Tory immigration policy harms our prosperity

08 Mar 2018
It has been shown repeatedly that the government’s arbitrary net migration target doesn’t work, writes Diane Abbott MP.

My recent speech on Labour values and immigration was aimed at not only outlining how Labour and Tory values contrast when it comes to this issue, but also bringing some calm, rational thought to the debate.
All politics is about choices and these choices must be informed by both political values and shaped by evidence.
It is unreasonable to make claims on immigration that simply aren’t valid, and yet many Tory and Ukip claims on the issue are in no way based on factual reality.
The last Labour manifesto laid out our values on the issue in the following way, stating: “Labour offers fair rules and reasonable management of migration.
“In trade negotiations our priorities favour growth, jobs and prosperity. We make no apologies for putting these aims before bogus immigration targets.”
When we say our priorities favour growth, jobs and prosperity before bogus immigration targets, we mean it.
Labour will do nothing which harms the prosperity of the overwhelming majority of people, and immigration fits into that framework.
Unfairness is built into the current immigration system in a series of ways and Labour is instead arguing for fair rules and reasonable management.
Currently, as part of the EU and single market, freedom of movement operates for EU citizens coming here and for British citizens living and working in the EU.
While the government says it wants a level playing field for all migrants post-Brexit, the clear indications are that it wants the lowest common denominator to be the basis for equal treatment.
Labour doesn’t want to play that game. We want to move towards a more equal and respected status for all migrants.
In terms of what this means we won’t have, it means we won’t have artificial targets, or “Go Home” vans, and we won’t have the hostile environment that the Tories have deliberately built.
In terms of what this means we will do, it means we will put achieving greater prosperity for the many first.
This means, to give just one example, that we will welcome international students. They make a huge contribution to our country.
That isn’t just financial, although their financial contribution is hugely significant. The cultural, educational and social benefits they bring are also enormous.
It is therefore completely counter-productive that the Tories include international students in their immigration target figures.
It has been shown repeatedly that the government’s arbitrary net migration target doesn’t work, and not just when it comes to international students.
But rather than setting unworkable targets for purely political reasons, what we can do as politicians is set a framework for immigration. That framework must be set with a focus on growth, jobs and prosperity.
The counterproductive nature of the government’s attitude on this question can also be seen by the fact we are currently turning away doctors and nurses from outside the EU, while the NHS faces a staffing shortage due to Tory cuts. Yet this government turns doctors away in a failed effort to meet its net migration target.
This target isn’t achievable and the reality is it isn’t even designed to be. Instead, it is the excuse for a permanent anti-migrant campaign.
In contrast to the Tories, Labour is clear that we need migrants and migration, but also that, like any phenomenon, migration has both costs and benefits.
For many on the right of the political spectrum, migrants have always been a convenient scapegoat for failure, and the current anti-immigration campaign can act to distract anger away from the Tories and their failed austerity agenda.
There is pressure on schools, the NHS and housing from a growing population. This is true no matter how it grows.
But these are problems associated with growth, which should be met with investment. Instead, the government has responded with austerity.
It is government cuts and austerity which have caused the crisis in schools, in housing, in the NHS, not migrants.
Migration also provides challenges in specific economic sectors and regions, and only Labour will act on these challenges by improving trade union rights, tackling the exploitation of migrant labour by  unscrupulous employers which serves to undercut wages for all and ending overseas-only recruitment.
Labour will also reinstate the migration impact fund, to help specific areas under strain. Investment in these areas will benefit entire communities, and help to create new jobs with decent pay.
As part of putting fairness at the centre of our approach, we will also address some of the most glaring humanitarian failures in terms of
the government’s attitude.
Currently, the government grants a small number of child refugees each year a right to remain, but denies some of their parents or carers leave to stay.
At the same time, some parents with the right to be here suffer the heartbreak of seeing their children deported because they have turned 18.
We will end these policies, meaning that if a child is granted the right to be here, so will their parents and carers and that if you have been brought up by carers or parents with a right to be here, so will you, even after you turn 18.
We will also end indefinite detention and stop the disgraceful practice of deporting people to countries they have little or no connection with.
Prior to Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader, there were some who believed that Labour could only make gains if we fought the Tories on their terrain, including on immigration. But the general election campaign showed the opposite was true.
When Labour set its own agenda on the key issues facing the majority of people, offering real, workable solutions, it gains and the Tories fall back.
Labour’s agenda puts prosperity for the many first. Immigration can be harnessed for prosperity. Its costs can be mitigated by a government which aims both to raise prosperity and to share it more equally.
With the Tories divided over Brexit and Theresa May overseeing an increasingly weak government that is running out of new ideas, only a Labour government led by Corbyn can achieve that.

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