Consortium proposes "Crossrail 2" for London

The proposed line would connect Chelsea to Hackney through central London.

A consortium of business interests, led by Labour peer Lord Adonis has announced its proposal for "Crossrail 2" (pdf), a line stretching from the south-west of London to the north-east. It's a long way from reality at the moment — even though it has powerful friends the group has no official power, and the most optimistic projections don't see it opening until around 2035 — but it is already clear that it, or something like it, is sorely needed.

I've knocked up a rough map of the proposed route:

(I've missed magenta since the Olympics, so thought the tube map could do with some more. Click to embiggen)

The line as proposed would take a significant amount of strain off the Victoria line), with four/five intersections at Victoria, Seven Sisters, Tottenham Hale, and a joint Euston and Kings Cross St Pancras station.

(Yes, the trains would be long enough that the platform would have one end at Euston and the other at Kings Cross. Crossrail 1 has similar stations, one at Farringdon/Barbican and another at Liverpool Street/Moorgate, and even Thameslink, after its recent upgrades, has a station with entrances on both sides of the Thames.)

It would also link happily to the High-Speed 2 terminus in Euston, put a new station in the railway black-hole of inner Chelsea, and join up the two southern spurs of the Northern and District line. The consortium has clearly put a lot of thought into the plans, and if someone can be found to stump up the estimated £12bn cost, it will fix London's public transport congestion for at least, ooh, a year or so. After that, London could have its south London monorail or its cross-river tram.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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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.