Business Secretary Vince Cable speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cable's warning to the Tories: lower immigration will harm deficit reduction

The Business Secretary tries to appeal to fiscal conservatives by highlighting that reduced EU migration will lead to "a much slower reduction in the public debt".

With the exception of the EU, there is no issue that the coalition parties are more publicly divided over than Europe. While the Tories have pledged to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" a year by the end of the parliament (it rose from 154,000 to 212,000 in the most recent period), this is not, as the Lib Dems have emphasised, a government target. As a result, ministers from the two parties are able to adopt diametrically opposed positions on the subject. 

In his first speech as immigration minister, Conservative James Brokenshire will declare at Demos today that "For too long, the benefits of immigration went to employers who wanted an easy supply of cheap labour, or to the wealthy metropolitan elite who wanted cheap tradesmen and services – but not to the ordinary, hard-working people of this country". This despite the supressed government report revealed by Newsnight showing that the number of UK workers unemployed as a consequence of immigration is well below the figure used by ministers of 23 for every 100 additional migrants. In a rebuke to Cable, Brokenshire will add: "In the past year net migration from the EU has doubled, and this figure is – frankly – just too high. Some have tried to claim that this rapid increase is somehow 'good' for the country. Well, just like the Home Secretary, I disagree." He will also claim: "Uncontrolled mass immigration can force wages down and house prices up and put pressure on social cohesion and public services. And let me be clear – it can also cause displacement in the labour market."

But as luck would have it, Cable will deliver his own speech on the subject at Mansion House tonight, giving him the chance to deliver a rapid-fire rebuttal. It's the kind of stage-managed row that both parties believe will benefit them. The Tories get to remind a sceptical public that they are pushing for an even tougher line on immigration, while the Lib Dems get to remind their liberal target audience (the 25 per cent of the electorate who would consider voting for them) that they are fighting back against Conservative dogma. 

Cable will say: "We just have to stop treating people coming to work here as if they are a problem. We need to kill off all the scare stories" and will rightly warn that "Bear down on immigrants, and you lose some of the most dynamic, innovative and imaginative workers in your economy". It is certainly odd that those who are so supportive of the free movement of capital are so opposed to the free movement of labour, but perhaps a more promising line of argument is his warning that reduced immigration will hinder deficit reduction. He will point out that a "marked reduction" in newcomers from the EU will lead to "an increase in the budget deficit and a much slower reduction in the public debt". 

Since immigrants are net contributors to the economy, paying far more in taxes than they receive in benefits and service (they are younger and more economically active than the population in general), their removal increases fiscal pressures on the government. As the Office for Budget Responsibility has shown, we will need more, not fewer migrants, if we are to cope with the challenge of an ageing population and the resultant rise in the national debt. Should Britain maintain net migration of around 140,000 a year (a level significantly higher than the government's target of 'tens of thousands'), debt will rise to 99 per cent of GDP by 2062-63. But should it reduce net migration to zero, debt will surge to 174 per cent. As the OBR concluded, "[There is] clear evidence that, since migrants tend to be more concentrated in the working-age group relatively to the rest of the population, immigration has a positive effect on the public sector’s debt…higher levels of net inward migration are projected to reduce public sector net debt as a share of GDP over the long term relative to the levels it would otherwise reach."

One might expect David Cameron and other fiscal conservatives to act on such advice but, as so often in recent times, the PM is determined to put politics before policy. The irony is that by exacerbating, rather than easing, public fears over immigration (thus handing a propaganda victory to UKIP), he isn't even succeeding in these debased terms. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the Standing Rock fight will continue

Bureaucratic ability to hold corporate interest account will be more necessary now than ever.

Fireworks lit up the sky in rural North Dakota on Sunday night, as protestors celebrated at what is being widely hailed as a major victory for rights activism.

After months spent encamped in tee-pees and tents on the banks of the Canonball river, supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe finally received the news they’d been waiting for: the US Army Corps has not issued the Dakota Access pipeline with the permit it requires to drill under Lake Oahe.

“We […] commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing" said a statement released by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s chairman, Dave Archambault II.

With the camp’s epic setting, social-media fame, and echoes of wider injustice towards Native Americans, the movement has already earned a place in the history books. You can almost hear the Hollywood scriptwriters tapping away.

But as the smoke settles and the snow thickens around the thinning campsite, what will be Standing Rock’s lasting legacy?

I’ve written before about the solidarity, social justice and environmental awareness that I think make this anti-pipeline movement such an important symbol for the world today.

But perhaps its most influential consequence may also be its least glamorous: an insistence on a fully-functioning and accountable bureaucratic process.

According to a statement from the US Army’s Assistant Secretary of Civil Words, the Dakota Access project must “explore alternate routes”, through the aid of “an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis”.

This emphasis on consultation and review is not big-statement politics from the Obama administration. In fact it is a far cry from his outright rejection of the Keystone Pipeline project in 2015. Yet it may set an even more enduring example.

The use of presidential power to reject Keystone, was justified on the grounds that America needed to maintain its reputation as a “global leader” on climate change. This certainly sent a clear message to the world that support from Canadian tar-sands oil deposits was environmentally unacceptable.

But it also failed to close the issue. TransCanada, the company behind Keystone, has remained “committed” to the project and has embroiled the government in a lengthy legal challenge. Unsurprisingly, they now hope to “convince” Donald Trump to overturn Obama’s position.

In contrast, the apparently modest nature of the government’s response to Dakota Access Pipeline may yet prove environmental justice’s biggest boon. It may even help Trump-proof the environment.

“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do”, said the Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works.

Back in July, the same Army Corps of Engineers (which has jurisdiction over domestic pipelines crossing major waterways) waved through an environmental assessment prepared by the pipeline’s developer and approved the project. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe subsequently complained that the threat to its water supply and cultural heritage had not been duly considered. This month’s about-turn is thus vital recognition of the importance of careful and extensive public consultation. And if ever such recognition was needed it is now.

Not only does Donald Trump have a financial tie to the Energy Transfer Partners but the wider oil and gas industry also invested millions into other Republican candidate nominees. On top of this, Trump has already announced that Myron Ebell, a well known climate sceptic, will be in charge of leading the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Maintaining the level of scrutiny finally granted for Standing Rock may not be easy under the new administration. Jennifer Baker, an attorney who has worked with tribes in South Dakota on pipeline issues for several years, fears that the ground gained may not last long. But while the camp at Standing Rock may be disbanding, the movement is not.

This Friday, the three tribes who have sued the Corps (the Yankont, Cheyenne River, and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes) will head to a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, seeking to increase pressure on the government to comply with both domestic and international law as it pertains to human rights and indigenous soveriegnty. 

What the anti-pipeline struggle has shown - and will continue to show - is that a fully accountable and transparent bureaucratic process could yet become the environment's best line of defence. That – and hope.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.