The Colossal Price of Theresa May’s Immigration Obsession

The continuing saga of what appears to be a disaster in slow motion:

Cracking down on immigration is how Theresa May has chosen to interpret the Brexit campaign’s promise to “take back control.” As a result, the U.K. prime minister has ruled out one of the more plausible alternatives to her own EU withdrawal deal: The so-called “Norway-Plus” idea, which would keep Britain in the European single market and force it to accept freedom of movement from other countries in the bloc.

Indeed, control of British borders is probably the most indelible of May’s red lines in the Brexit negotiations. Even though she voted remain, she was always the fiercest champion of the Conservative Party’s promise to cut yearly net migration to the “tens of thousands” during her previous incarnation as home secretary. Ivan Rogers, the former U.K. ambassador to the EU, said last week: “The entire EU knows that where we have now reached derives from her putting the ending of free movement of people well above all other objectives.”

But while May was right about immigration being one of the driving forces of the leave vote, she should note that British public opinion on the matter seems to be softening. As Rogers suggests, May’s withdrawal deal can be seen as trying to end freedom of movement from the EU at almost any cost, including a weaker economy, being a rule-taker from Brussels and swallowing demands for guarantees on the Irish border. She may no longer be totally in tune with her electorate.

Brits increasingly think that Britain should prioritize staying in the single market over ending freedom of movement, according to the pollsters Opinium. That fits with other surveys which put worries about the economy and public services above immigration. The numbers are still close, but the trend is clear. In early 2017, the split was 40-30 in favor of prioritizing an end to free movement. Recently it has flipped to 40-35 the other way.

None of this is to say that Brits have become sanguine about controlling immigration. But there does seem to be rising concern about whether it’s worth the price of leaving the single market. And the cost of Brexit is already apparent. UBS economists reckon the British economy is 2.1 percent lower than where it would have been without the leave vote, equating to about 40 billion pounds ($50.4 billion) of lost GDP.

At the same time, we’ve also seen a drop in net migration since the vote as EU workers avoid Britain. The yearly number has fallen from about 336,000 at the end of June 2016 to about 273,000 at the end of June this year: a reduction of 63,000.

If you take UBS’s 40 billion pounds of lost output over the past two years and divide it by the number of fewer migrants, you get to 635,000 pounds. Now, no one is suggesting that this is the direct cost of losing each of those migrants. Most of the lost output since the Brexit vote comes from factors such as consumer fear, curtailed investment and the weak pound. But it still begs the question of whether this is all a price worth paying for “taking back control” of the borders?

Looking further forward, the Bank of England’s forecasts suggest that May’s Brexit plan would cut yearly net migration to about 100,000 by 2021, while the long-term GDP cost relative to pre-2016 trends would be between 1 to 3 percent in the most optimistic scenarios. These figures suggest a cost of about 40 billion pounds over a six-to-seven-year-period, for a policy that delivers 236,000 fewer net annual migrants. That’s 169,500 pounds per non-arriving migrant. A smaller figure than the previous one, but still one that asks a question.

May is essentially telling the U.K. that you can control EU migration, or you can have the economic benefits of the single market. You cannot have both. She’s right; there’s no Boris Johnson fantasy of having cake and eating it here. But if her deal has become all about killing freedom of movement at any cost, Brits need to know what that price is.

Source: The Colossal Price of Theresa May’s Immigration Obsession

UK: Sajid Javid has a unique opportunity to change the toxic debate over immigration. But he might not be allowed to

Interesting analysis of Gresham’s law as applied to immigration debates in the UK and the challenges (and opportunity) facing the new Home Secretary:

Amber Rudd’s departure has not eased the pressure on the government over the Windrush scandal. The questions keep on coming. This afternoon Labour is urging the Commons to ask ministers to publish all the government documents relating to the affair since 2010, which could shed new light on Theresa May’s involvement as home secretary.

Sajid Javid, Rudd’s successor, must answer claims that senior officials were paid bonuses for hitting targets for deporting illegal immigrants and that foreign students were wrongly deported over language tests. There are also suggestions May blocked moves to lift a cap on visas for foreign doctors that the NHS needed.

Javid must design a new system for EU migration post-Brexit which does not repeat the Windrush mistakes. That’s before he turns his attention to the rise in violent crime, the terrorist threat and other nasties lurking in the woodwork that we don’t know about.

Javid made an encouraging start by ditching May’s rhetoric about a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, which indirectly caused the Windrush scandal. But his move has worried right-wing Conservative MPs, who fear he is going soft on “illegals”. In fact, Javid has not changed the policy, merely its label. Some Tories, including May, are convinced the public are on their side on “illegals” and therefore bring the conversation back to this topic at every opportunity.

Of course, people are against illegal activity. The UK does have a problem regarding illegal immigration. But talking about that to the exclusion of everything else risks repeating the mistakes of both Tory and Labour politicians for the past 20 years. They have assumed the worst on public opinion and pandered to it. Labour talked tough to prevent the Tories exploiting immigration. The Tories ramped up the rhetoric to combat Ukip’s threat. The party which trumpets providing the first BAME home secretary ran a disgraceful campaign to stop Sadiq Khan becoming London Mayor, only to find the capital’s voters much more tolerant.

I recall being told by a Tony Blair aide that a forthcoming Queen’s speech would include an immigration bill. But the Home Office knew nothing about it – an example of the “do something” culture. Blair got his bill.

The Tories set their arbitrary target to reduce annual net migration below 100,000, which depends as much on the number of people leaving as coming in. Immigration figures were published every three months, showing the target was never going to be hit, which fuelled public scepticism about politicians. So did Labour’s woeful underestimation of the number who would come to Britain after Eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004.

The ever-tougher rhetoric created a vicious circle, as politicians shouted louder to cover their failure to meet public expectations, which they created but could never deliver on. It was rare to talk up the benefits of immigration. As Sir Oliver Letwin, David Cameron’s policy chief, admitted on Monday: “All of us over the past 20, 30 years in British politics have underplayed the advantages to our country of migration, so the argument has become unbalanced.”

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because the same happened on Europe. After 30 years of criticising the EU, promising to slay the dragon of an imaginary superstate and never talking about the benefits of membership, it was hardly surprising the public voted to leave.

On immigration, public opinion is more nuanced than many politicians believe. Some 120 group discussions in 60 places held by the British Future think tank found that most people are “balancers” who recognise the benefits of migration but worry about the impact locally.

In an open letter to Javid, Sunder Katwala, the think tank’s director, said its “national conversation” had found much scope for consensus. He added: “A balanced policy can square this circle: ensuring that Britain controls the large-scale movement of lower-skilled workers that fuelled the Brexit vote while remaining open to the skills and energy that generations of new arrivals have contributed to our economy and society.”

British Future found that two thirds of people would support an annual cap on low-skilled workers; it enjoys majority support among Labour and Tory supporters and Remainers and Leavers. Nick Boles, a former Tory minister, has also proposed replacing the current target with an annual cap reflecting the economy’s needs. Javid might be sympathetic, but feels hemmed in by last year’s Tory manifesto “objective” to reduce net migration to “the tens of thousands”.

A similar conclusion was reached by the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which said in January: “Treating different kinds of migration differently would reflect most people’s views of immigration, and allow for much greater consensus to be built into the debate, as well as for greater transparency over immigration policy in general.”

Javid has a lot of speed reading to do. But he should read the British Future and select committee reports on the scope for consensus. He has a unique opportunity to break the vicious circle, and end our polarising and toxic debate on immigration. The question is: will May let him?

Source: Sajid Javid has a unique opportunity to change the toxic debate over immigration. But he might not be allowed to