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Brexit: hypocrisy on points

2019-12-09 08:29:22

"Johnson vows end to migrants 'treating Britain as their own'", blares the headline in The Times today. And with that, one takes it that we're not supposed to notice that the very same Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson made a special visit to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden on Saturday, in a very obvious pitch to garner Indian votes.

This is a man, incidentally, who was baptised a Roman Catholic but, while he has also visited the Islamic Cultural Centre in Regent's Park as part of his election beat, one does not recall him visiting a Catholic church recently. Perhaps with their high proportion of Irish and Polish, he maybe thought that if he made a pitch to the Catholic community, he would be attracting the wrong kind of immigrant.

And while Johnson is making a special issue of immigration in the last week of the election, he is not too keen to remind us that, while immigration from the EU has fallen dramatically, largely as a result of Brexit, the statistics show that the vast majority of people applying for British citizenship in the last year were non-EU nationals - 120,590 out of 175,891.

Thus, while Corbyn most certainly cannot be relied upon to bring immigration under proper control, neither are there any indications that we have anything to gain from Johnson and his fellow Tories but another dose of hypocrisy.

Nor can we expect any significant downturn from the fatuous proposal for an Australian-style points-based immigration system. Apart from the fact that this country already operates a points-based system, we had a look at the Australian system a while back, and came up with some interesting results.

Essentially, this scheme limits immigration visas to applicants who conform to certain criteria, and who have certain skills. Potential applicants have to stack up 60 points but basically, if you are under 50, can speak English and have a pulse, you can get in. There are so many "skilled" occupations almost anyone could find a fit, whether a cook, hairdresser, florist or community worker.

Thus, it is not the points system, per se through which control is exercised. For each period, the Australian government also goes through a planning exercise, setting not only the categories of migrants that will be allowed in, but also the total numbers.

For the period 2014-15, the places available in the programme totalled 190,000, of which 68 percent were skill-based (relying on the points system), while the remainder came in under the family reunion scheme. On a pro rata basis, incidentally, that was equivalent to the UK admitting half a million people.

Currently, for the 2019-20 programme, the number of skill-based entrants is set at 108,682 out of an overall total of 160,000 – the others largely coming from what is called the "family stream".

In other words, the point-based system is not a control mechanism. It is used as a planning guide to determine what type of immigrants are to be admitted in any one year. The total to be admitted is set by an annual quota and, once that is neared, the whole immigration system slows down.

Applications are put on hold, checks are intensified and all sorts of administrative hurdles come into play, all to make sure that the magic number is not exceeded.

The Australian government itself refers to the "size and composition" of the migration programme. It is set each year through the Australian Government’s Budget process, not least because the programme needs proper funding for it to operate efficiently.

Crucially, though, it is "informed following broad public consultations with state and territory governments, business and community groups and the wider public". Also, the government tells us, community views, economic and labour force forecasts, international research, net overseas migration and economic and fiscal modelling are all taken into account when planning the programme.

Therefore, in order to secure control of numbers, the Australians do not use their points system. They resort to imposing quotas. Effectively, it is a quota system. And, furthermore, it is a community derived level, rather than the top-down, almost totally opaque system that we have to suffer in the UK.

Predictably, therefore, we are hearing warnings in respect of Johnson's points-based system, that immigration could go up rather than down.

What tends to happen is that potential immigrants tend to "game" the system, attuning their qualifications to fit the categories on which entry is based. Therefore, whatever skill levels are set, there will be plenty of willing applicants ready to fill the places.

And this is not exactly unknown to workers in the field. We have the likes of Madeleine Sumption director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, who describes it as a "liberal model", relatively mainstream in the international community, and one which generally leads to an increase in immigration.

In the UK system, the crucial element will be the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which will have the power to set quotas and to hand out visas. This means that the system will be operated in a way very different to the supposed Australian system. It will remain top-down, with very little direct accountability.

This is where the immigration system has consistently failed the British people. Historically, decisions have been taken at central government level, without consultation, without reference to the capacity of the infrastructure, and the ability of settled communities to absorb new entrants.

For it to be equitable, and command popular support, any immigration system must, primarily, be quota-based. But that quota must be set by accountable politicians, and only after broad public consultations with devolved and local governments, business and community groups and the wider public. Only then will it emulate the Australian system.

Yet, this is what is entirely lacking from Johnson's proposals. He talks big about his "cast-iron guarantee that immigration levels will come down", but there is no hint of him introducing an accountability into the system or opening up the planning system to wider and continued consultation.

Thus, Johnson's claim that he is planning to introduce an Australian-style system is so much hot air. The Australian system has elements that aren't even being discussed over here, yet which are essential to the operation of the system.

What we seem to be getting, therefore, is the same old, top-down autocratic system that lacks any real accountability and which has no realistic (or any) proposals for ongoing consultation. Issues of real concern to communities are not being addressed and we are simply being fed another dose of rhetoric and headline-grabbing sloganising.

Thus, if Johnson is intent on importing the Australian system, then he needs to bring in the whole system – not just the headline idea of having a points based system, which is already in place in the UK. Crucially, there must be annual quotas determined openly after genuine consultation, which must be published and properly enforced.  

Without this, all we have in store for us is just more self-serving hypocrisy.