Sunday, 19 June 2016

Brexit for a progressive immigration policy


In my last post, I quoted from British Future's "How To Talk About Immigration" in stating that the majority of the British public "hold pragmatic and nuanced views".  To illustrate this, I've reproduced one of their pie charts in the picture above. At this particular time, I feel it is important to emphasise that Britain remains a country where the majority are moderate and reasonable.

The shocking events of Thursday 16th June means two young children have lost their mother and a husband has lost his wife. I confess I wasn't aware of Jo Cox the MP, and I follow politics more than most people, but by all accounts she was an MP of particular compassion, dedication and integrity.

The sequence of events and the motive for the killing are unclear. We do not know whether this deed was prompted by mental illness or extremist views, or both, or neither. While the due process of law must be followed to uncover the truth, politically it does not matter - the killer does not speak for us. Leave or Remain, Left or Right, Black or White, Gay or Straight - he does not speak for us. I gather the man charged with this murder is Scottish - should he be convicted, that does not taint Scotland by association.

Regrettably, some in the Remain campaign have stooped to appalling opportunism in using the violent act of one individual to smear the entire Leave campaign.  The narrative being constructed is that to even question immigration policy or EU membership is akin to hate crime and in some way to blame for this weeks tragic event. That is a very broad demographic to accuse:
  • The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has consistently promised to cut net immigration to "ten's of thousands".
  • The Chancellor, George Osborne, in his Treasury economic analysis of EU membership refers to unskilled immigration being too high.
  • In recent days, Theresa May (Home Secretary), Tom Watson (Labour Deputy Leader). Ed Balls (former Labour Shadow Chancellor) have all spoken of the need for immigration control and limits of free movement within the EU.
  • Vote Leave contains Lord Owen (former Labour Foreign Secretary, former Leader of the Social Democrats, long-time europhile and recent convert to Leave), Gisella Stuart (German born and bred Labour MP), Priti Patel (Conservative minister, born in London to a Ugandan Indian family).
Are we really to believe that these people, along with half of the UK population, are toxic xenophobes ? I gather that the last 4 MPs to be murdered were victims of the IRA, whose political arm, Sinn Fein, support Remain - are Remain tainted by such association ? The  answer to both these questions is of course No.

UK public concerns over immigration

As for myself, while I'm clearly committed to Leave, my motivation is not immigration. I've historically had a liberal view on immigration "it's good for the economy - what's the problem?". But it was pointed out to me that I live in a rural part of the country and am a reasonably well-paid professional - so it was easy for me to be "liberal" on immigration.  Fair point.  So over the last year or two I have made a concerted effort to understand immigration concerns.

The main concern people have is simply the volume of immigration.   I personally don't have concerns over eventual population size or population density.  While England has a high population density by European standards (on a par with Netherlands), it is less than half that of Jersey or Guernsey. England's population problem is more one of distribution, arising from unbalanced economic growth.  But there are valid concerns over the rate of immigration that can be absorbed and integrated. In particular, an effectively limitless supply of low-wage labour resulting in :
- wage compression for lower paid UK workers;
- severely reduced investment in training UK workers, especially the young;
- increased load on services and infrastructure, especially as below median incomes contribute less in tax revenue than the value of benefits & services consumed.

But for me, the primary concern over EU immigration is fairness. EU non-discrimination rules mean that the UK Government must treat all EU citizens as if they were UK citizens in all matters of Government public spending: access to benefits, housing, apprenticeships etc. The EURES scheme requires UK jobs to be offered to workers across the EU, provides funding to EU job applicants and pays a bonus to UK companies for hiring EU nationals. Poorer and young Britons are squeezed out as a result.

By contrast, non-EU migrants have no recourse to UK Public funds and are unable to claim most benefits, tax credits and housing assistance, so usually contribute more in tax than they consume in benefits and services. Incredibly, the UK government are pursuing an anti-immigration policy regarding non-EU migrants:
- introducing a £1,000 per annum levy on companies for each skilled non-EU migrant they employ,
- requiring that skilled non-EU migrants resident for less than 10 years earn a minimum £35,000 pa or face deportation;
- last year, the NHS turned away 2,700 non-EU migrant nurses.

Most British people would support a system where the UK Government can target taxpayer-funded benefits and training at poorer and younger British citizens. They would also want to treat all non-UK migrants equally: repeal the £1,000 levy and £35,000 salary requirement on non-EU migrants; extend the rule on no recourse to UK Public funds to EU migrants; provide equal access to employment for migrants from any source, EU or non-EU.  The current immigration system only makes sense if you are ideologically committed to the idea of Britain as a province in a single European state.

A Progressive and Global Immigration policy

Contrary to much of the Remain campaign's claims there is a positive, progressive, global view of Brexit and immigration.

Liam Halligan in the Telegraph, who describes himself as from proud migrant stock, argues that there is a very strong pro-immigration case for leaving the EU. Halligan describes Britain as "inherently tolerant of migrants – superbly tolerant", but also argues that tolerance is dependent on confidence that immigration is being managed and that concerns of low-skilled, low-income British workers are heard. He cites  "tolerant and economically successful countries, with vibrant migrant cultures Australia, New Zealand, Canada" as examples of countries that "have migration controls".

Douglas Hansen-Luke, writing for United Politics, describes himself as a Brexiteer in favour of immigration. He states "Britain has always been an open, internationally mixed nation ... better at integration than most" and highlights the need for national debate (recognising the need for democratic consent).  He observes that in Australia "more than 25% of its population was born abroad", but "working immigrant arrivals contribute more in tax than they take out" reducing pressure on services and personal income has still risen strongly. He describes this as a "win-win alternative not a zero-sum game".

Immigration & EFTA EAA

I am associated with a group of bloggers advocating the "Liberal case for Leave", who advocate an initial exit to EFTA EAA, hence retaining freedom of movement, in the short term at least. Understandably, many in the Leave campaign baulk at this, but I would emphasise that (i) the EFTA EEA interim option is based on pragmatism and expediency and does not diminish or lessen my support and enthusiasm for the goal of a fair, controlled and global immigration policy; (ii) there are policy options available in the interim EFTA EEA stage which would allow an approximation to the desired immigration policy.

There are actually many things the UK Government should be doing now. No entry/exit records are kept for migrants and no record is kept when migrants become available for work. Implementation of systems to track migrants would enable identification of over-stayers and illegal workers. Coupled with rigorous enforcement of minimum wage, residential occupancy standards (eliminating over-crowded migrant bedsits, "beds in sheds" etc) exploitation of migrant workers and the knock-on effect of wage compression would be reduced. Improved NHS workforce planning would provide more training of British nurses and doctors and rely less on immigrant workers.

EFTA EEA membership entails accepting the current EU non-discrimination rules. However, as Phillip Hammond observed last year it is possible to exclude new EU migrants from benefits for 4 years. This could be applied to all UK Public funds (as per non-EU migrants) and extended to 5 years (when permanent residency is achieved). But this would also have to be applied to Britons aged 18 to 23. This could be mitigated by a "post-education" support targeted at young Britons, using the student loan scheme qualification rules or similar (British Citizen, ‘settled status’ as per Immigration Act 1971, or ‘ordinarily resident’). Those in training, work experience or low-paid jobs would be supported and Government initiatives such as apprenticeship schemes would be reserved for young Britons. This might be a way to provide "fairer" immigration within the rules as they stand today.

EFTA EEA membership does allow for unilateral use of "Safeguard Measures" (EEA agreement articles 112-3) in the event of serious economic, social or environmental impact. Liechtenstein have used these measures to control EU immigration. By implementing tracking/enforcement systems described above and withholding national insurance numbers, Britain could activate the EEA safeguard clause and control EU immigration. The flow of workers from low-wage states could be limited, although some low-wage labour will always be required for example, agriculture and the care sector. EEA agreement article 114 allows states to respond to Britain's action with counter-balancing measures, but they must be strictly necessary to redress any imbalance in EEA rights/obligations and should least disturb the functioning of the EEA. Wilder claims that imports of UK goods would be blocked seem unfounded.

Conclusion

There have been unpleasant overtones in the campaign, sometimes from Leave (in particular, Farage's crass poster) but more so from Remain, who have: 
- stoked unfounded fears for ex-pats (they are covered by "acquired rights"); 
- stoked unfounded fears over the border with Ireland (Common Travel Area dates back to 1921); 
- campaigned on strong restrictions of non-EU immigration; 
- and most perniciously, claimed that Leave want to abolish all immigration.

It is time for Remain to stop smearing their opponents. On social media, I have been variously labelled as an ignoramus who has never traveled beyond his village, xenophobe, racist, bigot, fascist, hater, war-monger, British imperialist and most bizarrely a Putin stooge (I've yet to receive any roubles). All before the terrible event of Thursday 16th June 2016.

In truth, the Remain campaign can only offer "more Europe". Uncontrolled immigration from an ever enlarging Europe (Turkey, Ukraine, Balkans and North Africa are all touted for EU membership). Increasing restrictions on non-EU immigration, shutting out Commonwealth allies and friends. No protection for poor and young Britons as all UK publicly funded benefits, services, schemes are open to all EU citizens.  Remain offer a dismal vision of a shrunken Britain inside Fortress Europe, turning its back on the world, taking its orders from Brussels, the employer of last resort for the EU, solving the problems caused by the abysmal failure of EU economic and monetary union.

By contrast, the Leave campaign have a vision of immigration policy based on democratic consent, both controlled and fair, and based on a Britain open to the world, not limited to the "little EU". A policy that allows support for poorer and younger Britons, while embracing those from around the world who wish to contribute to and participate in Britain's future. A future that embraces globalisation and makes Britain freer, more prosperous and happier - like Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

We have one chance in a generation to escape the dismal vision that Remain offers us. One chance in a generation  to dismiss the failed EU government from power. We must vote Leave for a brighter, progressive future for Britain.

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