FEW days ago the Home Office released a list of some 130 organisations with which it is currently engaging on a year-long consultation over the future immigration system.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the exercise was intended to gather the views of a range of bodies to reflect as wide a spectrum of expert and public opinion as possible on the post-Brexit border and visa arrangements.
If only. A cursory glance at the 130 assorted bodies reveals that, in the main, the list is replete with pro-mass-immigration business lobbyists and NGOs of one form or other.
Incredibly, in the face of all evidence, one fervent pro-immigration activist took the opportunity to claim that the Home Office announcement showed that Sajid Javid was ‘refus[ing] to consult migrants on his plans for changes to the system’. This was blatantly contradicted by the fact that bodies on the list of consultees include the fervently pro-immigration lobby groups the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Migrant Voice, among others.
On the contrary, there is not one organisation that seems to have been selected to express the views of ordinary people, let alone that I can recall ever pressing for a reduction in immigration or questioning the regularity with which so many foreign nationals enter the country, ostensibly for a limited time, and end up staying indefinitely, often illegally.
It seems that our future immigration legislation is to be shaped in accordance with the needs and wishes of business, academia and high migration pressure groups. Yet again, as I have often said in recent years, the government have shown little interest in what the great majority of the public wish to see, and which they themselves have promised in three consecutive manifestos – a significant reduction in net migration levels from the average of nearly 300,000 per year since 2014.
Most worrying is the clear risk that if the White Paper proposals are implemented or made even laxer as a result of pressure from so many organisations keen to loosen controls further, there is a serious risk that immigration will spin out of control, as it did in the Blair/Brown Labour years, or indeed in 2015 and 2016 when it hit all-time record levels.
Undoubtedly, any climb to even higher levels of immigration will cause further serious damage to public confidence in our system of government.
Whatever one might say about Mrs May (and I confess I have always had a soft spot for her), her failure as Home Secretary to bring net migration down to anything like tens of thousands is pretty damning. But she did try, and often against widespread resistance from Cabinet colleagues and elsewhere in Whitehall, not least the omnipotent Treasury.
Not that efforts to reduce immigration can be ascribed to her successors, the first of whom all but ignored the issue while the present incumbent has appeared systematically to hamper the enforcement regime intended to deal with illegal immigration.
Yes, Mr Javid did take over at the Home Office in the wake of the Windrush debacle. However, in trying to defuse what has become a politically toxic affair weaponised by Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP against all aspects of the immigration system, he has also largely unwound the ‘compliant environment’ – measures designed to bear down on illegal immigration.
Most of the mechanisms meant to identify and locate illegal immigrants have been suspended – despite between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the public (polled by YouGov in April 2018) supporting such measures.
Meanwhile, in the course of the Conservative Party leadership contest, Mr Javid made clear that there will no longer be any attempt to reduce net migration and he has openly abandoned the tens of thousands target, stating in interviews that ‘it is not about numbers or arbitrary targets’.
Astonishingly, Mr Javid claimed on LBC on 10 June that, when it comes to immigration, people were ‘not concerned about the overall . . . number’.
Instead, he has adopted a business-friendly approach (broadly what the White Paper is about) that pays little heed to public concern with the scale and impact of current levels of immigration. Yet three-quarters of the public think the UK is already crowded and over half oppose the rapid pace of population growth.
Once the race for No 10 Downing Street is over we could well end up with a new Home Secretary. I would strongly urge whoever takes up the reins at Marsham Street to take immigration control seriously. The next Home Secretary should not only take measures to reduce net migration but also tackle illegal immigration, which is out of control with an estimated 70,000 added each year to the million-plus already here.
Tony Blair boasted in his memoir A Journey (P. 524) that Labour’s tactic of dealing with the issue in the 2005 election campaign was to ‘confess and avoid’.
Similar thinking appears to underly the current Tory leadership campaign, except that there has been no confession, just avoidance. Apathy is a serious mistake and one that is stoking up potential tensions that will come back to haunt the government and the political class.
As Blair also wrote in the memoir: ‘The truth is that immigration, unless properly controlled, can cause genuine tensions, put a strain on limited resources and provide a sense in the areas into which migrants come in large numbers that the community has lost control of its own future.’ Exactly so.
The truth is there is now no realistic prospect of a reduction in immigration if the White Paper proposals, influenced by the 130 carefully selected stakeholders, ever see the light of day. The next Home Secretary must get some balance back into immigration policy or the new contenders, the Brexit Party, will have a field day.