By Sir Andrew Green
Chairman of Migration Watch UK
The Times, 11 April 2014
Yvette Cooper’s speech on immigration yesterday illustrates the huge gap between the public and politicians. The shadow home secretary’s remarks amounted to an elegant camouflage for Labour’s absence of policy on the key issues. The central issue is not whether immigration is good or bad, but what is a desirable scale — given that 77 per cent of the public want it reduced, 50 per cent “by a lot”.
Ms Cooper made her speech on the day that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) finally admitted failing to count all the migrants from Eastern Europe when the Labour government, alone except for Ireland and Sweden, opened our labour market to them in 2004. The new figures bring net foreign migration on their watch to nearly four million, two thirds from outside the EU. It is the sheer scale of this inflow that has, rightly, alarmed public opinion.
Ms Cooper had some useful ideas to reduce the exploitation of EU migrants by unscrupulous employers. But again, the central issue was ducked. They are not “benefit tourists”, but the financial incentives for Eastern Europeans to come and work in Britain are undeniably huge, especially if they bring their families. Some can earn eight times their pay at home. Will Labour renegotiate to remove both in-work and out-of-work benefits from EU workers, placing them on the same footing as migrants from the rest of the world, who normally have no recourse to public funds for the first five years?
The third key issue is what to do about those non-EU migrants over whom the government does have powers. Under sustained pressure from John Humphrys on the Today programme, Ms Cooper said that Labour wanted lower migration but would not set a target.
There is a case for refining a target to those who can be controlled directly. But the absence of any target would leave ministers wide open to pressure from powerful interest groups. Indeed, Ms Cooper has already caved in to academia by promising to remove foreign students from the net migration figures — yet they comprise 60 per cent of the non-EU inflow and are a significant source of abuse.
If the speech was intended to shore up working-class support in the face of depredations by Ukip, it is unlikely to succeed. Indeed it might even increase people’s anger that Labour remains deaf to their real concerns.