24 November 2023

Our political establishment is addicted to immigration


Yesterday’s net migration figures underscored the reality that the UK is experiencing truly unprecedented flows of immigration under the current Conservative government – dwarfing anything that was witnessed under ‘New Labour’.

The latest net migration figure is 745,000, very much in line with the Centre for Policy Studies’ original projection. That compares to a total of 2.2m during the entire 13 years of Labour government from 1997-2010. The top five non-EU nationalities for immigration flows into the UK this year were Indian (253,000), Nigerian (141,000), Chinese (89,000), Pakistani (55,000) and Ukrainian (35,000). Within the revised net migration figure of 745,000, the net non-EU national figure is 873,000 – with the net EU migration figure being minus 123,000 (and the net British national migration figure also being negative in the few thousands).

What we are seeing is Johnsonian post-Brexit internationalism on steroids – with especially high inflows of migrants from Commonwealth nations. Following our departure from the EU, the UK is very much open – some would argue excessively so.

The pattern of inward migration has fundamentally shifted from EU to non-EU nationals and has exploded in number due to an exceptionally liberal immigration system. To obtain a ‘skilled worker visa’, the salary requirement is at least £26,200 or £10.75 an hour (whichever is higher). If the so-called ‘going rate’ for a job is higher than both, it takes precedence. To put this in perspective, the median average salary for full-time workers in the UK is in the region of £33,000. It is also worth noting that foreign students (which the university sector is largely dependent on due to high international fees) may be able to bring partners or dependents under 18 years of age. To demonstrate how open the process is, student visas consider unmarried partners.

The current Conservative government is the most open-borders administration the UK has ever seen. Our post-Brexit immigration system is the brainchild of former prime minister Boris Johnson, who bizarrely remains a hero of the Tory Right while being a quintessential metropolitan liberal. National self-sufficiency is a classic conservative principle, but the modern Tory party is one that continues to view large-scale immigration as the best instrument for engineering economic growth. I suspect that many of the Brexit voters that propelled the Conservatives to their largest parliamentary majority since 1987 want to get rid of this incredibly flawed way of thinking at the heart of government.

The reality is that the British political establishment’s long-standing addiction to mass immigration means any government that wished to meaningfully reduce the numbers would need to commit itself to a high tax-and-spend approach. It would need to comprehensively fund health and social care – government-sponsored bursaries and apprenticeships, on-the-job specialist training, and improved working conditions. It would need to lead a well-resourced industrial strategy with investment in boosting the skills of the existing domestic workforce. This would not only involve the creation of a truly multi-faceted education system which better promotes vocational skills, but also ‘lifelong learning’ programmes for older sections of the population.

There is no doubt that the UK is facing a demographic time-bomb with its ageing population. Importing large numbers of people, however, should not be the answer. It needs to make Britain an attractive place for its own citizens to build a family of their own. This means expanding the supply of affordable multi-bedroom housing (private and social), more favourable tax conditions for family-based households, and better employment rights. The UK’s level of parental leave is one of the least generous in Europe – that needs to change. From the restoration of effective neighbourhood policing to significant upgrades for public transport, Britain needs to be safer and more liveable.

There must be a fundamental sea-change in the way the British political establishment treats the issue of immigration. The UK should not be reduced to a transactional international hub for large numbers of economic migrants and foreign students. And it is time to break away from the failed high-immigration, low-growth model of political economy.

The route to future sustainable economic growth is reducing the UK’s immigration hyper-dependency, meaningfully investing in the potential of its own people, and establishing a truly pro-family society.

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Dr Rakib Ehsan is a senior research associate at the Institute for the Impact of Faith in Life (IIFL).

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.