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Sunday, August 12, 2018

False choices and sloganeering

Many people have criticised Theresa May's blunt and uncompromising approach to immigration and the debilitating effect it is having on the economy and our public services, but surely even she must listen to the latest comments from the CBI.

As the Guardian reports, the Confederation of British Industry has urged Theresa May to drop her “blunt target” on immigration numbers and introduce new freedom of movement rules for EU citizens post-Brexit to ensure firms, large and small, can stay in business when the UK leaves the bloc.

They have called for new rules for EU citizens to keep open the pipeline of migrant workers in all sectors including agriculture, hospitality, construction, the NHS and the creative industries; and an easing of the policy for non-EU workers to give small businesses, unable to afford the visas or deal with Home Office red tape, a chance to plug any gaps arising from Brexit.

“Openness and control must not be presented as opposites. Public attitudes towards migration and the impact it has on communities are far more nuanced,” said CBI Deputy Director General, Josh Hardie.

The report argues that May’s long-held immigration target of 100,000 migrants a year is not viable; that rules on visas for non-EU workers are too expensive and too restrictive; and a new EU citizens-only policy needs to be developed to keep the economy on the road:

“Scrapping blunt targets, ensuring all who come to the UK contribute and using the immigration dividend to support public services will add to public confidence,” said Hardie.

“The building blocks of a successful new migration system for the UK begin with an honest and open debate that has been absent from politics. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Get it wrong, and the UK risks having too few people to run the NHS, pick fruit or deliver products to stores around the country. This would hurt us all – from the money in our pockets to our access to public services.”

While recognising that immigration “has also given rise to legitimate public concern about the pressure it creates on public services and on society”, the report says leaving the EU will mean “momentous change” for business which should be addressed properly by the government.

The implications of the report are wider however. It has relevance to our current status within the EU, to the damage that 8 years of excessive curbs on migration have done to our economy, and it also refutes many of the arguments on which the Brexit referendum was won. In particular, the report says that shifting the tone of the debate to focus on the positive benefits of migration will help build public trust.

The CBI argues that immigration has “delivered significant economic benefit to the UK” over the past 50 years and maintaining access to people and skills is “a high priority for business in the UK as it prepares to leave the EU”.

I cannot help but get the feeling that these conclusions have been mooted two and a half years too late. If only the remain side had been so positive during the referendum campaign.
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