All the stupid things people have said today

And I’m looking at you, Malcolm Rifkind, and you, John Redwood.

There's nothing like a political thriller to get the pundits out on College Green selling their wares to the lowest bidder and spouting a fury of nonsense on rolling news. Somebody has to fill those long and languid hours, I suppose, as everyone runs around chasing anyone in a suit who looks like he might be negotiating something.

Rumour has it that a Sky reporter found himself in Caffè Nero filming a negotiation over the price of a blueberry muffin and yelling to the camera, "It's looking good for a deal, people! BREAKING NEWS!!!!!" Well, not quite, but almost.

Anyway, there have been a couple of real hype-whippers today, stirring up as much trouble as they can, scaremongering in that delightfully cool-headed way that slightly redundant right-wing commentators will.

First up, and definitely the prizewinner, is Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

The idea that the two parties that suffered most in this election, that were rejected by the electorate, that in the case of the Labour Party lost a hundred of its seats, should put together an illegitimate government, this is the Robert Mugabe style of politics . . .. It's exactly what Mugabe did, you know -- he lost the election and scrabbled to hold on to power.

You know, he's got a point. Whenever I look closely at Labour and the Lib Dems, all I can really see is Mugabe-style politics. All those violent bullying tactics, murder attempts and house demolitions. I can't believe no one has made the comparison before. That's searing political insight in action, that is.

Next: the Conservative MP John Redwood, who said that the current situation is "a disaster for British democracy".

It's all that some of us feared about hung parliaments. There's complete chaos and confusion.

How is it a disaster for British democracy when what we are experiencing now is precisely its outcome? How could you have prevented this hung parliament that you so "feared"? (Mental image: Redwood sitting up in bed with his duvet round his ears, whimpering and repeatedly counting seats in his model House of Commons.) Well, by getting a clear majority. WHICH YOU DIDN'T.

Of course, it's the news channels' fault, really, isn't it? If you interview someone 43 times about the same subject within half an hour when there is actually nothing new to report apart from a series of wayward and hazy possibilities, you are bound to get some interesting interpretations.

Solution? To pass the time, set up Adam Boulton in a series of wrestling matches with suitable opponents (first: Ann Widdecombe).

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Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.