Let’s bypass the debate on the merits of the UK Government’s immigration scheme. No-one will ever agree on it. Certainly, that’s the only conclusion you can draw after a half-century of argument about immigration to this country.
What’s more troubling is how the debate and policy rhetoric reduce people to mere statistics. ‘Low-skilled’ and ‘cheap labour’ are bandied around with no thought to the people behind these very loaded terms.
You don’t necessarily need to have lived abroad yourself to acknowledge the drive, heart and sheer force of will it takes to make a life for yourself in another country. It requires a daily act of faith and hard work second to none – whatever sector you happen to work in. Sometimes that field might not be your preferred speciality – such is life, in any country.
And this is the point. Immigration reform might well be in the scope of the UK Government’s powers, but it also has the power to frame the narrative. Why is it so cold to imply that the decision to move and work abroad is purely economic? It disregards the lives that are formed around this choice; the loves and interests and the contribution made to that saccharine world – community.
When did wanting the best for a country tie directly with salary? Are the best people in our country the ones who earn the most? Is taxability the criterion to define how we want our future to look?
Numerous sectors, notably health and social care, have already warned that the decision to change salary and English requirements will cripple their industries. A post-Brexit world might need to compete, but it also needs a vision (something quite quickly disregarded in favour of a calculator).
The government has ‘gotten Brexit done’ and now it wants to ‘fix’ immigration. There’s a reason why these two policy issues have been poisoned chalices for the last five decades. The policy is complex, yes, but it’s also impossible to quantify the contribution of the European Union and immigration to British public life.
We now have a situation where both pass as entirely understood. A life is measured on salary and the ability to speak English. It ignores the quaint little irony of centuries of immigration and migration, the history of the royal family and the legacy of the British Empire. We’ve not just always been a global-facing country; the world has been coming to our shores for centuries. Is that worth 25 grand a year?
Immigrants are not daft. Any insinuation they’ve enjoyed a free ride is not only ghastly but unpatriotic. “We will no longer have the routes for cheap, low-skilled labour that has dominated immigration and our labour market” is not only an oversimplification but an affront to reason. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has got it wrong.
The economic argument is a weary one. This is not to say it’s unimportant, but it can in no way be described as the primary reason for why people move country or what motivates them to make a life there. Surely, in this day and age, the British Government can be wise enough to the fact contributions are more than economic - that culture is more than money?
That the government belittles and diminishes the courage and character required to set up a life in another country is shocking. That logic will, in the long-run, hurt this country in ways we can’t yet appreciate.
Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart Get in touch 0131-311 7538 [email protected]