Awaiting the storm (or explosion!)

It cannot be much longer before the penny finally drops regarding the terms being proposed by the EU for the UK’s 21-month “transitional arrangement.”

Businessmen like John Mills and John Longworth, both of whom met Michel Barnier in Brussels last week, are distinctly unimpressed with what we are likely to be offered, but it is surprising that there haven’t already been even louder cries of outrage from the Conservative back benches. Last November, at a meeting organised by Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman, Rt Hon David Jones MP was quite unequivocal that any further involvement of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the legal affairs of the UK after Brexit would be an “absolute red line” for himself and a number of his colleagues, who would rather leave with no deal.

As more details emerge, it is becoming clear that it’s not just a role for the ECJ in our affairs which the EU wishes to incorporate into the transitional deal. According to an article in The Times, the EU will insist on the free movement of people throughout the period and the inclusion of people moving to the UK before 31st December 2020 in any post-Brexit agreement on citizens’ rights.. This again is a slap in the face for leave voters. It’s not just that many of us voted leave because we want to see a drastic cut in immigration; more to the point, we voted leave because we wanted our institutions to be sovereign – and this means that the EU must have no say in determining who can or cannot come into the UK or how long they can stay.

This tougher stance is contained in a new document dated 15th January. It is not the final word on the EU’s position, which will not be published until the end of the month, but it certainly gives us an idea of the general direction of travel. The guidelines produced last year by the European Parliament, although essentially a consultative document, were bad enough. We would be, in effect, a colony of the EU, unable to sign any trade agreements with other countries and still subject to the Common Fisheries and Common Agricultural policies. This document was bad enough, but according to Bloomberg, the latest document also states that we would need to seek the EU’s permission even to start negotiations on trade deals with third parties. We would be unable to strike out on our own path. The net “divorce bill” may also be increased.

Perhaps ironically, the Council President Donald Tusk told the European Parliament that “our hearts are still open “that the UK might “have a change of heart” and stay within the EU. This suggests a warmth towards us which just is not reflected in the negotiating guidelines which seem designed to squeeze and humiliate us as much as possible. Chancellor Philip Hammond claimed recently that the EU is “paranoid” that other countries will follow us out of the door. It has also been claimed that the EU is pressurising Switzerland not to make a bilateral deal with the UK The EU’s tough stance may well all be technically justifiable from the treaties, but it clearly wishes to interpret them in the toughest way possible as far as Brexit is concerned. No one with any sense of self-respect should give in to this bullying.

The transitional deal must therefore be kicked into the long grass as soon as possible, especially as there is no guarantee that a new trade deal will be ready to replace it after 21 months. The EU’s ambassadors have signalled a willingness for the transitional period to be extended, but this would only prolong an unsatisfactory situation which is not Brexit in any real sense of the term.

A further complication is looming on the horizon. The Norwegians have indicated that they would seek to renegotiate their trading arrangements with the EU if we were given favourable access to the EU’s single market  while not being a member of it.  This, of course, refers to any long-term deal and therefore is not an issue for Mrs May at the moment as the EU has insisted that negotiations on a long-term trading arrangement cannot start yet.  Let’s face it, she has enough on her plate as her team prepares to negotiate the transitional arrangements. We must hope that there is already a storm brewing up on the Conservative back benches which will rapidly knock these unacceptable proposals on the head and force the government to take a different approach.

If not, the storm is likely to strike with far greater ferocity  in four years’ time. A botched Brexit where we leave in name only is not what we voted for and not what Mrs May promised us when she became leader.   Brexit must mean Brexit or our Prime Minister will not only find herself consigned to a “rogues gallery”, excoriated by posterity alongside the likes of Lord North, Neville Chamberlain, Heath, Blair and Brown, but she may well take her party down with her.

For those who DON’T want a break from Brexit……

Maybe you are longing for Christmas, especially given the Parliamentary recess will at least give s a week’s break for Christmas. If so, there’s no need to read any further…..

On the other hand, you may find this article of interest. Whatever the turmoil of our Brexit negotiations, our country has risen from fifth to first ranking in the Forbes list of the best countries in which to do business.  This is the first time we have ever taken the top spot and the competition is fierce – several Anglophone nations, Scandinavia, Hong Kong Singapore and Switzerland  would have given us a good run for our money.

On a very different note, Open Europe has published a report entitled Beyond the Westminster Bubble – what people really think of immigration. It’s quite long- 74 pages in total, but it well illustrates the strength of feeling that exists among the UK population for a cut in migration, even though there isn’t much confidence in the Government’s ability to meet its target to reduce numbers to “tens of thousands”.

Open Europe may not be the moist popular think tank among Brexit supporters, but it does produce some very useful research and this paper is well worth reading.

 

 

Immigration: Concerns on both sides of the Channel

At a time when positive news on the Brexit front seems to be in short supply, the latest immigration figures, which were published last week have brought some welcome cheer. Long term net migration fell by 106,000 to 230,000 in the year following the vote to leave the EU – the biggest drop since records began in 1964. The number of arrivals in the UK fell by 80,000 and the number of departures rose by 26,000. Even so, this welcome fall still leaves the Government a long way short of its target to bring down net migration below 100,000.

Naturally, not everyone is happy. Jonathan Portes, a senior fellow at The U.K. in a Changing Europe, said the statistics show the country is “less attractive” to migrants from Europe. “Whatever your views on the impact of immigration, it cannot be good news that the U.K. is a less attractive place to live and work, and that we will be poorer as a result,” he said.

Conversely, Lord Green of MigrationWatch gave the figures a cautious welcome. “This is a significant and very welcome reduction in net migration – especially by EU citizens who do not have a job to come to,” he said. “It points to what could be achieved once the UK regains full control over migration. Meanwhile, employers who raise cries of alarm should be reminded that we still have a net inflow of over a hundred thousand from the EU, plus 170,000 from outside the EU and last week’s figures saw a new record of 2.4 million for the number of EU workers in the UK.”

This is the bottom line. Our country is full up. Unless things change quickly, to quote the MigrationWatch website, “A new home will need to be built every five minutes over the next 25 years just to house future migrants and their families.” There is no doubt that some people are making themselves very wealthy by running businesses which rely on migrant labour and there is no doubt too that a sudden and complete stop in immigration would cause problems in some sectors, but there are many reasons to be concerned about mass migration, which are nothing to do with being “racist”. In this excellent piece, Kathy Gyngell pulls no punches:-

There’s a reason why our roads are blocked with traffic, why there’s a housing shortage, why there are not enough school places, why the NHS is creaking at the seams. It’s called population growth, something that the political class choose to ignore, let alone see the need to be planned for….Driven by record migration levels, our population has seen is sharpest growth ever. Britain has experienced a population increase of over 5 million in a just over a decade, from 2005 to 2016.”

So what has been our politicians’ reaction? “Both the Conservative and Labour parties appear to be in some sort of denial, their heads firmly stuck in the sand. Dare to ask the unmentionable – whether the country can possibly cope with these numbers without irrevocably and irreparably changing – and you are silenced, cast as racist or fascist.” That such words should be written a year after the referendum is a tragic indictment of our elected representatives. True, the main reason we voted to leave was to regain our sovereignty, but concerns about immigration loomed large. One must not interpret Dan Hannan’s comments about the negative effects of last year’s “Breaking Point ” poster to imply that its emphasis on immigration was a turn-off right across the board. What he is saying is that its style was too crude to win round undecided voters. There were plenty of people who had already decided to vote to leave the EU because of the immigration issue so  the poster was merely preaching to the converted.

Opponents of Brexit claim that anyone hoping for a cut in net migration is going to be disappointed. Thankfully, they have already been proved wrong, although it is too early to be confident that the recent figures represent a long-term trend,

Meanwhile, it’s not just the UK which is experiencing “migration fatigue”. Even the famously tolerant Dutch are getting fed up. The decision to relocate the European Medicines Agency from London to Amsterdam on Brexit has not been universally welcomed in the Netherlands’ most popular tourist destination. “Expats go home and leave the City to us, ” said Danielle van Diemen, a 5th-generation Amsterdammer.  “I am like a visitor in my own neighbourhood,” said Bert Nap, who lives near the centre. “We have lost all our bakers and other shops to tourism-orientated shops,” he added. Like London, Amsterdam is experiencing a housing shortage and it’s not the predilection of the indigenous Dutch for large families which is causing the problem.

However, it’s not only UK politicians who are  refusing to admit that there is a problem. The European continent “will clearly need immigration in the coming decades,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, a few days ago.

It won’t just be the UK and Amsterdam where words like this will go down like a lead balloon. Take Hungary for instance. The big problem of illicit migration has been contained by the erection of a border fence complete with surveillance equipment – and the measures are widely popular with voters. The Hungarian government is currently planning further to toughen the border defences and cares not one iota about the condemnation it has faced from certain quarters, including some  Western European politicians, who have accused the Hungarians and some other Eastern European countries of “retreating from European Values”.

Eastern Europeans, on the contrary, would claim to be defending and preserving European values. They  look at what has happened in the Western part of the Continent and shudder. In Poland,  less than 10 percent of respondents disagree with the statement that “all immigration from majority Muslim nations should be stopped.” Mariusz Blaszczak, the Polish interior minister said, “The security of Poland and the Poles is at risk” by taking in migrants.  “We mustn’t forget the terror attacks that have taken place in Western Europe, and how — in the bigger EU countries — these are unfortunately now a fact of life.” In the Czech Republic, former president Vaclav Klaus said, “We refuse to permit the transformation of our country into a multicultural society . . . as we currently see in France and in Great Britain.”

There are many in the UK who read Mr Klaus’ words with a sense of shame. Many of us never wanted multiculturalism and even if we would never abuse individual immigrants,  it is by no means racist to be concerned about the threat to our countryside posed by the growing population, nor to point out that more monocultural societies like Japan and South Korea are also the most stable and much less plagued by violent crime.  In Japan, opposition to mass immigration remains solid, in spite of the falling birthrate.

Furthermore, the economic arguments in favour of mass immigration are wearing thinner and thinner. The advances in robotics are likely to see as many as 11 million UK jobs automated by 2036. True, we are currently short of skilled medical staff, but sensible education policies ought to be able to address this in a decade of so.  In spite of the repeated mantra that large-scale immigration is a good thing, the likes of Mr Portes  are failing to grasp the point that the referendum was something of a turning point in this debate. Not only are there a sizeable number of people who have never accepted that the benefits of immigration outweigh the problems but they are now increasingly less afraid to say so and challenge the prevailing wisdom – and are doing so in the knowledge that such sentiments are being increasingly voiced in other countries too. The sentiments in Eastern Europe summarised above, Donald Trump’s proposed US-Mexican border  and the success of anti-immigration parties in Germany and Austria are all signs that this issue can’t be swept under the carpet any more.

Photo by marklyon

Immigration:- putting the cart before the horse?

Last week, the Guardian published a leaked draft of a Home Office document entitled  ‘Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System After the UK Leaves the EU’

It contained the welcome news that the Government is determined to bring immigration down and intends to use the opportunities presented by Brexit to honour – albeit rather belatedly – its pledge to bring net migration down below 100,000.

Given the high profile of the immigration issue during last year’s referendum campaign, it is the least the government can do. In summary, free movement will come to an end on Brexit day. A scheme for seasonal workers will allow our fruit to be picked, but work permits will be time-limited, with those for low-skilled workers lasting only two years, with no right to settle. For all new EU workers, the right to bring family members will be significantly curtailed. UK companies will be encouraged to take on UK workers where possible.  Though it does not give precise details, the document says the UK is minded to introduce an income threshold for some EU citizens before they will be allowed to reside here.

It all sounds good in theory. There are good,sound reasons for slashing immigration. The pressure exerted by migrants is making it harder for native Brits to get onto the housing ladder or, in some places, to see a GP or find a place for their children in a local school. The use of short-term work permits will give the government  – and indeed, business – greater flexibility, especially as advances in robotics will drastically shrink the numbers of low-skilled workers required. Some experts suggest that we will have problems finding work for all the current UK working age population within 30 years. We certainly don’t want to saddle ourselves with lots of migrants whose jobs have been taken by machines but who have a right to stay here.

Of course, a Tory party which has found itself on the back foot since the General Election will be keen to do all it can to rebuild its support and there are plenty of voted to be garnered by being tough on immigration.

Yet the welcome given to this document must be tempered with a feeling that the Government is rather putting the cart before the horse. We know what it wants to do about immigration but very little about its proposed relationship with the EU. We would probably be able to implement most these restrictions as a member of EFTA and accessing the Single Market via the EEA agreement and applying restrictions in the same way as Liechtenstein, in spite of claims by one EU official that  “Limits on numbers of people or categories of migrant worker are incompatible with single market access.” They seem to have forgotten this small Alpine country which invalidates their argument.  Likewise, we would certainly be able to restrict migration if we stormed out of the current negotiations and left the EU in March 2019 with no agreement and some commentators are suggesting that this is seriously being considered.

The EFTA route has thus far not been in favour while walking out would be foolish and lead to the “cliff edge” which we are repeatedly being told the Government wishes to avoid. So what, then, is the Brexit framework into which these immigration proposals will fit?

Furthermore, if the Government is serious about reducing net migration below 100,000, what about immigration from outside the EU? The most recent statistics did record a drop in arrivals from EU-27, but arrivals from the rest of the world stood at 266,000 during the same period. The government could act here and now to stem the flow if it so desired. Then what about illegal immigrants? Will the Government finally get serious and deport them?

So while this document is a step in the right direction, a lot of questions remain unanswered.

 

Brexit: what we want and what we might get

The last week has seen the publication of a number of positions papers by the Department for Exiting the European Union, covering issues ranging from trade and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice through to the Irish border. You will find articles which review each position paper on the website.

Of course, what the UK government wants and what the EU will agree to may not be the same thing. Indeed,  at least one commentator is claiming that the position papers do not yet reflect a final government position but are but one side of “an internal debate within the Conservative Party.”

But what do UK voters want from Brexit? A survey by the London School of Economics and Oxford University asked more than 3,000 people for their thoughts – including both leave and remain voters.

The most interesting finding is the unity between remain and leave voters on a number of issues. Barely one third of those surveyed are keen on single market membership, ongoing EU payments, free movement and the jurisdiction of the ECJ once we leave. Significantly, this majority includes a number of remain voters.

Although there is widespread support for a free trade agreement with the EU (88%), 69% want customs checks introduced at the borders – some what contradictory stances!

What is more significant is that this survey offers little support for hard-core remoaners and remainiacs  who wish to stall Brexit. The referendum is now behind us; the majority of the population has accepted the result and wants to see the government make the most of the opportunity leaving the EU provides.

What sort of deal we will get, of course, is another issue. Analysis of the position papers published so far  do not give us any sort of detail about how deals on many areas are going to be concluded. We have seen what amounts to a UK wish list which the EU may well decide to refuse.

Still, amidst all the concerns about the lack of progress by the Department for Exiting the European Union, one good piece of news appeared today. Net migration (immigrants minus emigrants) has fallen by 81,000 from 327,000 to 246,000 in the year to March.  The number of EU nationals coming to the UK fell while over 33,000 more additional EU nationals left the country, including an extra 17,000 from the so-called EU8, the former Soviet bloc countries who joined the EU in 2004. 246,000 immigrants still equates to a city the size of Hull or Plymouth and is well above the Conservatives’ net migration target of under 100,000. This drop is nonetheless welcome. Many individual factors no doubt contributed to it, but Brexit would indisputably have been one of the reasons. Given that one  of the reason for the Brexit vote was a desire to end free movement and thus bring immigration down, it is encouraging to see that it has already had a benign effect – and without the Government even doing anything!

Photo by dullhunk

Migration, housing, robots, lettuces… Time for some joined-up thinking

Some clear thinking on how post-Brexit Britain will function is urgently needed and it seems in rather short supply at the moment. On the one hand, arch-remoaner Lord Mandelson recently claimed that the electorate will change its mind about Brexit when levels of immigration fail to drop. His assumption is that it will not do so – an assumption which has already been contradicted by a survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel, whose members are suggesting that there has been a drop in the number of workers from EU countries coming to the UK.  Quoting statistics from the Office of National Statistics, more than 60,000 EU workers came to the UK in each of the three quarters prior to the referendum. That number fell below 30,000 in the three months to the end of September. Furthermore, the most recent quarterly figures from the Office of National Statistics saw net migration fall by 49,000, with 23,000 fewer people arriving and 26,000 more departing. In other words, Mandelson’s claims have already been rebutted and we haven’t even triggered Article 50!

Indeed, ever since the referendum result, some EU citizens resident in the UK have been considering returning home. The Chartered Institute of Personnel report claims that up to a quarter of firms in their survey believed that some of the EU nationals they employ are possibly considering leaving the country in 2017.

David Davis recently told an audience in Estonia that the UK would not suddenly shut the door on low-skilled migration form the EU. The word “suddenly” is significant. If on Brexit day, all migration were to cease, it could cause labour shortages in several sectors, but fast forward a few years and the ability to control migration is likely to be a great blessing. Mr Davis said it will take “years and years” to persuade British workers to do jobs in the hospitality industry or agriculture that are currently carried out by EU migrants, arguing the economy needs continued immigration to maintain its success. This, however, is questionable. Will these jobs still be done by human beings, British or otherwise? As far back as November 2015, speaking to the Trades Union Congress, Andy Haldane of the Bank of England suggested that within  a decade, as many as 15 million jobs could be at risk of automation – in other words, replaced by robots. Although Mr Haldane didn’t mention migration, many of the jobs which he cited as vulnerable, such as “production tasks” are done by migrants.

The idea that we need migrants to fund our pensions unless we want to work into our 70s, as suggested by John Cridland, a director of the CBI, is therefore very debatable. Within 10-15 years, even if Mr Haldane’s figure of 15 million is a bit optimistic,  we could well be suffering from a surfeit of labour almost on a par with the 19th century when mechanization resulted in a massive fall in the number of farm labourers needed to work the land. Fortunately, at that time, industry was able to absorb the surplus labour, but in the early 21st century, few, if any, growth industries are labour intensive. What will we do with all the unemployed immigrants? Perhaps Mr Cridland would like to answer. One thing is sure, if their jobs have been displaced by robots, they will not be contributing to anyone’s pension.

The likely reduction in migration on Brexit should therefore be welcomed as an incentive to develop artificial intelligence. As far back as July 2013, Fraser Nelson of the Spectator  wrote “We have to wean the country off the drug of immigration.” In Japan, the robotics revolution is already under way.  Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance is laying off 34 employees and replacing them with an artificial intelligence system. Besides saving on salaries, the company reckons that the new machine will be more productive as it can calculate policyholder payouts at a much faster rate than humans.

Japan has never been keen on encouraging immigration and even with a falling population, the electorate would rather encourage more women back into the labour force or else increase the number of older retirement-age workers. While the well-entrenched Japanese preference for cultural homogeneity and very little immigration has attracted much criticism, in the age of robotics, contrary to received wisdom, it may well prove a blessing.

Certainly, as a result of its opposition to large-scale immigration Japan has been spared some of the problems which the UK is facing. In many parts of our country, groups are forming to oppose large-scale housebuilding on green field sites. In places like the Cotswolds and East Kent for example, there is widespread anger at the prospect of large, unsightly developments. Were it not for immigration, the UK population would be more or less static and there would be no need to concrete over the countryside.

And the problems of removing land from agricultural use has been highlighted recently by the sharp increases in the costs of vegetables such as lettuces and courgettes. Poor weather conditions in southern Europe, including flooding in Spain and cold weather in Italy, where many winter vegetables are grown, has been the cause.  Why not, then, grow more produce in this country? This is what some MPs are proposing and it makes a lot of sense as we are only 77% self-sufficient for food. However, a growing population fuelled by immigration, leading to less available agricultural land is only going to make things worse.

These challenging issues give the lie to claims that those who voted for Brexit out of a desire to reduce immigration were all motivated by racism. It is more a case of weighing up the alternatives and deciding that a cut in immigration is the better option. What is racist about the concern that if migration is not reduced, we will be vulnerable to food shortages? Or that we are likely to find ourselves stuck with possibly millions of unemployed immigrants once the artificial intelligence revolution really gets under way? From the Flemish weavers through to the Huguenots, immigration benefitted the UK in the past but things are different now.

Of course, those who have already settled in the UK should not be booted out on Brexit. Of course,  UK citizens should be free to marry a spouse from another country. Of course, the international nature of our academic institutions should be allowed to continue, but large scale migration is another matter. Weighed in the balance, it is likely to cause more problems, particularly in the longer term, than it solves.

The government therefore needs to engage in some joined-up thinking as it plans its post-Brexit immigration policy. Next year marks 70 years since the arrival of 492 Caribbean citizens on board MV Empire Windrush  – an event which marked the beginning of large-scale immigration to the UK. We needed those people then and they are to be admired for their tenacity in  staying put in the face of quite blatant hostility. 70 years on, however, the assumption that we will still need to bring people – particularly low-skilled workers – into this crowded little island is looking very questionable.