Mandelson's "search parties" are the sort of immigration policy the Mail should adore

How do you make sure that migration helps? Pick and choose who you invite.

The Daily Mail's Tim Shipman quotes Peter Mandelson at a rally for the think-tank Progress:

In 2004 when as a Labour government, we were not only welcoming people to come into this country to work, we were sending out search parties for people and encouraging them, in some cases, to take up work in this country.

Shipman frames the comments as "a stunning confirmation that the Blair and Brown governments deliberately engineered mass immigration", but I see no evidence of that. Instead, it sounds like Mandelson is talking about the sort of programmes which were aimed at getting high-skilled immigrants to come to Britain – you know, like that one that David Cameron went to India to promote.

The fact is that programmes to attract migrants who could bring rare skills or high investment to Britain are the absolute least that a minister with a portfolio like Peter Mandelson's should have been doing. The BMA estimates a cost of £270,000 to train a doctor, rising to over half a million pounds for a consultant. Those costs are "for the most part, borne by the wider NHS"; so if nothing else, it makes sense to "send out search parties" for foreign doctors to encourage them to come here. So long as the search parties don't cost £200,000 a person, at least.

And it gets even better if you encourage entrepreneurs to come over to Britain. We're talking about people who will bring money to Britain and spend it on creating work. That's basically the holy grail of immigration policy, and something that even the Daily Mail usually supports.

In fact, the extent to which Britain should run "search parties" is entirely linked to the extent to which the Daily Mail's preferred migration policy becomes law. If we have an open borders policy, it doesn't really matter which people apply to work in Britain – the idea is that the growth in working-age population provides a boost to the economy almost regardless of who comes over. But when we start capping the number of migrants, then it becomes much more important that we encourage those who'll provide the most economic benefit to Britain to apply for visas, while discouraging those who might provide only a marginal boost to the economy. That's the logic of the Government's negative advertising in Romania and Bulgaria, for instance.

Of course, none of that matters if your reasons for not liking migrants aren't economic but, er, "cultural". But the argument that Mandelson's search parties "made it hard for Britons to get work" isn't based in fact, but in that curious sort of common sense economics which has little relation to the real world. In reality, they were exactly the sort of policy which the Daily Mails should adore.

Peter Mandelson in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images

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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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.