Farming out the development of post-Brexit UK migration policy to a professor from the LSE was a political masterstroke by the former Home Secretary Amber Rudd. How much harder it will be for Remainers to condemn the government’s position on migration as some kind of racist, xenophobic exercise knowing that it has been formed in one of the liberal establishment’s favourite seats of learning.
Yet there is nothing in Sir Alan Manning’s report which could not have come from the pen of a ‘populist’ politician trying to satisfy public grievance on migration. While it is no doubt true that some people voted Brexit in the hope of stopping all migration, for the vast majority of Leave voters – and this came up time and time again during the campaign – the issue was not a desire to keep all foreigners out of the country but the quality and quantity of migration. Sir Alan addresses those concerns head-on by recommending that following Brexit, citizens of other EU countries be subject to the same rules as apply to migrants from other parts of the world. Who can say there is anything unfair about that? On the contrary, it is eliminating the racism inherent in current migration policy – which favours Big Issue-sellers from overwhelmingly-white Eastern European countries over doctors and engineers from Africa and Asia. This unfairness was indeed the reason why – to the miscomprehension of some on the Left – Ukip picked up a significant numbers of ethnic voters.
And no, contrary to what some Remainers have tried to assert today, obliging EU citizens to apply for work permits if they wish to take up employment here does not mean denying visas to tourists and those who want to make family visits. There is no reason to introduce the latter – and no reason why the EU should impose a visa regime on British tourists. Indeed, it would be economic suicide for parts of the EU’s tourism industry.
Sir Alan has taken Remainers head-on by asserting that there is no need to keep the doors open to low-skilled workers, save in a few industries such as agriculture (which had a Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Scheme from the 1940s, way before we joined the EU). The availability of imported cheap labour has helped some businesses (and households which employ nannies) but it has also had a negative effect on productivity growth. It has been too easy for firms, for example, to employ Eastern Europeans in sweat house conditions in warehouses rather than automating their operations.
There is one area, however, on which I take issue with Sir Alan’s report. He recommends imposing a minimum £30,000 salary on EU migrants – based on the calculation that this is the level at which migrants start to contribute more in tax than they receive in benefits. That makes life quite difficult for the self-employed and others with irregular income, people who may well prove to be a huge bonus to the UK economy. Why not simply impose a minimum tax contribution for migrants for the first few years in which they are living here? In other words, pay at least as much tax as would be paid by someone on a salary of £30,000 a year and you are welcome to come here and look for work. That would be very simple to understand, and make sure that the doors of the UK economy remained open to people of entrepreneurial mind.