UK: The Guardian view on immigration and Covid-19: old myths are exposed

Good editorial:

Covid-19 has accomplished in weeks something that UK governments spent a decade failing to do. It has drastically cut labour migration. Lockdown prevents the gathering of real-time data, but it is a reasonable assumption when international travel has stopped that net migration is currently happening at a rate well below 100,000 per year.

That was the target adopted by David Cameron in 2010 and pursued aggressively by Theresa May at the Home Office and in Downing Street. It was never met before being abandoned last year. What happens next is uncertain. This week would have seen the government’s post-Brexit immigration bill return to the Commons, but the timetable has been discarded, not least because parliament’s digital systems are not yet ready for remote voting.

There is no indication that ministers are reconsidering the new regime, which is based on a points system designed to select “skilled” workers over “unskilled” labour. The distinction is meant to favour what ministers call “the best and brightest” while deterring those whom decades of political rhetoric have cast as undesirable. The charges against that latter group are various: poaching jobs from British-born citizens, depressing wages, failing to observe cultural norms and generally upsetting people with conspicuous otherness.

The vilification reached its apogee in the campaign to take Britain out of the EU. The promise to “take back control” of borders had strong emotional appeal, but was never rooted in the reality of modern Britain, where migrants of all skill levels and income brackets keep the economic and social wheels turning. That awkward fact was always bound to emerge over time, but it has been revealed abruptly by the pandemic.

Farmers are already warning that fruit will rot in the fields without seasonal labour normally provided by EU citizens. Attempts to entice UK workers to fill the gap are failing. Immigrants have kept public transport running, delivered goods and, most poignantly, kept the NHS and social care services operational. They have put their lives at risk for a country that has been, at best, ambivalent about their entitlement to live here at all.

Source: The Guardian view on immigration and Covid-19: old myths are exposed

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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