Our new coalition government is determined to never miss an opportunity to show how nasty it is. The latest example is immigration. The Home Secretary’s wheeze about an immediate cap on non EU immigration is a pretty pointless exercise. All about showing how nasty the government is and playing to their hard core right wing fanatics in Parliament and in the media.
The reality is that the previous Labour government has already done the dirty work for the coalition with the introduction of a new points based system. Add in the effects of the economic recession and the government’s target of reducing net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ will be met without the government having to do anything at all. As is explained in an article in the Guardian: “The level of net migration – the number of people coming to work and live in the UK over people leaving to live abroad – has been falling sharply, from 220,000 in 2007 to 142,000 in September 2009.
Net migration has continued to fall in the past nine months and for the first time since Poland joined the EU in 2004 the number of east Europeans leaving exceeds those coming here. This trend is likely to accelerate next year as Germany lift its seven-year transitional restrictions on Poles working in the country.
This has been accompanied by a 15% fall in applications by skilled migrants from outside Europe – the group to be covered by the annual immigration cap – in the first three months of this year. It means that the coalition's aim of reducing net migration below 100,000 within five years is likely to be achieved whether or not the cap is in place.”
But of course that is not good enough for our nasty government. After all in this case they could not claim credit for any reduction in net migration. And that would not do for our macho government. So they have to trot out a fairly meaningless cap before they impose a permanent cap on non EU migrants.
The reason why this is nasty is that it is all a bit of a charade. For this policy only covers legal migration from non EU countries. There is nothing, short of leaving the EU altogether, which even this government is not prepared to do, that the government can do about EU migration. And of course illegal migration is a completely different case altogether. As is the issue of refugees seeking asylum. So if we take the four routes of immigration into the UK - 1. legal EU migration; 2. legal non EU migration; 3. refugees and 4. illegal migration; the government is only proposing to tackle one of these. And then only in a completely arbitrary way - imposing an cap on total numbers.
The reason of course is the government, even as nasty a government as ours, can do nothing of practical substance about the other three routes. Illegal migrants will find some way or another of getting into the UK. But they will only stay if they can find and maintain some kind of work. As illegals they are not entitled to state benefits, so they are not a burden on the rest of us. A really, really deep and long lasting recession would presumably stop illegal migration in its tracks. However I don’t think the current lot are that daft. Let’s hope not anyway.
Binding legal international obligations make it more or less impossible to do anything about the other two routes of immigration. So we or rather the government is left with non EU migration to play around with. And that is all they doing - playing a nasty little game. Unfortunately it is a game that affects real people. Not just those who might be denied an opportunity to find work here. But also those businesses who will be denied the right to employ a needed worker. For an arbitrary cap is just that - arbitrary. The limit for workers from outside the EU is to be set at 24, 100 for the year to April 2011. Why this particular figure? What happens if 24, 100 workers have entered the UK by the end of this year? How are businesses expected to meet any rise in demand if they cannot hire the labour they need? Will the government be really nasty and stick to this arbitrary limit and harm UK business? Or will they be forced to allow exceptions? If so they would merely confirm that the whole exercise is a media charade and a nasty one at that.