There Are Lessons To Be Learned From The Uk’s Unsuccessful ‘renegotiation’

Daniel Korski, the former Deputy Director of David Cameron’s Policy Unit in Number 10, has published a comprehensive account of why he believes the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU was won by those advocating our departure. See here.

One particular section has garnered considerable media attention and is worthy of a few comments. In his article Mr Korski writes about the time when former Prime Minister David Cameron was seeking agreement to proposals to restrict entitlement to welfare payments to new migrants to the UK as part of his renegotiation with the EU. Mr Korski recalls conversations in Brussels in which European counterparts retorted that many more migrants were going to Germany than Britain, that migrants paid more tax than they consumed in public services and that Britain just needed to redistribute more resources to areas facing challenges. He concluded:

“We were never able to counter these arguments. To be honest, we failed to find any evidence of communities under pressure that would satisfy the European Commission. At one point we even asked the help of Andrew Green at Migration Watch, an organization that has been critical of migration. But all he could provide was an article in the Daily Telegraph about a hospital maternity ward in Corby. There was no hard evidence.”

This is a remarkable admission. Mr Korski was the Deputy Director of the Policy Unit, a body of policymakers based in Number 10 charged with formulating policy. It was his job to gather evidence for policy and to foresee challenges to them. This should of course have been part of his brief long before negotiations with Europe even got started since the Conservatives had been re-elected on a promise to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. Yet despite having the whole machinery of government to hand he seems to have sent Mr Cameron empty-handed into the negotiating room.

Some journalists and (generally) pro-EU commentators are now using this as ‘evidence’ that immigration has had no impact on local communities. A report in the Times of 21 October even runs with the headline ‘Migration had “no effect” on services’. Yet since 2010 the non-UK born migrant population in the UK has increased by 1.4 million and just under 940,000 children have been born in the UK to foreign-born mothers. However, far from matching the resulting immigration-driven growth in population, government spending has fallen in real terms. In these circumstances it is not hard to see why migration might indeed have had a considerable effect on communities and public services, a logical conclusion that was clearly apparent to those around the negotiating table if they said – as Mr Korski reports – that the UK should devote more resources to areas facing challenges.

Migration Watch UK is a small organisation and so undertakes research largely at a national level. Our research is soundly-based and widely referenced. Where other bodies have carried out similar work they find similar results. Like other researchers in this area our work is also fundamentally limited by the availability of data published by government. This is especially the case in relation to any assessment of the extent to which migrants use public services or benefit from publicly-provided goods. In a very limited number of areas government both collects and publishes data, but for example even where free access to NHS-provided hospital care depends on immigration status (and so checks must be carried out) no information is published on country of birth or nationality of users of these services and it unclear whether the information is even recorded. Even where government does officially record such data, the data collected is often incomplete. For example, in a research paper Migration Watch UK published on social housing in 2012, we noted that the DCLG public database contained nationality information in only around 60% of cases, although it should be collected in all cases. When Migration Watch UK researchers attempted to fill in the gaps by Freedom of Information Act requests directly to local authorities they were met with a range of excuses as to why information was not held or could not be provided. We have consistently sought to persuade governments – both Labour and Conservative – to do more to assess properly the full impacts of immigration or at least to enable others to do so.

Our Chairman, Lord Green of Deddington, regularly puts down Parliamentary Questions to elicit information from government, and all too often the answer given is that the information is not available or can only be supplied at disproportionate cost. Government cannot say that it has not been on notice that the impact of immigration is a matter of great importance and considerable public interest.

In the circumstances, while we welcome requests for research or advice, any implication that Migration Watch UK could and should have done the government’s work for it and had it ready to hand for an eleventh-hour request is quite misplaced.

To return to the main point, however, of whether it correct to conclude from Mr Korski’s passing reference that immigration puts no pressure on communities or public services, the answer is a clear no. Our focus is and always has been on the impact at the national level of large-scale immigration and the consequent rapid population growth. We have consistently pointed out, amongst other things:

  • That the population is projected to grow by half a million annually, the fastest rate for a century and the equivalent to a new city the size of Liverpool every year.
  • That we need to build a new home in England every five minutes for the next 25 years just to keep up with demand from future migration.
  • That there have been on average 650,000 new migrant GP registrations each year for the past five years.
  • That in two academic years time, three-fifths of primary schools are projected to have a shortfall in places.

Mr Korski should have been well aware of statistics like this. They are matters of public record or inferable from them. We have been making these broad points to government for years, using publicly-available information, yet when they needed to make their case within the EU in order to obtain really very modest restrictions to welfare entitlements – rather than any actual concession on freedom of movement – they did not appear to even try.

However, it should not be forgotten that the renegotiation did result in an agreement for some restrictions on welfare entitlements. Although these were much watered-down from the UK’s original proposals, they were agreed to by the rest of the EU on the basis that the UK was in an exceptional situation as regards the pressures from EU migration. This was explicitly and clearly set out in the formal documents that formed the basis of the deal that David Cameron put to the vote in the referendum on EU membership.

The public consistently tell pollsters that pressure on services brought about by immigration is a major concern. Government needs to ensure the fullest possible assessment of the impact of high levels of migration that ordinary people clearly feel makes their lives more difficult (including migrants themselves, for they need homes, hospitals and school as well).

As we head into a lengthy discussion with the EU to establish a new relationship once the UK leaves the bloc, the country cannot afford a repeat of the ill-preparedness of the renegotiation. Good policy and a strong negotiating position can only be founded on the back of proper evidence. We are happy to work both with government and other organisations to help.

24th October 2016 - Education, European Union, Policy, Population

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