Richard North, 29/07/2014  

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I don't really care what is motivating Mr Cameron in putting up his new immigration policy. But, in an authored piece in the Telegraph, he tells us that: "We're building an immigration system that puts Britain first", and if that serves to defuse the immigration issue, then it will have served its purpose.

What is interesting about Cameron's strategy is he is quite evidently stepping away from the drawbridge philosophy and addressing some of the "pull" factors that are drawing migrants to these shores.

His first focus is on clamping down on abuses. Some of the most egregious examples, he says, were those new arrivals claiming to be students, enrolling at bogus colleges. In one of these colleges, inspectors found no students at all; the excuse was that they had all gone on a field trip to the British Library.

Says Mr Cameron, "We have taken radical action, shutting down more than 750 of these colleges. Today we are announcing a further step to make sure colleges do proper checks on students: if 10 percent of those they recruit are refused visas, they will lose their licence".

Next on the list is illegal immigration. Yes, we need effective controls at the border, the prime minister says, "but it also means taking action inside the country too".

There has evidently been some thinking here, as David Cameron declares that it was absurd that those who were here illegally could get a licence to drive a car, or rent a flat, or have a bank account.

Since earlier this month, the government has been revoking driving licences – with 3,150 already withdrawn. From November, landlords will have a legal obligation to check the immigration status of their tenants. From December, rules to prevent illegal immigrants from opening bank accounts will be introduced. And crucially, once illegal immigrants have been identified, deportation will be easier.

From now on, for example, there will be a policy of "deport first, appeal later", so foreign criminals will be deported first and their appeals will be heard once they're back in their home country.

Cameron says his government is also addressing the abuse of Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a family life. Too many judges have treated this as an unqualified right. So judges must also consider the British public interest too. As far as his government is concerned, the rights of law-abiding citizens come well above the rights of criminals.

Next in line is a new visa system for graduate entrepreneurs and the exceptionally talented, and establishing a much more robust system that accepts immigrants with the right skills, setting a cap on economic migration from outside the EU.

Then, the "magnetic pull" of Britain's benefits system is being addressed. No one can come to this country and expect to get out-of-work benefits immediately. They must wait at least three months. And now the time for which people can claim these benefits is to be cut.

It used to be that European arrivals could claim Jobseeker's Allowance or child benefit for a maximum of six months before their benefits would be cut off, but this is now to be cut to three months.

On housing, statutory guidance is to be changed to ensure that councils only add people to housing waiting lists when they have lived in the area for two years.

Another irritant is also to be removed –employers hunting out cheap labour from abroad, while too many young people are out of work: some recruitment agencies have even been recruiting directly from elsewhere in the EU without British workers ever getting a chance to apply for the jobs.

Thus the government is banning overseas-only recruitment – legally requiring agencies to advertise in English in the UK. And there will also be cuts in the vacancies posted on the EU-wide job portal, massively restricting the number of jobs advertised overseas.

Cameron also looks at the bigger picture, telling us that, when talking about getting young British people into work, the problem isn't a simplistic one of too many people coming here – it's also about too many British people being untrained, and too many thinking they can get a better income on benefits.

Thus, Cameron is talking about "building a different kind of Britain – a country that is not a soft touch, but a place to play your part, a nation where those who work hard can get on".

Carefully and painstakingly, he says, "we are building an economy that has real opportunities for our young people; an education system that encourages them to do their best; a welfare system that encourages work; and an immigration system that puts Britain first".

From politicians, one must expect this type of rhetoric, but what is not wrong is the "careful" and "painstaking" approach. Immigration control is not just (or even) about grand gestures, but numerous small policy initiatives, all to change the perception of our country to putative immigrants, and to allow appropriate measure to be taken.

This does mean addressing the "pull" factors, about which we have written so often, and a government that understands this is more likely to succeed than one wedded to gesture politics.

And from this, the point we expect to see emerge is that, increasingly, the government will be able to re-assert sufficient control over the flow of migrants to give us breathing space to engineer an EU exit plan that does not involve ditching "freedom of movement".

Implemented with sufficient control over "pull factors", and then with greater focus on "push" factors, we stand a chance of neutralising immigration as a referendum issue, leaving us to fight from the higher ground.

Thus, whether he appreciates it or not, Mr Cameron may just have made it a little bit easier to plot our exit from the EU. The one problem, though, is that some of the plans may fall foul of EU anti-discrimination requirements. If benefit entitlements are to be cut for immigrants from EU member states, they must also be cut for UK citizens.

However, it will do Cameron no great political harm to be seen to be having an argument with the European Commission, if they are unwise enough to intervene.

But if it comes to a battle, it is one Mr Cameron must win. Unless we can show that control measures can be taken without the "big bang" abolition of "freedom of movement", it will be very difficult to devise a workable exit plan for the short-term, and thereby win a referendum campaign.


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