Tory tough talk on migrants clashes with surge
Obsession with laws to clamp down on illegals overlooks their valuable input
A Romanian man is interviewed by Immigration Enforcement officers after a raid on a residential property looking for illegal immigrants in Southall, England. Photograph: Laura Lean/Getty Images
Theresa May turned up on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme at 8.10am on Thursday to talk tough about cracking down on illegal workers in Britain and about upcoming negotiations with the rest of the European Union.
Everything was deliberately couched to send out a message to Middle England that the Conservatives, now in power with a majority, will be no pushovers on immigration over the next five years. The message would have been more difficult to deliver an hour later when Office of National Statistics figures showed net migration surged to 318,000 in 2014 – 109,000 higher than 2013 and just below the all-time peak in 2005.
Net migration from the rest of the EU – which May can do nothing about – rose from 123,000 to 178,000. However, non-EU migration – the bit she claimed had been brought under control – grew from 143,000 to 197,000.
Five years ago, shortly before he first took power, David Cameron vowed he would bring immigration below 100,000 a year. So far, he has not been able to honour his pledge, and he has little chance of doing so now.
However, he has to talk the talk. Three hours after May left Broadcasting House, Cameron appeared in her ministerial lair in The Home Office to detail some of his plans to deal with illegal immigrants – ie, those who are not EU citizens.
Employers will be barred from advertising for staff abroad, but not at home. Landlords will have to demand immigration papers from tenants, but will get powers to evict quickly if they have already let properties to illegals. Banks will carry out tougher checks to ensure account-holders are living in Britain legally, while a new agency will take over powers shared currently between four different departments to ensure illegals are caught.
The hiring of illegals is rife – not just for east-of-England crop-picking, but elsewhere. For years, the British system tacitly ignored it. Even now, the number of prosecutions taking place for paying staff pittances is paltry.
Speaking in the home office’s atrium, with staff on all floors looking down, Cameron blamed the now-departed Liberal Democrats for the sins of the past, saying the Conservatives had always wanted to go further, but were blocked.
The new landlords’ checks, for example, had to be reduced to a West Midlands pilot scheme because of the Liberal Democrats, he told them. Things will be different under “a Conservative-only” administration.
However, Liberal Democrats former immigration minister Tom Brake, one of the few to survive this month’s election carnage, was not alone in believing Cameron and May had indulged in sleight of hand.
“Perhaps we will see those home office vans with the billboards, sort of, taken out of the garages they are in and starting running around our roads again telling people to go home,” he told BBC News.
Again and again, Cameron implied that eastern Europeans coming to Britain sign on for benefits before getting work – though Department of Work and Pensions figures show they are less likely to claim out-of-work benefits.
However, they are more likely to claim so-called “in-work benefits” – the multibillion-pound scheme created by Gordon Brown that has helped to fuel Britain’s low-wage economy. It is worth nearly £10,000 a- ear to immigrants, particularly those with children.
Meanwhile, just one in 20 living in the northeast of England – where Ukip lies in second place behind Labour in Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Easington, Gateshead, Houghton and Sunderland South, Washington and Sunderland West, South Shields and Blaydon – was born abroad.
In reality, immigrants pay in more than they take out. Often it is argued they put unsustainable pressure on public services. Because of their age, however, they have little need of hospitals and social care, but they do need schools.
Cameron’s demand for welfare benefit curbs is winning support in EU capitals. However, the sympathy ends quickly, since eastern European countries will not accept their migrant workers should get less than a British-born worker. Excluding the many cases of abuse, the reality is hundreds of thousands of EU migrant workers are filling jobs which cannot be filled by the British, because the latter lack the education, skills or work ethic.