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The government is dangerously close to deterring students and taxpayers

Immigrants are to be celebrated, not vilified. 

At the first Prime Minister's Question after the summer recess, I asked the Prime Minister if she agrees with me that immigration is essential to the strength of the UK economy, as well as enhancing diversity and our cultural fabric.

It’s not just the rhetoric from the UK government which is dangerous, but their policies and their leaked proposals. These are creating huge alarm for EU nationals who live here, as well as creating a stain on our society by painting the UK as an inward-looking nation.

Last October, the Prime Minister was forced into a humiliating U-turn on proposals to have foreign workers registered. In May, it was reported the Tories plan to charge companies £2,000 a year for non-EU skilled migrant workers. These are regressive moves which would undoubtedly have encouraged "anti-foreigner" resentment.

During the summer, 100 EU nationals resident in the UK received deportation notices in error causing alarm to them and many others. And now we have a leaked Home Office report creating more concern and uncertainty.

These leaked proposals are a disgrace. The policies as proposed will effectively break up family units, which only exacerbates the uncertainty already experienced by EU citizens who have chosen to make the UK their home. The paper serves to placate the Hard Brexiteers and further destroys any shred of goodwill with our European partners during a crucial time of the exit negotiations.

It's a further example of the UK government’s one-size-fits all approach to immigration, which fails to recognise the benefits of immigration. The registration of EU nationals will only increase the burden on a Home Office that can’t cope with the current system.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the hostile language from the UK government has had an impact on the levels of EU citizens who want to come here. These new proposals will amplify the effect. 

Freedom of movement of labour is particularly important to Scotland, because of the need to address skills gaps and deal with an ageing population. We propose a fair, robust and secure immigration system that meets Scotland’s social and economic needs.

I asked Theresa May if she would in the first instance, remove international students from the net migration target.

International students who come to the UK to study at our world-leading universities is something to be celebrated and encouraged. The SNP has repeatedly called for the reintroduction of the post-study work visa, which allowed international students to remain in Scotland and work after graduation. The call has been backed by businesses, colleges and universities, and has cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament amongst every political party represented in Holyrood.

The real concern is that, so long as Theresa May has any remaining influence and this Tory government continues down this path, a government review of policy on international students will simply mean more misguided crackdowns.

Students from across the world, from within the EU and outside, contribute socially and economically to the UK. Their skills and talents should be harnessed here in the UK, rather than being at the centre of Home Office reviews.

The SNP has called for, and will continue to call for the reinstatement of the post-study work visa, to help encourage students who have studied at our universities to remain and contribute to the UK after they have graduated.

The Prime Minister must stop dancing to the tune of her right-wing backbenchers and apologise for the disgraceful treatment her government has shown migrants in the UK. We need to cherish those who are here, not chase them away.

Ian Blackford is the SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and the leader of the SNP at Westminster. 

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.