The embarrassing truth is that David Cameron did not think carefully about this pledge to take net immigration into the ‘tens of thousands’. The pledge originated in a Thick-of-It style farce: it was an aspiration mentioned by Damian Green, then immigration spokesman, that caught media attention. The Tories didn’t want to make a fuss by disowning it, so this pledge ended up becoming party policy and then government policy. Absurdly so: a country can only control who comes in, not who goes out. So immigration, not ‘net immigration’, should have been the target. And even then, it should have been immigration from outside the EU – which Theresa May has done a reasonable job controlling.
But the not-so-embarrassing truth is that this is a problem of success. The Tories were empty-chaired by BBC Daily Politics on immigration – but why didn’t they send someone? Why hide? They just needed to say that Britain is creating more jobs than the rest of Europe put together. When Cameron his daft immigration target, the whole of Europe was in recession: he should come clean and admit that he simply did not envisage a situation where Britain would come bolting out of recession while the rest of Europe was mired in it. Neither the Tories nor anyone else imagined that Yorkshire would be creating more jobs than France, as is now the case.
This is no accident. The jobs miracle is due to welfare reform and the tax cuts implemented by George Osborne – tax cuts on employers, and on employees – Britain has become the jobs engine of Europe, hence the immigration. So of course the Spanish, Italians and Portuguese will come flooding here. For as long as we’re in the EU, we can’t stop them. The immigration surge is a problem, but it’s one borne of economic success. Better that than the UK having low immigration and Spanish levels of youth unemploment.
What matters is UK unemployment is now plunging – there are jobs enough for the Brits, as well as the rest of Europe.
In other words, the jobs miracle ate the immigration target – and a target that never ought to have been made.
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