Will Boris Johnson’s Immigration Plans Upset Both Voters And Business?

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The business of government

Well, they can’t say they weren’t warned. Way back in the balmy summer of 2018, “f*ck business” was how Boris Johnson famously responded to worries companies had about a hard Brexit. Fast forward to today and many firms seem to think they are indeed being screwed over on the issue of migration.

Although many of the varied business groups were more careful with their language that the PM ever was, the message was consistent: how on earth are we going to fill the labour shortages that the new points-based system could create in just a few months time?

Across retail, hospitality, tourism, the health and social care sector, meat processing, freight and horticulture sectors, it was slowly sinking in that home secretary Priti Patel simply didn’t have an answer (or a clue, some may say) to reassure them.

In fact, one of the most extraordinary messages Patel sent out today was that the shortages could be filled by 8.45 million people in the UK “aged between 16 and 64 who are economically inactive”, she said. “We want businesses to invest in them, invest in skilling them up.”‌

Businesses know better than anyone that the UK is close to full employment (a huge achievement which was once the holy grail for Gordon Brown and many in the Labour movement by the way). And they also know that ‘economically inactive’ includes students (27%), retired people (13%), carers of children or elderly relatives (26%) and the long-term sick (22%).

The ONS itself says that 6.6m of that 8.45m don’t actually want a job and of the remainder many would like a job at some point but can’t do one right now. So, it’s pretty difficult to see why Patel would single out the ‘economically inactive’...unless she knew that there was not much slack in the employment market itself.

Business is already unhappy with the government over things like the apprenticeship levy, being asked to act as immigration officers and continued uncertainty over whether they will have similar or different EU regulations to deal with by the end of the year.

A few scraps chucked the high street’s way on business rates in the Budget won’t compensate for staff shortages in the actual shops themselves. Of course, current EU citizens working in the UK won’t be affected by the changes but over time the impact will be felt.

Lecturing firms that they should somehow persuade more Brits to take low-wage jobs currently taken by EU nationals is not likely to produce much change either. Diane Abbott correctly pointed out today that care workers are not ‘low skilled’ and in fact require excellent empathy and caring skills, they just happen to be badly paid. But it’s far from clear that the care home industry will suddenly raise its rates because of migration shortages.

Boris Johnson and Priti Patel visit a security control room in Port of Southampton. (Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The other real difficulty for the PM is that for all the rhetoric in the Tory manifesto about getting migration numbers down, this new system may not make much difference if non-EU migrants start to arrive in greater numbers because salary thresholds have been lowered. So, anti-immigration voters may end up being unsatisfied, while ‘liberal’ voters may feel this is all yet more anti-migrant mood music (eg forced English language requirements).

The sense that the UK is simply ‘taking back control’ of migration may be enough for some voters, and the detailed ups and downs of the figures may be academic in the absence of a right-wing party like UKIP or the Brexit party to shout betrayal. But the long-term damage of the Tories being seen as both anti-business and anti-migrant could offer Labour a groundswell of support under a new leader. That is what may be worrying Tory MPs most tonight.

Quote Of The Day

“For us it’s a different ball game that we are playing with the UK to the one that we agreed with Canada in terms of the level playing field.”

Stefaan De Rynck, senior adviser to Michel Barnier, speaking at the LSE

Wednesday Cheat Sheet

Donald Trump offered Julian Assange a pardon if he would say Russia was not involved in leaking Democratic party emails, Westminster magistrates court was told. The claim was made by Assange’s lawyer ahead of the opening next week of his legal battle to block attempts to extradite him to the US.‌

Craig Whittaker, Tory MP for Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, said he had been “hammering on doors on Whitehall” since the Storm Ciara flooding began nine days ago to get the government to trigger its emergency funding scheme. It was finally announced on Tuesday night.

Green party MP Caroline Lucas is being investigated for a possible breach of parliamentary rules for offering a tour of the Commons in exchange for £150, as part of a fundraising drive. The Code of Conduct for MPs states they must not offer tours of the House in raffles or auctions.

What I’m Reading

Why Trump Is Very Beatable - Axios

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.