Can we stop lying about immigration? The Tory message has always been: “We’re trying to cut immigration to give you a better life, but the EU has been forcing uncontrolled immigration on us, clogging up our resources.” But we’re out of the EU now, so that excuse is gone. And if the rampant labour shortages post-Brexit hadn’t already disproved that message for you, this week’s OBR assessment will.
For the record, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is the government’s own expert body, and Jeremy Hunt used its analysis several times to back up his Budget plans. So you can either support this government or ignore the OBR’s assessment. You can’t do both, because it makes no sense to want to be led by a government if you think their compass is broken.
The OBR says net immigration is rising to roughly 240,000/year, which is 40,000 higher than they predicted in November, and up from the 129,000 projected in its forecast a year ago. They say immigration is playing a key role in helping to fix the economy, by addressing the labour shortages. But they also say that post-Brexit immigration is not as helpful to our economy as pre-Brexit. For example, “work visas made up just 20 per cent of the total visas issued” recently. They even bluntly said it is “likely that the participation rate of migrants under the post-Brexit regime will be lower than in the past”.
This would suggest that “taking back control of immigration”, doesn’t just mean more immigration, but more immigration that helps our economy less than it used to.”
One reason for this is that “unrestricted EU immigration” was always a lie. Under EU rules you could only move here if you were either working or had your own medical insurance and enough money to not be a burden on the welfare state. So Brexit was sold to remove a problem that never existed. And Nigel Farage even admitted that lie in 2017.
And now our economy is crying out for more workers. Last month, the National Farmers Union called for looser rules on foreign workers. Yesterday, the Food and Drink Association did the same. Even the fishing industry, one of the key Leave-voting constituents, is crying out for more workers, with Salmon Scotland explicitly blaming Brexit. Not to mention the recent confirmation that Brexit has been damaging the NHS, partly due to the restrictions on foreign medics.
When I first met Nigel Farage in 2018, he repeated the Brexit propaganda: “Would you accept that a population that has risen far beyond anything we’ve seen in this country before has put massive pressure on the NHS?” I responded: “EU citizens make up 5 per cent of our population, but 10 per cent of our doctors, so rather than EU immigration being something that threatens the country, it is literally keeping it alive”.
But the lie is even worse than that. Because part of the pro-Brexit argument was that by stopping all the polish plumbers and Romanian roofers from coming here, there would be more jobs for British builders and higher wages. But the government has just lowered the minimum wage threshold for foreign construction workers by more than £5000.
And what do you think happens when all the vacancies are filled and the workers still want better pay, so they unionise to demand it? Do you think the Tories will take the side of the unions? Can you really picture Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss arm-in-arm on the picket line? Or would they be more likely to vote for more laws to limit strike action, as Rishi Sunak has done 10 out of 10 times?
That was the real lie of Brexit – that immigration was the reason why people weren’t being paid properly. And now we know that immigration is only set to increase.