The Afghan Badlands and Wikipedia

David Miliband on a decade of "asymmetric decay".

Speaking last night, David Miliband outlined the reasons why he believes the last decade has been the most traumatic for the west since the 1930s.

At an event organised by Intelligence Squared, titled Ten Years after 9/11: The World Remade, the former foreign secretary gave a breakdown of what he described as the "degeneration" of old power structures, and stressed the importance of recognising the need for coherent global interdependence.

Miliband argued that over the past decade, three key features of the international stage have been eroded: Firstly, the historic dominance of the United States; secondly, the shift in the balance of power as a result of this, and thirdly, the deterioration of shared sovereignty in the European Union.

He described America as "a reluctant empire" that has had an increasing focus on internal affairs since Bill Clinton ended his second term. No cogent enemies have raised the US ire other than disparate groups inhabiting the Afghan "Badlands", these semi-independent factions being taken on by the American government in an al-Qaeda instigated "detour" of foreign policy. Miliband likened the sum of individual acts of anarchy against the west to the domination of Microsoft's failed online encyclopaedia by the publicly edited Wikipedia, a relationship he termed "asymmetric decay".

He highlighted what he called a "fundamental divide between politicians and academics over how to create an interdependent world". Some prefer to cling to the cosy notion of the nation-state, Miliband said, while progressive groups expound the virtues of shared sovereignty and a recognition of the increasing role of the individual.

"When we talk about the balance of power we have to talk about people not just states," he said. "The west is going to have to rediscover the joys of multilateralism."

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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.