The target is 'economically damaging' and 'potentially socially divisive'
A group of cross-party MPs have written to the government today, calling on them to abandon the unachievable target of cutting annual net migration to the tens of thousands.
‘We are concerned about the economic and social implications of plans to dramatically reduce migration to the tens of thousands,’ write Anna Soubry MP, Pat McFadden MP and Norman Lamb MP, co-founders of the Open Britain campaign.
“Indeed, we consider keeping the target to not only be economically damaging but also potentially socially divisive, as it is based on the premise that migrants are a negative for our country when they are in fact the opposite.”
Open Britain argues that the government’s commitment to the target has been undermined in recent months, as ministers from across departments have proposed that particular sectors be exempted from immigration controls.
Jeremy Hunt has proposed an exemption for social care, David Davis for hospitality, Andrea Leadsom for agriculture, Greg Clark for universities, Philip Hammond for the financial sector and Sajid Javid for construction.
Combined, these sectors represent 34 per cent of all EU nationals currently living in the UK.
The MPs continue:
“The tens of thousands target means annual migration will have to be reduced by over 170,000. In light of Ministers’ comments about key sectors, the bulk of this reduction will fall on non-EU migrants and EU migrants in non-protected sectors, such as energy, manufacturing, information and communication, science, or areas of the public sector.
Such a reduction focused on these sectors would deny businesses of the skills and talent they need and exposes the target as unachievable. We agree with the Government’s commitment in its recent White Paper on the UK and the EU that we must be a country ‘that recognises the valuable contribution migrants make to our society and welcomes those with the skills and expertise to make our nation better still.’ This ambition is, however, incompatible with the tens of thousands target.”
The target, first introduced by David Cameron but recently reaffirmed by Theresa May and Amber Rudd, has been extremely controversial among Conservative ministers. George Osborne and May clashed repeatedly in cabinet meetings during her time as home secretary, when he believed that the government’s obsession with controlling immigration was curtailing its economic efforts, particularly his attempts to woo Chinese business.
It has also been slammed by pro-EU campaigners, who feel that Cameron gave the Leave campaign an open goal by allowing them to argue that realising the target was impossible while Britain remained in the EU.
It’s now clear that, even outside the EU, there is no way to reach the target without creating work shortages and major fiscal pressures, potentially requiring an increased labour tax.
If the target is to remain official government policy, the campaigners conclude, the government must quantify the potential harms and justify its decision to plough ahead regardless.
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Find her on Twitter.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.