that, therefore, immigration needs to be at a pace and in numbers which permit comfortable absorption.  It is an understanding that all change, even change for the better, has a cost and that the costs and benefits of such change need to be fairly shared.

For all the endless discussion of immigration, racism and diversity there has been over recent years, we have got this debate – and our policy – the wrong way round.  We have ended up talking about and, in some cases, behaving towards immigrants in a harsh way without achieving any real control.  Those with justifiable concerns have not been satisfied while liberals have clutched their pearls at the language used.  It is quite some achievement to be both ineffective and nasty.

The right and responsible thing to do is to manage immigration in the national interest. That means making hard-headed decisions about who to let in and who to keep out and doing so primarily in the interests of existing citizens.  It means being clear that the would-be immigrant’s “I want” should not automatically get or override a society’s collective right to determine what sort of society it wants to be and that making such a choice is not inherently anti-immigrant but the mark of a grown-up society.  It means reconsidering whether asylum laws and Conventions written in and for a different age need to be reviewed and rewritten.

Above all, it means taking back control both from the “Abroad is unutterably bloody and foreigners are fiends” crowd and those who think that wanting any limit on or control over immigration is the mark of Cain.  One test for Sajid Javid is whether he can make a start on doing so.



The commentators blaming TMay for the Windrush affair are right – she not ARudd but should be carrying the can

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

This could be very dangerous for the woman who lost the Tories their majority last June

As those who watch politics closely will know who it is very common for ministers to blame the previous administration when things go wrong on their patch.

There’s a problem though, as the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, found yesterday when under pressure in the Commons, if the person she wanted to blame was her boss the Prime Minister.

We had this ridiculous situation where the Home Secretary was telling MPs that the problem was caused by the Home Office. That, surely, was Mrs Rudd’s way of getting over the fact that this wasn’t her fault but her predecessor.

A huge problem for the Government and particularly the PM is that the public is very much on the side of the immigrants. YouGov yesterday found 78% saying they should be allowed to stay against 9% that they shouldn’t.

All this comes at a time when the Tories have Mr Corbyn over a barrel following his response to Salisbury and Syria. He is very much on the wrong side of public opinion.

    My sense is that Mrs. May is pushing her luck at the moment: agreeing to the Syria attacks without recalling parliament, her handling of immigration while Home Secretary and of course the divides within her party over Brexit. Her Salisbury boost in the polls has fizzled out.

Remember it only requires 48 CON MPs to send letter to Graham Brady for her to face a confidence vote. On Betfair it 3/1 that she won’t surive 2018.

Mike Smithson


Towards a rational immigration policy

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Turkey has mandatory conscription for men between 20 and 41.  Gay men, however, are exempt.  According to the official commentary to the army’s health regulation, to be exempted from service, “documentary evidence must prove that the defects in sexual behaviour are obvious and would create problems when revealed in a military context.”  Many gay men have to endure pseudo-scientific tests designed to appraise both their homosexuality and the extent to which it might render them “unfit” for service.

Some are asked to produce photographs showing them as participants in anal intercourse. According to the military, and Turkish society at large, penetrating another man does not necessarily qualify as a homosexual act; only being penetrated is undisputedly homosexual. Hence the unwritten rule when it comes to such photos: “The man should be in the passive position, receiving from behind,” a psychiatrist explains, “and looking at the camera. Preferably while smiling…”

Britain is equally buggered when it comes to setting a sensible migration policy.  Like the Turkish military, it is trapped between two conflicting ambitions to be prescriptive (in Britain’s case, to reject the immigrants it doesn’t want and to secure the immigrants it does want).  The immigration debate in Britain suffers from a hopeless confusion of these two aims and a lack of understanding that the world has moved on in the last few years.

Here are just some of the points that routinely get missed.

Migrants are a ring species

International executive jobseekers don’t have much in common with the type of asylum seeker who has fled his homeland for fear of having his fingernails extracted by the secret police, but in between there are many shades of nuance, the one blending into the next.  The young gay man who wants to live and work in a country without police harassment isn’t exactly a refugee but he isn’t just an economic migrant either.

Migrants of all types have more agency than ever before

Migrants of all types are richer than before, so they will try to select a destination rather than just flop in the nearest place available.  Every country would like to be able to choose the profile of the immigrants that it accepts. Popular destinations, including Britain, risk finding that their immigrant profile is defined more by the migrants themselves.

There is no easy answer to this question.  Migrants are not going to stop wanting to come to popular rich countries, or trying.

We won’t be going back to 1972 border controls after leaving the EU

Migration patterns have changed out of all recognition since Britain joined the EEC.  The fond memories that some Leavers have of dancing across the continent with flowers in their hair unhindered by flinty border police will not be repeated, any more than their flower-decked hair will grow back.  In a world of mass migration, border controls for those outside the circle of trust are going to be steelier.

Industry needs immigrants

To read the tabloids, you would think that the stout men and women of Britain were being ousted from jobs by nefarious foreigners.  Yet employment is at an all time high, unemployment is at a 40 year low and job vacancies are at an all time high.  Even if you believe that some of these jobs can and should be automated (disclosure: I do), immediately removing migrants would be highly disruptive.  Fruit needs picking.  Tables need waiting.  Robbie the Robot isn’t going to come to our rescue tomorrow.  Since there just aren’t the British workers available to do the work in the meantime, Robbie the Romanian will have to do for a while.

Like it or not, Britain is likely to need large numbers of immigrants for the next few years.  If it doesn’t, that means that Britain will have suffered a crash.  So even the most unwelcoming of Leavers should be prepared to see immigrants for many years to come.

Some consequential problems of immigration can be dealt with differently (eg by putting more money into necessary infrastructure)

There are frequent complaints that migrants put strains on local infrastructure, whether the NHS or education system or housing.  Nigel Farage blamed his late arrival at a UKIP conference on an immigrant-fuelled traffic jam.  Some of these complaints are clearly overstated: most of the costs of the NHS are expended on the elderly who are disproportionately unlikely to be migrants.  Others clearly have some validity.  If large numbers of migrants move into an area, housing is likely to become scarcer.

This can be tackled by reducing the number of migrants.  Alternatively, it can be tackled by improving the infrastructure – building more homes, for example.  There are always options.

A tightly-controlled immigration policy implies very centralised economic planning

Post-Brexit Britain will have control of its immigration policy.  During the referendum campaign, Leave were touting an Australian points-style system, by which the government would set the criteria for admission.  (Since Australia has a much higher rate of immigration than Britain, this might be slightly puzzling to the naive.)  Oddly, this is advocated most strongly by free-marketeers who normally regard with scorn the idea that the government is best placed to judge industry’s needs.

Yet the logical consequence of following such an approach is to let the government decide how many workers in each industry are needed.  In some online industries, the industry is barely defined and the fluidity of categories is a feature not a bug.  I guess that means that Britain is opting out of such sectors from now on.

The official statistics are pretty rubbish

We found out this last week that previous estimates of overstaying students were wrong, with the updated number just 4% of the previous estimate.  The ONS is very defensive of its numbers.  As with other nets of two very large numbers, the immigration statistics are likely to be out by quite some way.  We don’t really know which way though.  That doesn’t help us in drawing up sensible policies.

Leaving the EU will not really make solving these problems any easier

Many migrants to Britain come from the EU.  Many come from outside the EU.  Britain has already got more or less full control over migration from outside the EU.  It doesn’t seem to be able to use it.  It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that migration policy is going to be just as messy and controversial after Britain leaves the EU as before.

Alastair Meeks


Vince Cable slams TMay over bogus student immigration figures which “came on her watch”

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Coalition battles revived

Vince Cable, the LD leader who as Coalition Business Secretary had responsibility for universities, has attacked TMay, following the news that student immigration figures are nothing like on the scale that the government had previously thought.

As reported in the media earlier new figures have been published based on exit checks from UK ports, that show that 97% cent of foreign students, 4.6k left the UK after finishing their studies.

This compares with the 100k estimate that was previously used. Cable doesn’t mince his words:-

“This debacle happened on Theresa May’s watch at the Home Office. I spent five years in coalition battling her department’s bogus figures on this issue but she responded by erecting a wall of visa restrictions on an entirely false basis.

Cabinet Brexiteers fought a referendum campaign on a flawed prospectus, scapegoating foreign students who weren’t even here, and demonising EU citizens who are now leaving the country voluntarily.

No wonder the government has announced a review into the impact of foreign students because its economically disastrous policy was based on figures that were out by 96%…”

The universities have argued strongly over the years that overseas student bring economic benefits, have a big impact on the fee revenue at many institutions and that it was wrong to include them in official immigration figures.

Given the importance of controlling immigration in TMay’s interpretation of what the Brexit referendum meant this is a big political issue. The Scottish Tory leader whose 12 gains north of the border on June 8th saved the situation for TMay, has argued strongly against TMay on the issue.

Mike Smithson