On the day when net immigration in the UK hit the extraordinary level of 330,000, the Institute of Directors warned that the government’s increasingly desperate and ad hoc measures to try to stem the tide were threatening to damage British business. They’re right, of course, but they haven’t carried their analysis through, and realised that the real problem (as with so many issues) starts with our EU membership.
David Cameron has repeatedly promised (“no if, no buts”) to get immigration down to “tens of thousands”. Yet the real figure keeps going up, with “European citizens” (and especially Romanians and Bulgarians) strongly represented.
Cameron is caught in a pincer movement, a double bind. On the one hand, net immigration from the EU keeps going up, and as long as we’re EU members, there’s nothing he can do about it. His proposed changes to welfare rules are merely fiddling at the margin. What did he expect, when the minimum wage in the UK is many times average wages in Eastern Europe? The EU’s “free movement” rules might have worked when all member-states had broadly similar levels of prosperity, but the moment you add large numbers of poor people into the mix, there is a huge incentive for people to move from poor to richer countries.
So on the other hand, all Cameron can do is to suppress immigration from the rest of the world, including the Commonwealth. He is forced to operate a highly discriminatory policy where we are obliged to accept unskilled Romanians (who are broadly white), but forced to refuse highly-qualified people from (say) the Indian sub-continent, who might make an important contribution to our economy.
So the IoD is quite right: we’ve made it too difficult to bring in necessary skills for our industry (there’s a big issue of why we don’t train enough people with the necessary skills in the UK, but that’s a different and longer-term question). We’ve given ourselves a policy that represents the worst of both worlds. We get far too many people, often with difficult language and cultural issues, but we can’t select the skills we need, and the average quality of immigrants is far too low.
And the vital point, which we in UKIP must make over and over as we approach the referendum, is that our membership of the EU is the problem.
We will demand a policy where we first seek to reach a broad national consensus on the numbers we can accept each year without undue strain on social cohesion and social infrastructure. Without being unduly prescriptive, this is likely to be (in Cameron’s phrase) in the tens of thousands. Then we will operate a points system, as Australia does, to ensure we get the best value from those who we accept, and ensure that industry gets the skills it needs.
Once we get a grip on the numbers, we may well find we have elbow-room to accept modest numbers of refugees from war zones and troubled areas of the world. But the message for Angela Merkel is this: while net immigration driven by EU policy stands at 330,000, we have no room to share her refugee burden.