This government has set itself the drastic target of reducing net migration to the “tens of thousands.” Whilst this might not seem particularly realistic to most people, there is one sure-fire way to drastically cut the number of people who want to come and work in our country: make your country less and less economically attractive. And that seems to be exactly what the government is determined to do.
This is borne out by the most recent quarterly immigration figures, released today by the ONS. They show that EU net migration to the UK has fallen over the last year, with lower numbers coming here in the first place and higher numbers leaving. For some people, this will be welcome news. There is no doubt that, for a large number of Brexit-voters, voting to leave the EU was a vote for less immigration. But we should all take a moment and look at the reasons why people from the EU are choosing not to come here, or are choosing to leave in larger numbers, and how the consequences are already being felt. Let me also say at the outset that the UK needs migration and it’s about time politicians made the case rather than making EU nationals the scapegoat.
The majority of EU citizens coming to the UK come here with a definite job lined up. Many work in our NHS or other public services, as doctors, nurses, social care workers. Some UK sectors are almost totally reliant on supplies of EU labour, such as vets in abattoirs (over 90 per cent of whom are EU nationals). We are already seeing some of the negative consequences of this “Brexodus” of EU citizens from our country: the number of nurses and midwives coming to work in the NHS has fallen by89 per cent since the referendum, all at a time when NHS staffing and staff morale is nearing crisis levels. Farms are reporting having to leave fruit and vegetables rotting in the fields because they simply don’t have enough workers to pick them.
This isn’t just an economic argument, either. EU citizens are our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues and in some cases our family. It’s fundamentally un-British that people who came here in good faith from the EU to work in and contribute to this country are being made to feel unwelcome. Let’s also not forget the number of UK nationals that live, work and study in other EU countries.
So, while the consequences of this “Brexodus” is already being felt, it’s worth looking at the reasons why it’s happening. Obviously, the vote for Brexit cannot be ignored as an important factor. And it is as much the economic impact of that decision as any perceived message of hostility to our neighbours that is causing the problems. For one undeniable impact of the vote for Brexit is a slowdown in the economy. We’ve gone from the fastest growing economy in the G7, to the slowest. Real wages have been falling for months. Inflation is well above the Bank of England’s 2 per cent target, mainly due to the collapse in the value of the pound since the referendum. The Government’s own secret figures say that the long-term consequences of Brexit will be catastrophic for the economy, especially in the North of England. The supposed “sunlit uplands” of Brexit look more like a mirage than ever. The result is that the UK no longer looks like such an attractive place for EU citizens to come and work, which should be no cause for celebration, no matter how many times the Government repeats the tired Brexit slogan of “taking back control”.
As the Brexit promised by Leave campaigners is increasingly revealed as undeliverable and undesirable, and as the costs to our economy and our society mount up, we are all entitled to keep an open mind about whether it’s the right path for the country.
EU nationals are telling us what they think of the government’s Brexit strategy. Perhaps we should heed what they are saying.
Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South, and a leading supporter of Open Britain