UK General Election: Do UKIP losses show a swing away from anti-immigrant views?

Thursday’s truly astonishing British general election result has left the media with plenty of straws to grasp at. As we now know, the Conservatives missed the threshold for a majority (326 seats) after calling for a snap election with the hopes of a windfall to consolidate their authority in time for Brexit talks. In the meantime, Labour, led by the embattled Jeremy Corbyn, gained over 30 seats but did not manage to secure a majority. UKIP failed to gain any seats, and the Irish DUP arrived in the dubious position of kingmaker for the Conservatives by virtue of their ten seats.

The success of Labour and surprising turnaround of the Conservatives and UKIP have many people asking:

Was this result a rebuke to parties who take a strong stance against immigration?

In our view, not necessarily.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP), who has previously made a name for itself with strong opposition to immigration and the European Union, did extremely poorly in many of the districts where they had previously performed well, seeming to split their lost votes among Labour and Conservative candidates. For example, the chart below, based on official statistics reported by the BBC and the Guardian, shows how much UKIP lost in comparison to 2015 in the five districts that had the highest percentage of people voting to leave the EU.

Sample UKIP Losses in Leave Districts

In all of these districts, Conservatives won the most votes and the seat in parliament. However, Labour had strong gains in each, performing on average an additional 8% better than in 2015. Conservatives also did better, by an average of 12%. Considering UKIP lost an average of 20% in these districts, these numbers would appear to show people who formerly supported UKIP dividing their votes among Labour and Conservatives, favoring Conservatives, but not by much.

If voters had abandoned UKIP because they had changed their mind about Brexit, we would have expected to see surges in the parties promising to fight Brexit, particularly the Greens and the LibDems. This was not the case.

A possible interpretation is that UKIP, as a protest party standing strongly for Brexit, lost its appeal once Brexit was achieved. However, if the reasoning for wanting Brexit in the first place primarily lay with opposition to immigration, it would have been reasonable to expect the Conservatives, who took the harshest stance against immigration, sweeping up all or most of the UKIP votes so that the government could finish the job and make lasting changes to the immigration yste. Instead, a good chunk went to Labour as well- who were tepid on the subject of immigration reform, promising “fair rules and reasonable management of migration.”

We previously compared the Labour and Conservative positions on immigration as laid out in their manifestos and concluded that they could not be more different. While Conservatives promise to bring the number of people migrating to the UK from over 300,000 to in the tens of thousands, Labour does not have specific numeric targets for reduction. Conservatives would make it more difficult for family members to reunify, while Labour would make it easier (at first glance) by removing earnings requirements. Labour would ban indefinite detention, while Conservatives would change asylum rules to disfavor those who apply in-country. In addition, the parties differ significantly on international students and charges for employers who hire non-British workers.

The only place they come together in agreement over Brexit: it’s happening, and it’s going to change immigration from the EU and beyond.

So what conclusions can we draw from this baffling situation? There are a few possibilities.

Bored of Brexit

First, perhaps this outcome showed that while many people did want a change on immigration, they felt that change was already achieved by the vote to leave the European Union. If this were the case, it would be natural to turn their attention to other, more domestic priorities, such as employment, social services, health and education. These are areas that Labour spent a lot of time campaigning on, and perhaps this effort accounted for some of their success.

Not Convinced by the Conservatives

The promise to reduce numbers of people migrating to Britain is not a new one. David Cameron pledged to cap immigration in the tens of thousands back in 2010 and obviously did not, which may cast doubt for some on Theresa May’s pledge to do the same in 2017. Public opinion surveys, like one done by Ipsos, show that only 18% of British people think the goal of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands of achievable by the Conservatives, while 68% say its “either not at all likely or fairly unlikely that the Conservatives will be able to achieve this target”.

This would indicate not that people have changed their views on immigration, but that they are unconvinced that Conservatives can carry out their promises on reducing net numbers. By extension, the same applies to UKIP, who promised to reduce net migration to zero.

Cold Feet for Hard Brexit

A final possibility to consider is that the people who switched their votes were satisfied with the decision to leave the EU, but turned off by the hard-line approach favored by UKIP and the Conservatives. In terms of immigration, this could mean a desire for a measured approach to a changed system under Brexit rather than reduction by several hundred thousand or “net zero”. One of the difficulties of the hard-line approach favored by UKIP and the Tories is that people tend to differentiate between different kinds of immigrants- for instance, international students, doctors, and people rejoining their families, versus people seeking asylum or irregular migrants. An approach that puts all of these individuals in the same basket risks forcing people to prioritize efforts to reduce immigration over, for instance, having adequate doctors and nurses to staff the NHS. Perhaps some voters felt that Labour struck the better balance between leaving the EU while not totally changing the character of the country by advocating radical changes to the immigration system.

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Of course, it’s possible that none of these possibilities encapsulate what voters were thinking when many abandoned UKIP and to a lesser extent Conservatives. (Perhaps UKIP voters simply abstained en masse!) The coming weeks may give us more opportunity to find out, as the fallout from the election impacts the Conservatives and their attempts to get Brexit negotiations underway with an almost hung parliament. For now, we assess that slashing numbers arbitrarily and not taking account of the migration needs of different industries and sectors is no longer a winning proposition. Judging from reports that May has promised to back away from some of her key immigration positions, the Tories would seem to agree.


Sources and Further Reading
Two of UK’s Top Leave Districts in Essex, BBC, June 2016
UK Election 2017: Full Results (Interactive), June 2017
Comparing the Conservative and Labour Manifestos on Immigration , MV
UK Parties Clash Over International Students, MV
What is the Tories’ Immigration Skills Charge and how will it impact the NHS?, MV
Most think Theresa May will not achieve her target to cut net migration to the “tens of thousands”, IPSOS Mori, May 2017
Theresa May buys time with apology to Tory MPs over election ‘mess’, The Guardian, June 2017
Header Image: UKIP Billboard, via Ian Burt on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2rl1aNj (CC by 2.0)

 

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What is the Tories’ ‘Immigration Skills Charge’ and how will it impact the NHS?

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) played a central role in the debate over whether to leave the European Union, and has now become a central campaign issue in the General Election. The parties nearly unanimously offer policies to bolster the NHS, calling for more funding, better training, and more positions open for doctors and nurses. But only one party – the Conservatives- have called for doubling a tax on hiring non-British workers. What exactly is the Immigration Skills Charge and what does it have to do with the debate over the NHS?

The Immigration Skills Charge

The Immigration Skills Charge came into effect in April 2017 as part of a revamp of the Immigration Act. Under the Act, employers who hire a skilled worker from a country outside the EU or Switzerland must pay £1000 per year per employee at the outset, when applying for each visa. The charge may not be passed on to the employee, and if the visa is rejected the employer is entitled to a full refund. The reasoning behind the legislation is clear: to discourage the hiring of non-British, non-European workers. This is laid out in an explanatory memo prepared by the Department of Education:

ISC report

As the policy memo lays out, the inconvenience of paying the Immigration Skills Charge (in addition to other fees and fines) discourages employers from looking outside the UK and Europe for high-skilled employees- instead, they should consider training people within the country for positions.

While this regulation seems logically aimed at achieving its stated goal in some circumstances, there’s a potential problem here. What about jobs where the level of skills required are so cost-intensive that training costs would outweigh fines? Or, in cases where the skills are urgently required, yet take significant amounts of time to develop? Doctors and nurses for the NHS would appear to fall under both categories. 

 

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The British Medical Association (BMA) has lobbied against the charge, writing in a letter together with the Royal College of Nursing that it would cost the NHS millions and not provide alternative, UK trained staff in time for replacing people from abroad.

It cannot be appropriate to divert funding away from the budget for front-line health services and the training of health professionals in this way. While the government has suggested that funds raised from the charge would be reinvested back into the UK workforce and health system, we have been given no guarantees to that effect…. [t]he UK’s health and social care system is not a business which has unlimited access to training places in the UK. Both nursing and medicine are highly skilled professions and long-term UK workforce planning for both is determined by the finite number of places available at UK medical schools and on nursing degree courses as well as on practice training capacity within the health system.

What would doubling the charge do to the NHS?

In their manifesto, Tories promise to double down (literally) on the Immigration Skills Charge by the end of the year.

However, skilled immigration should not be a way for government or business to avoid their obligations to improve the skills of the British workforce. So we will double the Immigration Skills Charge levied on companies employing migrant workers, to £2,000 a year by the end of the parliament, using the revenue generated to invest in higher level skills training for workers in the UK.

(Presumably, people from the EU or Switzerland would still be excluded from the charge, since the manifesto says nothing to the contrary.)

The NHS is Britain’s largest employer and applies for thousands of visas for its workforce every year. Undoubtedly the doubled Immigration Skills Charge will have a significant impact. But just how much of an impact?

Using numbers obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request published in The Guardian, we can see where recent figures stand. In 2015, there were 87,280 applications filed for tier-two visas for people coming from outside of the EU or Switzerland (the only ones the charge currently applies to.) Of these, over 6,000 were for NHS employees: 3,705 for doctors and 2,535 for nurses.

If next year had a similar number of applications and the double charge applied, the NHS would have to pay £12.1 million for the first year alone. Given that charges are levied for the entire period of the visa application up front, the real number could be much higher, depending on the length of the visa. For instance, if all of those persons applied for a three year visa, the costs to the NHS would be £36.3 million over one year of visa applicants- not counting the other types of fees that apply. With similar employment needs, and potential reduced entry by people from the EU to fill positions, this could eat up a significant chunk of the £8.6 billion the Tories are promising to fund the NHS with over the next five years.

What about Brexit?

The number of workers from outside the EU working in the NHS is relatively small compared to the staff from EU countries currently employed. The Tories have promised to prioritize these workers during Brexit negotiations:

We will make it a priority in our negotiations with the European Union that the 140,000 staff from EU countries can carry on making their vital contribution to our health and care system.

However, what kind of solution negotiations will land on remains completely unclear. Will people from EU countries working in the NHS have special rights to remain, with special visas? Will EU citizens wanting to work in Britain in the future continue to be excluded from the Immigration Skills Charge? Will they be included in net migration figures? If not, will this incentivize a preference for European employees over people from outside of Europe for long after Brexit?

Even with such a preference, the NHS could be headed for major staffing issues because of Brexit. A survey conducted by the BMA found that 42% of doctors from the EU considered leaving Britain after Brexit.

If doctors and nurses from Europe leave or decide not to come in the first place, while doctors and nurses from outside of Europe are prohibitively expensive to bring to Britain, how will the NHS meet staffing needs in the immediate future?

As with our discussion on international students, it appears that migration issues are seeping into other areas, potentially having a massive impact on the lives of British citizens for years to come. As Britain heads to the polls, it should be interesting to see how voters weigh the costs of allowing continued migration versus facing possibly dramatic changes to their health and educations systems.


Sources and Further Reading
The Immigration Skills Charge Regulation, Legislation.gov.uk
The Immigration Act of 2016, Legislation.gov.uk
Explanatory Memorandum to the Immigration Skills Charge Regulation, Department of Education, Legislation.gov.uk
BMA and RCN write to the Home Secretary over Immigration Skills Charge, BMA, April 2017
Conservative Party Manifesto 
Immigration Skills Charge Could Hit Health Funding for Years, The Guardian, April 2017
The Immigration Skills Charge, BMA
Brexit Dawns on the NHS, Tim Tonkin for BMA
Cover image via Iker Merodio on Flickr, (CC by-NC-ND 2.0) http://bit.ly/2rwwFlY

 

Opinion: British “Progressive Alliance” failed from bad politics and bad faith

By Phil Butland

This is the latest in Migration Voter’s opinion series on strategic voting. Read our previous article on France here.

At the beginning of the British election campaign, the Green Party touted the idea of a “progressive alliance” against the Tories. To many people this seemed like a no-brainer. With the Tory manifesto showing the return of the “nasty party”, surely anything would be better than Theresa May coming back into power.

Here’s how a progressive alliance works. One of the peculiarities of the British election campaign is that an MP only needs to win more votes than any other candidate in his or her electoral district. With multiple candidates, most MPs do not even have the support of half the people who voted.

A progressive alliance would mean that in each district the local parties would decide which candidate would be most likely to beat the Tories. All other candidates would stand down, and the result would be a Tory wipe-out.

So why did the progressive alliance not happen? In this article, I will argue that it was a mixture of bad politics, bad faith, and the pessimistic (if, at the time, understandable) view that just because Labour was polling 20% behind the Tories they were incapable of winning on their own.

Bad Politics

Firstly, the bad politics. One of the conditions on which the Greens insisted was the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats in the progressive alliance. This posed a number of problems, not least that just seven years ago the LibDems fought an election campaign based on one major promise  – the withdrawal of tuition fees.

The Liberal Democrat election manifesto of 2010 declared “We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income” around the time of the National Union of Students conference in April of that year. LibDem leader Nick Clegg issued a youtube video titled “Say goodbye to broken promises”. The first frame was a piece of paper on which was written “No student tuition fees – Labour”.

libdem vid

On 28 April Clegg claimed tuition fees would double under a Conservative or Labour government: “We think it’s unfair when you graduate and you haven’t even taken your first step in the world of adult work to be saddled with £25,000 worth of debt”. Every Lib Dem candidate who was subsequently elected signed a “Vote for Students” pledge, promising to vote against any rise in tuition fees in the next parliament.

The election resulted in a hung parliament and the LibDems could have joined a coalition government led by Labour or by the Tories. They chose the Tories – who promptly tripled tuition fees. On 9 December 2010, in the Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, MPs approved raising the cap on tuition fees by a 323 to 302 vote. 28 LibDem MPs voted for the bill and only 21 voted against. Indeed one of the arguments that claim current LibDem Leader Tim Fallon is somehow progressive is that he was one of the minority of MPs who voted for party policy.

The LibDems propped up the Conservative government for its full term, and were punished at the subsequent election where they lost nearly all their MPs. In 2010, boosted by a strong campaign in student constituencies, 57 LibDem MPs were voted into parliament. In the 2015 election, only eight remained.

But surely they’ll have learned from their mistakes? Apparently not. Under new leader Tim Farron, an evangelical Christian who has received due flak for his views on gay marriage, the LibDems have repeatedly refused to rule out entering another coalition with the Tories. Under these circumstances, they had no need for a progressive alliance – and a progressive alliance had no need for them.

Despite putting on a progressive front, Farron has called abortion “wrong at any time”. Former Campaigns manager to the gay LibDem MP Simon Hughes, Mark Gettleson has said:

“Tim Farron now presents himself as a changed man. He says he now regrets abstaining on equal marriage, despite not distancing himself from his amendments. He’s changed his mind too on his opposition to the Equality Act’s ban on discrimination in the provision of goods and services … But it is not enough to repent of the past when it becomes convenient to do so.”

When Corbyn won the Labour leadership, Farron appealed to the Labour MPs working against Corbyn (and the majority of their party) and Conservatives, telling The Guardian “Over the past few days I have received a number of messages and calls from friends within the Labour party distressed by the direction that their party is taking. To the right, I have talked with a new Conservative MP taken aback by the attitudes that they have encountered within their own party.”

His appeal to centrists in both parties continued in April 2017, when he refused to rule out forming another coalition with the Tories. As with former LibDem leader Nick Clegg, who opposed student fees out of office then helped push them through, we must judge Farron not on what he says but what he has done and what he’s likely to do in the future.

That’s a maybe, but surely Labour could make some deal with the Greens? After all, during the dark years of Tony Blair, the Greens remained the conscience of the nation, with many people – including myself – voting for them as a progressive alternative to Blair’s politics of war and austerity.

Now I could certainly see a good case for the Greens and Labour making a voting alliance, especially in the (many) constituencies held by Labour MPs who have consistently campaigned against Corbyn. Since the general election in 2015, Labour has trebled its membership to over 500.000 people. Although most people have joined because of Corbyn’s leadership, a majority of MPs, and their house journal, the supposedly progressive newspaper The Guardian have tried to undermine him every step of the way.

Following a continuous barrage of Guardian articles declaring Corbyn to be “unelectable” 172 Labour MPs submitted a no-confidence vote in Corbyn with just 40 supporting him. 20 shadow cabinet ministers and around 30 other junior ministers resigned, coordinating their resignations at hourly intervals to sustain media pressure on Corbyn. Nonetheless, in this second leadership election, Corbyn won an increased majority with over 60% of the vote, including a vast majority of individual party members.

Despite this, in the current election campaign, many candidates have openly snubbed the Labour Leadership. Phil Wilson, Tony Blair’s successor as Labour MP for Sedgefield proudly told Facebook that “I am no supporter of Jeremy Corbyn” and “it is my name on the ballot paper here, not Corbyn”. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly said that voters would “laugh me off the streets” if he put Corbyn’s policies on his leaflets (

As Corbyn has gained ground on the Tories, both The Guardian and the rebel MPs have largely fallen into line. The Guardian’s sister paper The Observer even claimed that Corbyn “should be commended for the dignified way in which he has dealt with an immensely hostile media onslaught from the rightwing tabloids”, even though some of the greatest hostility came from its own stable. Nevertheless, it is clear that even if Corbyn wins the election, he cannot be sure of the support of the majority of his parliamentary party, and will need the backing of other progressives both inside and outside parliament.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Green’s suggestion of a progressive alliance this time round was tainted by bad faith from the start.

Bad Faith

It wasn’t just the insistence that the LibDems be involved. As soon as Labour wavered on the idea of a progressive alliance, the Greens – and their only MP, the genuinely progressive Caroline Lucas – spent much more time attacking Labour than they did the Tories. A particular low point was their election broadcast of 12 May. This broadcast lambasted Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May equally, while saying that the Greens were the only true anti-establishment party.

And yet what has characterized this election campaign had been Corbyn’s ability to tap into an anti-establishment feeling shared by millions who have suffered under the Tories. Addressing rallies of thousands of people and with the support of actors like Maxine Peake and film directors like Ken Loach, Corbyn has turned the election into a two-horse race. A couple of weeks ago, the Tories led by 20% in the polls. At the time of writing, polls are predicting a hung parliament. A yougov survey for the Sunday Times put support for the Conservatives on 42% and Labour on 38% . On top of this, the Scottish and Welsh nationalists are unlikely to support the Tories, nor are the Greens or Sinn Féin who are likely to take their seats in Westminster for the first time.  And there’s still over a week to go.

Voting intention 1-2 Jun]-01

Corbyn’s success comes from a series of positive demands – for a minimum wage, a decent health service and for humane treatment of refugees , that comes from standing for something. Horse trading with the Greens and particularly the Liberal Democrats would have blunted this message. A progressive alliance is based on preventing the worst from happening and is in its very nature negative and reactive.

The Greens may have called upon Corbyn to join them in stopping the Tories, yet they only have one MP, and their only real chances of getting any more lies in constituencies with Labour MPs. Standing down in other areas would have helped them concentrate their resources – and to save a lot of money they will lose from lost deposits.

Does this mean that a progressive alliance is always a bad idea or that British progressive voters should vote Labour everywhere? I do believe that this time round, all British voters should vote for Jeremy Corbyn, but in two areas there is a case to be made that the Corbyn candidate is not necessarily the Labour candidate.

The first area is Scotland. After decades of Labour misrule and a refusal to address the national question, Labour was punished in Scotland at the last general election, where the SNP ran a left social democratic campaign and won all but 3 of the 59 seats available. One of the few pleasures of the last parliamentary sessions has been watching the 22-year old SNP MP Mhairi Black regularly excoriating the Tories for their soulless policies (see, for example, here, here, here and here).

The Corbyn effect is only just starting to take hold in parts of Scotland, and in many cases, progressive voters will be torn between choosing between the SNP and Labour. Scotland would actually be one place where a progressive alliance could be effective, yet the SNP have no interest in helping Labour try to win back the support that they have squandered in Scotland.

The other constituency where progressives should consider voting against Labour is Bradford West,  where I lived for many years and would be voting if I still had the right to vote in the UK.  Salma Yaqoob is a former leader of RESPECT, the party set up by George Galloway after Tony Blair launched the war on Iraq. In 2017, Salma is standing against Naz Shah, a Labour MP who has gleefully joined the plots against Jeremy Corbyn. There is no question that Salma is the candidate with the better politics and the more personal integrity.

There are still two possible reasons not to vote for Salma. The first would be if her candidacy would split the progressive vote and let the Tories in. This seems to be highly unlikely – and there is some talk of the possibility of Salma actually winning.

The second reason to doubt is that this election – more than most others – will be used to judge the personal and political qualities of the two main leaders – Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. There are many Labour right wingers who will jump on any losses of Labour under Corbyn to remove him and to return the party to its old neo-liberal leadership.

And yet it seems to me – albeit from 1000 kilometres away – that even if Corbyn wins the election (something few people were even considering even a week ago) he will be opposed by most of his own MPs and the presence of someone like Salma in parliament would be of considerable use to him – not to mention the platform it would offer her to speak out for genuine progressive politics.

Lessons for Germany?

Finally, I would like to sum up by asking what this all means for the coming German elections and for the LINKE party, of which I am a member. Many party members are excited by the possibility of die LINKE entering government, as a junior partner to the SPD and Greens. I am more sceptical – not least because taking part in a government following the same austerity programme as today’s SPD would open the way to the mixture of neo-liberals and out-and-out fascists in the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) being able to pose as being the “real” anti-establishment party.

But even if die LINKE wants to join a coalition government, Jeremy Corbyn has proved how it is possible to gain electoral support by offering clear, progressive politics. Which is why die LINKE campaign must be centered on supporting the weakest – including migrants and refugees – and fighting together for a better society.

If we limit our offer to saying “at least we’re not as bad as the other lot”, we shouldn’t be surprised if we fail to inspire.


Phil Butland is the speaker of die LINKE Berlin Internationals (https://theleftberlin.wordpress.com/, lag.internationals@die-linke-berlin.de)


Sources and Further Reading
Green Party Urges Electoral Alliance, The Guardian, June 2016
Nasty Party“, Wikipedia
 Liberal Democrat Election Manifesto 2010
Liberal Democrats: Say Goodbye to Broken Promises. Youtube, April 2010
Tuition Fees and the Lib Dems, Channel 4, Oct. 2010
Fact Check: Lib Dem Rebellion on Cards, Channel 4, Oct 10
Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, UK Parliament, 2010
Mark Gettleson: Why Tim Farron’s Record on Gay Marriage MattersHuffington Post, July 2016
Tim Farron: Corbyn win ‘potentially changes everything’ for Lib Dems, The Guardian, Sept. 2015
Tim Farron: Lib Dem leader refuses to rule out coalition with the Conservatives (Video), The Independent, April 2017
Labour shadow cabinet and ministers resignations – the letters in full. The Telegraph, June 2016
Green Party – Party Election Broadcast: 2017 General Election, Youtube, May 2017
SNP MP Mhairi Black “excoriating the Tories” in Parliament (videos): July 2015, Feb. 2016, Dec. 2016, July 2016, Youtube.
Header Image via Andy Miah on Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2qQ7Q1x

Comparing the Labour and Conservative Manifestos on Migration

Following an approved motion by British Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK will hold snap general elections on June 8th.

Under Britain’s Fixed Term Parliaments Act, elections are held every five years unless a snap election occurs through either a vote of no confidence with no follow-up government installed or the approval of a motion for snap elections by two-thirds of parliament, as occurred in this case. You could forgive the people of Great Britain for being tired of making decisions, but a great deal is at stake as the country heads to the polls.

The election comes just before Britain prepares to enter into negotiations of their exit from the European Union, and is seen by many as an effort of May to consolidate authority before undertaking the tremendous task ahead. For voters, the election represents a final say on what kind of Brexit they want, and where they stand on economic and social issues, particularly migration.

So what options are the parties now offering regarding immigration to the UK after Brexit? Let’s delve into the campaign programs of Britain’s two largest parties to see how sensitiveer on this senstivie topic.

Labour: People who migrate can be workers too

The section on immigration in Labour’s election manifesto starts out with acceptance: “Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union.  Britain’s immigration system will change…” This hints that Labour does not intend to challenge one of the key likely impacts of Brexit: the end of freedom of movement.

The new system they envision, however, has some changes in store that will impact people migrating from the EU and beyond.

Asylum: Labour promises to end indefinite detention and continue to take “our fair share of refugees” and meet international commitments. They also plan to review current housing arrangements for refugees as they are “not fit for purpose”.

Migration: The party platform prioritizes British workers but does not rule out the possibility of immigration as an augmentation. They say they will consult with industry to determine specific skill/ personel shortages and arrange the system based on the country’s economic needs. “This may include employer sponsorship, work permits, visa regulations or a tailored mix of all these which works for the many, not the few.” International students are welcomed and will not be included in any immigration numbers. Income thresholds- i.e., mininum amounts of savings or income a person must have before being able to come work or join a family member in Britain, will be replaced with a bar on access to public welfare.

We will replace income thresholds with a prohibition on recourse to public funds.

This small sentence on page 28 of the Manifesto hides a surprisingly controversial idea- can you legally bar people who immigrate from accessing public funds? This issue bears further examination.

Labour goes on to ensure that people who are already in the country working will be protected “regardless of their ethnicity”, and specifies that people who immigrate make valuable contributions to the economy and tax system. They promise to end exploitation, discrimination and unscrupulous overseas hiring practices- but are lacking any concrete details regarding how this would be carried out- will they install new anti-discrimination laws? Increase inspections of company hiring practices? Publicize existing workers rights to newcomers?

As a statement of intent, Labour’s intentions seem clear: migraton should be seen as a means to improving the economy and fulfilling work shortages, and people who migrate are seen primarily through the lens of their role as workers or potential competition to British workers. It seems that people seeking asylum might see their situation improve under a Labour government, and workers have some vague but promising benefits to look forward to.

Conservatives: Control and Reduce

The Conservatives address immigration at numerous points throughout their manifesto. They envision multiple changes to de-incentivize migration described as “too fast and too high.”

Asylum: The Conservatives promise a big change in British asylum policy: “We will work to reduce asylum claims made in Britain and, as we do so, increase the number of people we help in the most troubled regions.” In other words, a shift towards granting asylum to people who are outside of the country rather than inside when they apply. A similar idea was offered by the Front National in the French election, and we pointed out that it is problematic under the law to disallow asylum claims from being filed within the national territory, since it may violate the principle of non-refoulement. However, the Conservatives do not offer concrete details on how they will reduce asylum claims from within Britain, so its not clear if what they have in mind will violate their current legal obligations.

Migration: In their first mention of migration, the Conservatives sound quite similar to Labour in saying they will make changes suited to augmenting skills or shortages currently lacking in the British market. Rather than consult directly with industry as Labour promises to, the Conservatives will enlist the assistance of the independent Migration Advisory Committee.

We envisage that the committee’s advice will allow us to set aside significant numbers of visas for workers in strategically-important sectors, such as digital technology, without adding to net migration as a whole.

Nevertheless, they will double the Immigration Skills Charge to £2,000. (The Immigration Skills Charge is a fine employers must pay for hiring workers from outside of Britain, and the British Medical Association has complained that the National Health System or NHS stands to lose millions to this law under the current system- if it is doubled as under the Conservative plan, one should expect additional outcry.)

Later, in a section dedicated to immigration under ‘A Country that Comes Together’, the party announces their intention to significantly reduce immigration levels.

It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades.

To get the numbers of people down on such a large scale, they suggest the following:

  • Increase earnings thresholds for family reunification visas
  • toughen visa requirements for international students who wish to study in Britain as well as requirements for them to stay and work after graduating
  • accept fewer people from the EU

Security and Borders: Here, the Conservatives also depart from Labour by offering enhanced measures to prevent people from entering the country and for deporting people not allowed to stay. The manifesto proposes satellite tracking for people subject to deportation orders and says they will make it more difficult for individuals with criminal convictions to enter the country.

Conclusion: Aside from an end to free movement, little agreement

The Labour Party and Conservatives appear on two opposite sides of the sprectrum when it comes to nearly every immigration topic raised. Neither opposes leaving the Schengen Zone as Britain is expected to do under Brexit, but on everything from international students to earnings thresholds they at total odds. In our next installment, we’ll take a look at other parties to see where they stand on some of the migration topics that could change Britain for years to come.

 

Sources and Further Reading
The Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011, Legislation from Britain’s National Archives
Report of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, House of Commons Library
For the Many, Not the Few: Labour Party Manifesto 2017
Forward Together: The Conservative and Unionist Manifesto 2017
Migration Advisory Committee Website 
Immigration Skills Charge – UK.gov
NHS could lose millions to Immigration Charge, British Medial Association, March 2017
Header image via David McKelvey on Flickr, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) http://bit.ly/2rKEqlr