Nicky Morgan’s election as chair of the Treasury Select Committee will doubtless be written into a narrative of Remainers taking key parliamentary positions overseeing Brexit. There’s also a story to be told about the power of the Tory moderates: as well as Morgan, Rob Halfon took the education chair, and Tom Tugendhat got foreign affairs.
But what interests me here is another aspect of Morgan’s arrival at the TSC. Perhaps the most important parliamentary committee is now run by someone who takes a gloriously sensible view of immigration. Last year she argued that the Tories should be the party that makes the “positive case” for immigration and this year she effectively disowned the Tories’ “tens of thousands” pledge as unwise and unachievable.
Whatever your party affiliation (I have none), I think you should admire the courage involved in making those arguments. Morgan is far from alone in thinking these things – I know several senior Conservatives, Cabinet ministers among them, who agree with her – but she is one of relatively few who will say so openly and honestly. (As an aside, I note that the other equally frank Tory advocates of a sensibly liberal immigration policy are also women: Ruth Davidson and Anna Soubry).
I think we’d be better off if more politicians, not to mention business leaders, showed similar candour about immigration issues. As I’ve argued in my think-tank incarnation, I think that more of a Morgan-style approach to the politics of immigration could have far-reaching consequences for Britain’s Brexit stance. Simply, much of the drive to leave the Single Market originates in the political assumption that voters want to cut net immigration significantly regardless of the cost. But once the reality of the costs involved in the wrong immigration policy are spelled out (higher taxes; worse public services; a higher state pension age) opinion on immigration could well move.
And now Morgan is in a job where she gets to scrutinise Government economic plans, and explain the consequences of those plans for the UK economy and the people in it. That’s quite a platform.
Of course, the TSC is about a whole lot more than immigration, but having someone of Nicky Morgan’s views in such a position can only be a positive sign for those of us who hope for a slightly more enlightened British political debate about immigration.