With a by-election in progress, inevitably the Tories have been trying to out-UKIP UKIP, by coming up with increasingly insane policies on immigration.
For example, Cameron, on the back of ridiculous suggestions regarding the issue of human rights, is now talking about withdrawing from EU rules regarding freedom of movement. He also claims to have a strategy for negotiation with the EU that involves refusing to issue National Insurance numbers to EU citizens as a way of capping EU migration by the back door.
When I first heard this, I had to check the date to make sure it wasnt April the 1st. Its such a silly idea, it merely shows how desperate the Tories have become. As the outgoing EU president Manuel Barroso discussed today, if Cameron had been foolish enough to bring up such proposals with other EU countries theyve have likely laughed him out of the room. Such proposals would be in all probability illegal (both under UK law and EU rules) and amount to the imposition of arbitrary law, as it involves someone in a welfare office having to decide who is an immigrant and who is not, e.g. technically I would not count as a migrant given the time Ive been here, but a recently returning Brit with dual citizenship might well count and be denied a right to work.
The problem with such arbitrary rules of course is that it leaves people in limbo land, already a problem with recent legislation on immigration. Furthermore such ill-conceived rules can easily be bypassed by anyone with a crafty lawyer…or a bit of cunning!
For example, if a polish builder wants to work in the UK and the government refuses to give him an NI number he has various options. He could simply work in the black economy and save having to pay any tax (and given the likely illegality of the governments stance, hed probably not have anything to worry about it if the tax man caught him as the worse they could do is ask him to pay back taxes although theyd have to issue him with an NI number first! :))). Existing rules, which predate the UKs EU membership allow the use of Irish RSI numbers instead. So our Pole goes first to Ireland, registers there, takes his RSI number to the UK and starts work (or claims benefits!). Or our builder simply sets up a shell company in Poland and sub contracts it (i.e. himself!) to do a building job in the UK, with him paying his taxes and wages back in Poland.
In short the only thing such a rule would do is deprive the UK of much needed tax revenue and the only migrants it will stop are the lazy ones. Indeed the obvious way around these rules is to just apply for UK citizenship (and I know quite a few whove already done this to get around the Daily Mail antics of the present government)….then presumably staple their British passport to Farages big dumb forehead! :yes:.
There are many myths about immigration, which the Guardian recently tackled. For example, much of the recent system of free movement actually predates the UK joining the EU. Such ideas start back in 1958 and have been expanded on since then. Although the EU played a role in this, keep in mind that several non-EU countries have adopted similar policies.
Also the overwhelming majority of immigrants to the UK work and pay tax, only a tiny fraction of the benefits bill goes to migrants. And indeed as many are relatively young, the burden they place on the UK public services is minimal at best and represent a net contribution to taxes. Most are not here to stay permanently, but do eventually plan to return home after earning a bit of money, building up some experience and/or improving their English.
And as Ive previously discussed the argument that Britain is full is not borne out by the facts. The pressure on public services is coming about because the Tories are not increasing spending on public services to compensate for both a growing population (and increased life expectancy and birth rates are the main drivers of population growth, not immigration) and an ageing one.
And of course there is little point in having harsh immigration rules without the border agency staff to enforce such rules. Universities, as Ive mentioned in a prior post, have come under all sorts of pressure to monitor foreign students (the UKBA seems to fear that despite paying tens of thousands a year for a uni place theyll feel the urge to run off and work in a chip shop, or commit terrorism/benefits fraud in their spare time :no:).
Well about a six months ago one of my students got herself chucked off the course (failed everything!), which meant the withdrawal of her student visa and us reporting this fact to the UKBA. Needless to say I was a little surprised to bump into her on a bus the other day. And based on where she got off (close to a hall of residence) Id guess shes probably still living where she always did.
Why hasnt the UKBA beaten down her door and kicked her out you may ask? Well I suspect because they dont have the staff to follow up every single lead they get (even those that pretty much tell them the exact street address, mobile phone number, bank account and personal details of the offender!). Indeed I doubt anyone in the UKBA actually bothers to read our e-mails. And even if they did, theyd realise that they have little to worry, as most tier 4 students who flunk out of uni will generally hang around the UK, living the life of Reilly for a couple of months, spending the last of their student grant money (from their home government or rich family) on Gucci bags or nights out, before going home.
So obviously enough passing yet more silly rules for people to ignore isnt going to do any good. There is little point in the Tories coming up with new immigration rules if they arent prepared to put up taxes and hire the staff to police them.
More worryingly is the message this sends out. I know quite a few people from the EU or beyond who are working here in the UK and some are getting quite nervous. The idea that despite being here for ten years that they will now have to apply for a work visa strikes them as insane. The idea that despite paying taxes for over a decade they are now not entitled to benefits or the NHS, yet some Chav whose never worked in his life is entitled to these services is just downright insulting (and I might add a policy wed more associate with national socialist parties rather than a supposed centre right party).
And the idea that scaring EU citizens into leaving is going to create jobs for British people only works if you have an economics reading age of five. In the real economy it means that unable to hire staff to get a particular job done an employer is forced to offer a high enough salary sufficient to attract an employee away from a rival firm, leaving them short staffed. The result is a bit like a game of musical chairs, except every round a person leaves rather than a chair and those remaining have to try and fill more and more chairs.
And of course the real danger is businesses, unable to hire the staff they want, will simply move work to overseas subsidiaries. Or indeed relocate out of the UK altogether. In the globalised world we live in its not foreigners coming over here and stealing our jobs we need to worry about. No its foreigners staying at home and stealing our jobs. After all far more of the UKs manufacturing jobs have been lost to places such as China or India than have been lost to Indians or Chinese coming over to work in the UK.
Indeed given how many of the UKs firms are owned by Indians or Chinese Id argue that immigration has increased employment. Indeed a recent academic study reports found that immigration from the rest of the EEA alone has benefited Britain to the tune of at least $25 billion.
And the danger is that the rest of the EU will retaliate. Consider all those British living in Europe, what if the EU adopts similar rules? What if the EU starts clamping down on British benefits tourists using EU health care, such as the Asha King case, or the many British retirees living down in Spain…or indeed many British retirees in Ireland?
In short such arbitrary rules risk creating a large amount of uncertainty and that will almost certainly impact on trade, as companies and individuals put off major spending decisions until they figure out wants going to happen.
There are certainly issues with regard to immigration. The many migrants from around the world hanging around in legal limbo in Calais for example. There is certainly a need to hammer out some sort of a deal that means that one EU state isnt paying the benefits bill for another nations citizens (noting that Britain probably counts as an offender here than a contributor). However the solution to these problems generally amounts to yet more European cooperation, not less. Leaving the EU would not solve these problems, indeed it might well make the situation worse.
Yet again Cameron and the Tories are playing with fire, just to score a few minor points with the BNP bigot brigade.