Posted on June 7, 2024

Europe’s Revolt Against Migration Will Soon Spread to Britain

Jeremy Warner, The Telegraph, June 5, 2024

While much of the rest of the Continent shifts to the Right, Britain is busy going its own way by turning Left. OK, so this may be an exaggerated description of the change in government which is about to take place in Britain.

A better way of characterising it would be as a quite marginal shift from the soft centre Right to a not wholly dissimilar form of ill-defined “third way” Blairite managerialism, with much the same positioning and outlook.

The choice between Sunak and Starmer is little different than between Sainsbury’s and Tesco: it’s merely one of tone, branding and buy-one-get-one free price promotion.

Labour’s seemingly unassailable lead in the polls, moreover, is driven not by some sudden ideological transformation in the electorate’s mentality, but merely by the unremitting power of the electoral cycle.

After 14 years of Tory led drift and chaos, pock-marked by a number of exceptionally challenging economic shocks, it’s time for a change. People are fed up with the incumbents. Simple as that.

Nonetheless, the contrast with Europe could, on the face of it, scarcely be greater. Marine Le Pen, France’s enfant terrible of the political Right, and Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s firebrand populist prime minister, are expected to be the big winners in next weekend’s European parliamentary elections.

Both are as eurosceptic and nativist in their leanings as Britain’s Nigel Farage and Holland’s Geert Wilders. Both are on a mission to overturn what Le Pen has called the “disastrous policies” of Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission.

While Starmer wants partially to reverse Brexit by getting closer to the EU, Le Pen and Meloni seek to diverge from it and/or significantly curb its powers. We seem to be completely out of sync.

Yet the forces that drive political debate in the major economies of Europe, including the UK, are not so very different. In no particular order, they are sluggish economic growth, squeezed living standards, overstretched healthcare, broken public services and immigration.

The most recent YouGov poll puts immigration a close third after the economy and the NHS as an electoral issue, and though not nearly as big a concern to voters as it was ahead of the EU referendum eight years ago, it is one which is way ahead of other electoral issues such as crime, housing and the environment.

This should come as no surprise. Over the past two years, net immigration has risen off the scale. If Brexit was in part a vote to stop the migrants, it has failed miserably. If anything, Britain has even more of an open-doors immigration policy today than it did before the referendum, at least from the rest of the world if plainly not the EU.

Whatever one might think of Lee Anderson, the former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and now Reform MP, he was correct in claiming that he spoke for “millions” when he gave voice to the old refrain of “I want my country back”.

And yet we are about to elect a party to government which has no meaningful immigration policy at all and, what’s more, seemingly remains wedded to the old orthodoxy of immigration as an economic good, a humanitarian obligation, and a welcome infusion of cultural diversity.

This is a curiosity, to put it mildly, but I doubt it owes much to the idea of Britain as a haven of liberally minded decency amid the rising tide of nationalistic, continental populism.

As luck would have it, the very high levels of net migration seen over the past two years is set to decline substantially this year and next. As on the economy and NHS waiting lists, Labour is poised to take the credit for trends which are already pre-baked.

Policies already in place to cut net migration include a ban on most international students’ dependents, a ban on care workers’ family members, higher salary thresholds for workers outside of health and social care, and a minimum income threshold for spouse/partner visas.

Meekly hiding behind these pre-existing reforms, Labour will be hoping they’ll be enough of themselves to reduce the numbers to tolerable levels. Mathematically, you would expect the post-pandemic surge in overseas students to subside as past arrivals complete their studies and return home.

Judging by the number of work visas being issued, there has also been a marked slowdown in migration for employment in health and social care. It may well be, then, that the worst of the surge is already over.

All is nevertheless relative, and even an annual fall of say 300,000 from last year’s level of 685,000 would still leave net migration somewhat higher than it was immediately before the referendum eight years ago.

Go back to 1997, the year Tony Blair became prime minister, and net immigration was just 48,000. Since then, the country has changed beyond recognition, with population growth of more than eight million, nearly all of it migrants.

Labour ignores this influx at its peril. Look across the Channel, and you immediately see the consequences of failure to act. All over the shop, the political centre ground is either collapsing or has already done so.

With explosive population growth in Africa and beyond, the pressures at our borders are set to only get worse. The country’s ability to absorb such numbers has meanwhile already been stretched close to breaking point.

The great irony is that in order to maintain the “progressive” politics it champions, Labour will need to hold its nose and become less tolerant on immigration.

It almost beggars belief that business is still recruiting from abroad in a country where nearly 11 million people of working age are not in any form of employment.

If only a third of such people were available for work, it would surely be enough to satisfy the demand from employers.

And yet many companies have become addicted to the cheap labour they can get from overseas for jobs that the locals won’t do, and squeal loudly whenever ministers threaten to cut off the supply.

Society cannot have it both ways. It cannot meet Nigel Farage’s target of “zero” net immigration while simultaneously carrying on with support for the millions who, for one reason or another, cannot or will not work. If we did, we would immediately have a contracting economy unable to provide the public services it already struggles with.

Solutions lie as much with measures to address “workshy” Britain as they do with better controlling our borders. On that, the two main parties have finally seen sense, even if the remedies they propose look half-hearted and unconvincing.

As it is, we remain very much part of the wider European disease on migration. If Labour doesn’t get a grip, there are other forces waiting in the wings only too happy to give it a go.