Sajid Javid arrives in Downing Street last week after being appointed to replace Maria Miller as Culture Secretary. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Sajid Javid's father would never have made it into Cameron's Britain

The new Culture Secretary's Pakistani father was welcomed in 1961. But the migration cap means his successors are being turned away today. 

Sajid Javid's ascension to the cabinet has been hailed by Conservatives as proof that "the British dream" really does exist. The son of a man who arrived at Heathrow airport from Pakistan in 1961 with a £1 note in his pocket, after his family lost everything during the partition, now sits at the top table of the UK government.

As the Culture Secretary (the first Asian cabinet minister) recounts in a new collection, The Party of Opportunityby Conservative group Renewal: "My father made his way up north and found a job in a Rochdale cotton mill. Happy to be employed, he nevertheless strived for more. He set his sights on working on a bus, only to be turned away time and again. But he didn’t give up. He persisted and was hired as a bus conductor, then a driver, earning the nickname 'Mr Night & Day from his co-workers. After that came his own market stall, selling ladies clothes (many sewn by my mother at home) and, eventually, his own shop in Bristol.

"My four brothers and I, all born in Rochdale, lived with my parents in the two-bedroom flat above our shop on Stapleton Road (which, although home to us, was later dubbed 'Britain’s most dangerous street'). This – along with our family breaks to visit cousins back in Rochdale and our biannual treat of hiring a VHS player for a weekend to binge on movies – might not fit everyone’s definition of success, but success is always relative. My parents achieved their aims – to help their immediate and extended families and to provide for and educate my brothers and me."

Javid's story is an inspiring one (foolishly disregarded by those Labour MPs who attacked his successful career as an investment banker) but no Conservative paused to consider another issue: would the same be possible today? Under the current government's draconian immigration cap, which limits the number of skilled migrants from outside the EU to just 20,700 a year, Javid's father would have been barred. With no university degree and just £1 to live on, ministers would have rejected him as a potential "burden" on the welfare state, never knowing that he would go on to raise a son the equal of them. 

This scenario is emblematic of the short-sightedness of the government's immigration policy. For the sake of meeting an arbitrary target of reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year (which, owing to EU immigration, will not be met in any case), Britain is depriving itself of untold levels of talent. As my former colleagues Mehdi Hasan noted in a Guardian piece in 2011, "Had Avram Kohen not arrived on these shores from Poland in the late 19th century, his son Jack would not have been able to start Tesco in 1919. And had Mikhail Marks not been allowed to migrate to the UK from Belarus in the 1880s, he would never have met Thomas Spencer and created M&S."

The truth that eludes the pessimistic and xenophobic right is that immigrants don't just "take our jobs", they create them too. But when today's entrepreneurs seek to enter Cameron's Britain, all they will be greeted with is a closed door. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.