David Gauke: Rwanda and the ECHR, the Protocol and law, steel and the WTO. All show that sovereignty isn’t absolute.

20 Jun

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the 2019 general election.

The curious thing about being in Ministerial office is how much power other people have. There is something you want to do – or something you want to stop – and despite your supposedly exalted position it turns out that not everything is under your control. It can be annoying.

The most contentious element of this phenomenon in recent times has, of course, been membership of the European Union. This meant that a large number of policy options that Ministers might want to pursue were no longer available. It did not matter who voters elected, the Government was not permitted, for example, to scrap VAT on domestic fuel. This, it was argued, is undemocratic and therefore we should take back control and leave the EU. It was an argument that many found persuasive in the 2016 referendum.

One point that has been highlighted in recent days is that membership of the European Union is not the only constraint on the policies that the UK government can pursue. In the past week, we have had controversies over compliance with the EU Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland Protocol, the European Convention on Human Rights and the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

In each case, the Government finds itself in the position of wanting to do something but is constrained by international obligations. It does not want border checks in the Irish Sea but such checks are imposed by the Northern Ireland Protocol. It wants to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda but may only do so in accordance with the provisions on the European Convention on Human Rights. And it wants to maintain tariffs on Chinese steel but may only do so in accordance with WTO rules.

The Government has a problem with each case and with each case it is taking a different approach. With the Northern Ireland Protocol it is trying to argue that there is a legal justification for unilaterally changing the terms of the agreement (its arguments are widely seen as hopeless, but let us not dwell on that here). In other words, it is looking to change the obligations placed on it. On the ECHR, it is going through the legal process arguing that it is complying with existing law. And, from what we know about Lord Geidt’s resignation as the Prime Minister’s Ethics Adviser, the Government appears to be considering openly breaching WTO rules.

If the Government were fully to embrace the logic of ‘take back control’ it would simply pursue the policy it wanted and damn the consequences. If the UK Government with the confidence of the House of Commons wants to remove border checks, deport asylum seekers and subsidise domestic steel, why should it not?

At this point, we collide with reality. An absolutist approach to sovereignty comes at a very high cost.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was designed to resolve a problem that ultimately allowed the Trade and Cooperation Agreement to be concluded. This gives the UK and the EU tariff-free and quota-free access to each other’s markets. Some of us think this deal is inadequate but it is still of value. Jettison the Protocol, and we risk losing tariff-free and quota free access to EU markets.

The ECHR is less transactional in its nature, but was driven forward by the UK during the 1950s as a means of protecting individual rights at a time when Europe’s future as a liberal democracy was far from assured. It has helped secure liberal values, exerted pressure on authoritarian regimes and, more recently, played a crucial role in agreeing a framework to Northern Ireland that has ensured peace.

As for the WTO, its rules based system has enabled free trade to thrive in recent decades which has contributed to our own prosperity and lifted millions out of poverty across the globe. Protectionism is a bad policy but it can be popular. As my old friend, Daniel Hannan, points out, tariffs on Chinese steel polls well but results in higher prices for UK consumers. We have an expert Trade Remedies Authority that has looked at this, and advised that the tariffs should be scrapped, which we should follow. (There are times when policy based on evidence and expertise is preferable to adhering to the whims on public opinion, as Daniel most definitely did not put it.)

Not only would the UK be faced with immediate problems of retaliation and enforcement if were to step away from our international obligations but we would also be influencing the international environment for the worse. Other countries might follow suit, contributing to a breakdown in cooperation and trade. This is not in the interests of the UK or the world as a whole.

This is an argument that really should not be terribly contentious. Of course, we can have a debate about whether – in a specific case – the costs of restricting the actions we can take are justified by the associated benefits from the agreement we can reach with others but this should be a debate about trade-offs not absolutes. The challenge here is that this may not be possible in a post-Brexit world.

We are already hearing the argument being made – including, for example, by Suella Braverman, the Attorney General – that people who voted for Brexit will find it very hard to understand that the Government is not able to implement a policy it wants on immigration because it has been overruled by a European Court. There is increasing talk that the Conservatives might fight the next general election on a pledge to take the UK out of the ECHR, to ‘complete Brexit’ and fully take back control.

I have no doubt that is exactly how many Brexit voters will feel, just as many will feel that the UK Government should be able to subsidise UK steelworks and determine for itself how Great Britain-Northern Ireland trade should work. Maybe those are the voters the Conservative Party wishes to focus upon – I suspect they may be – but it would be a disastrous course of action.

To deliver good and effective government, it is necessary to accept that certain constraints apply, that sometimes sovereignty has to be compromised in return for international cooperation. Decisions in this area lie along a spectrum; this is not about absolutism.

This argument is, however, very hard to make if you have spent the last few years suggesting that any such restrictions on Ministers’ discretion as a consequence of our relationship with the EU constitutes an affront to democracy. Unless Ministers get a bit more grown-up in their rhetoric, they are going to set expectations at a level they cannot – and should not – meet.

The post David Gauke: Rwanda and the ECHR, the Protocol and law, steel and the WTO. All show that sovereignty isn’t absolute. first appeared on Conservative Home.

Anthony Browne: It’s the economy, stupid. Or should that be: it’s higher growth, stupid?

30 May

Anthony Browne is MP for South Cambridgeshire, the Chair of the Conservative backbench Treasury Committee and a member of the Treasury Select Committee.

“It’s the economy, stupid!”: the phrase at the heart of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 election campaign in America may have become a political cliché. But like many clichés, its use lingers on because it contains a fundamental truth. 

These are words the Conservative Party needs to remember as we plan for the next two years and the looming general election. A clear, concerted focus on growth and the economy would not just be good for the country, but good politically. It would help to relieve many of the problems the country has – or make it easier for the Government to sort them – and it would also help the Conservative Party hold together its new political coalition of red wall and blue wall. 

When I stepped down as the Observer’s economics correspondent in 1999, it was in part because economics had become too predictable to be newsworthy, with growth and inflation steady.

There is no risk of that now. We have had unparalleled battering from many directions. The global financial crisis, the pandemic, and now the massive surge in global energy and commodity prices that has left the economy seriously wounded.  

Even in this age of fury, most fairminded voters think the Government has dealt with these shocks admirably. Rishi Sunak’s £400 billion support package during the pandemic drew international praise, with economists who appeared in front of us on the Treasury Select Committee falling over themselves to applaud it.

Last week’s support package for families facing the cost-of-living crisis won praise from a wide range of campaign groups who normally condemn the Government. But we are still left with the national debt and taxes at their highest since the aftermath of the Second World War – a risky economic position to be in, and a politically uncomfortable one for a party that claims to believe in low taxes.  

The surprise for most economists, though, is how, given all the battering, the economy is not in worse shape than it is. We had predictions of unemployment rocketing up to 1980s levels – but it is now at record lows, with more jobs than jobless people for the first time ever. Unlike the 1980s, we retain many fundamental economic strengths. 

But still the economy is very precarious. Stagflation looms. Quantitative easing is being unwound. The massive national debt makes us vulnerable to rate rises. The ageing population will steadily build up pressure to increase public spending.

The solution is growth. Higher economic growth – and higher productivity – leads to higher incomes, relieving the cost of living crisis. It would increase tax revenues and reduce welfare payments, improving the national finances, and give the Government flexibility to bring in much needed reforms. On average, one person going from joblessness to job improves the Government’s finances by £6,000 a year. 

The western world has had sluggish economic growth for 15 years, and driving it up should now be the defining mission of this Government. It needs the policies to deliver it, and it needs to communicate it.  The Chancellor set out the mission in his recent Mais lecture, where he laid out the strategy to deliver growth based on “a new culture of enterprise”.

His focus was on what he summarised as Capital, People, Ideas” – encouraging investment, increasing skills and trainingand promoting research and development. His central thesis is that the key to drive up growth is to increase business investment, where the UK lags most of the OECD.

That is why he introduced the temporary “super deduction” tax relief on it, and is now consulting on what to succeed it with, to be announced in the Autumn budget. The 1922 Treasury Backbench Committee, which I chair, is currently gathering evidence from politicians, think tanks and business groups, on which reforms could help to promote growth.

There are many other Government policies that help to do so – from agreeing free trade deals, to investing in infrastructure such as new railways (the newly opened Elizabeth Line in London is an inspiration), introducing freeports, and dramatically increasing research and development funding.

The recent Queen’s speech was full of legislation that will help growth, from removing the ban on gene editing (important for businesses in my constituency) and removing red tape on trade documents to modernising business rates and making financial services regulation more competitive.

But clearly there is much more that can be done. As the editor of this site pointed out in Conservative Home last week, there are many sensible recommendations from the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform that have not yet been implemented. We should use tax breaks to encourage regional development not just public spending. 

Going for growth also needs a mindset change across Government. As one Cabinet Minister put it to me recently, the Treasury has never been interested in growth, just in collecting taxes. Many sensible tax reforms are undermined because the Treasury doesn’t fully assess their impact on longer-term economic activity – just on what first order impacts they would have on government receipts. All policies should be assessed across every Government department on what impact they would have on growth, and those that are beneficial should be prioritised. 

The Government also needs to turn this into compelling narrative that everyone can buy intoDavid Cameron and George Osborne repeated their “Long Term Economic Plan” so often they got ridiculed, but it won them the surprise 2015 outright election victory.

We now need a similar clear plan. Cabinet ministers should mention it in every speech. Every MP should know instantly when asked in TV interviews what the key mission of the Government is: growth. Every civil servant working on a policy should know what the overarching priority is. The whole country should know that is what the mission is.

The Prime Minister is instinctively pro-business, but business clearly needs to be persuaded. The Government needs to ramp up the case for free enterprise and business, and to push back against more statism being the answer to every problem. We need to turn our rhetoric about being the party of low taxes into reality. The public will not believe us if we say we want low taxes when they are at their highest since the Second World War. With the budget deficit shrinking fast, the Government can soon start cutting taxes; a faster growing economy will make it easier to cut them further.  

Having a clear mission on growth is also good politics. In its bid for the middle ground, the Labour Party is trying to position itself as the party of low taxes and of business, but that puts the political frontline on our natural territory.  Just as Conservatives can’t win a bidding war on spending, Labour can’t win a bidding war on growth. Labour can’t stop thinking about how to cut the pie, rather than making it bigger.

Growth can also bridge across the new political coalition. Many other policies that might appeal to Red Wall voters – such as the Rwanda asylum policy, dialling down on net zero or stoking culture wars – risk alienating more liberal Conservative voters in the south.

But a clear mission to promote growth, help business, and cut taxes while balancing the budget appeals to both wings of the party, and can unite it rather than divide it. Being economically liberal and fiscally responsible is the clear political middle groundWhen it comes to what the Conservative mission should be until the election – it’s the economy, stupid! 

Daniel Hannan: No, the Government has not abandoned the rule of law

26 Apr

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

My friend David Gauke wrote a provocative essay for ConHome on Monday. He began with the uncontentious assertion that “the rule of law is central to what we are about as a country.”

He then went on to argue that “this Government has a problem with the rule of law,” citing three examples of its supposedly cavalier attitude: Partygate, the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the Rwanda asylum plan.

I’ll come to the three charges in a moment. But first, I hope we can all agree with the Gawkster’s opening proposition.

Central to the identity of the United Kingdom is that it is (to quote the seventeenth-century radical James Harrington) “an Empire of Laws, and not of Men”. The people in charge don’t get to make up the rules as they go along. Laws are general, equal and certain.

That principle guarantees our liberty because it ensures, as John Locke put it, that we are “not subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man.”

The rule of law is what distinguishes free societies from despotisms. It is arguably Britain’s greatest export, our chief contribution to the happiness of mankind.

For precisely that reason, almost no one admits to being against the idea. When governments bend the rules in their own favour, they naturally claim that they are acting in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the law.

Gaukie is quite right, then, to put each case under the microscope. A country needs constantly to interrogate itself, to invigilate its standards, to hold its leaders accountable.

So let’s do precisely that, starting with the Partygate affair.

We keep hearing that it is an example of “one rule for them [i.e. politicians] and one rule for everyone else”. But endlessly repeating that accusation does not make it true. There is no evidence that the Prime Minister or senior civil servants have been more leniently treated than others in their position. Quite the contrary.

How many keyworkers have been fined for having a drink in the office? How many nurses, for example, have been prosecuted for sharing pictures of themselves with cakes, or uploading TikTok routines?

To the best of my knowledge, none. And quite right, too. It would have been preposterous to charge a group of workers who were already sharing indoor space under rules designed to reduce unnecessary meetings – let alone two years after the event.

To complain about people being separated from sick or dying relatives strikes me as fundamentally dishonest. There were indeed harsh rules in place – rules which I condemned at the time, unlike many of those who now shed crocodile tears about their effect

But those rules applied as much to Boris Johnson as to the rest of us. He went unvisited when he was in hospital. He could not spend time with his mother (who died not long afterwards).

The fair comparison is with what other keyworkers did while at their offices. On that basis, if it really was “one rule for Boris”, it was in precisely the opposite way from that which his critics intend.

On the Northern Ireland Protocol, things are more complicated. The Government has an overriding duty to uphold the Belfast Agreement, which depends upon power-sharing. If the Protocol remains unmodified, that deal will collapse, because Unionists will not agree to serve in a devolved government.

The two treaties pull in opposite directions and, if the tension becomes too much, the Government will have no choice but to give priority to the Belfast Agreement, which has been the basis of peace in Northern Ireland for a generation.

Yet it is not clear that dropping parts of the Protocol would amount to abandoning the rule of law. As Peter Lilley argued not long ago on this website, the Protocol was always intended to be temporary, and contains provisions for its own replacement.

It would not be the first treaty to lapse or to be overtaken by events. Where now is the 1729 Treaty of Seville, the 1836 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, or the 1907 Pact of Cartagena? When an accord is overtaken by events, or repudiated by one of the signatories, the rule of law does not collapse.

Ireland, for example, abandoned the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty in stages, cutting its residual constitutional links to the UK, declaring itself a republic and leaving the Commonwealth. Did that mean the end of the rule of law in Ireland? No. It was accepted that a treaty signed under duress had ceased to be valid.

As far as the Rwanda plan goes, we don’t yet have full details. But there is nothing wrong, in the face of it, with two countries reaching an agreement on the processing of asylum claims.

Nor is there any obvious human rights violation. Whereas an immigrant aims to get into a particular country (and I am in favour of immigration into the UK), a refugee aims to get out of a particular country.

As long as asylum-seekers do not face persecution or oppression in Rwanda – and, for all the low-level racism now being aimed at that country by Leftists, no one has shown that they would – they might as well secure sanctuary there as anywhere else.

Yes, we should not be watching carefully. It is human nature to care more about outcome than process. We need only look at the United States to see how easily a law-based republic can start to treat elections as contingent, something to be challenged automatically by the losing party.

But, precisely because we live in a world where the rule of law is fragile, where democracies decay into dictatorships, where armies cross borders in anger, we need to keep a sense of proportion.

Britain remains one of the good countries. When Ukrainians say that they want to break with their past and live in a normal country, it is our model – or something very close to it – that they have in mind. Let’s not devalue what we have.

Our survey. Eight in ten Tory activists line up behind the Government’s new asylum seekers’ scheme

25 Apr

This was not an easy question to write.  To be comprehensive, it would have needed to explain that the policy is aimed primarily though not exclusively at the small boats phenomenon; that its aim is primarily to deter asylum seekers who are not presently illegal but will shortly become so; that the asylum seekers in question come via France; that the scheme is not “offshoring”; that its costs are unknown – and more. It might also have asked whether respondents believe that the policy will actually be put into effect, if it will effectively be struck down by the courts, and if the Government will then take further action.

Nonetheless, I think that our panel of Party members has got the gist of the scheme.  It was always likely to support it, but the strength of backing is striking: about eight in ten respondents are in favour.  And roughly one in six are opposed.

Enver Solomon: The Homes for Ukraine scheme is falling short of the noble instincts of the British people

21 Apr

Enver Solomon is Chief Exective of the Refugee Council.

The villagers of North Moreton, near Didcot in Oxfordshire are frustrated and angry. Moved by the horrors of the conflict in Ukraine the residents are eager to welcome refugees to their village.

But delays waiting for the visa applications required under the Homes for Ukraine scheme have left them annoyed and more than disappointed.

One of the residents, Polly Vacher, told the BBC: ‘It’s a disgrace, I’m ashamed to be British for the first time in my 78 years’.

She’s not the only person across the country to feel that way. National and local newspapers and broadcasters have been contacted by numerous Britons angry and anguished by the fact that they want to welcome Ukrainians into their homes but delays and bureaucracy are standing in their way.

Soon after Michael Gove launched the scheme last month tens of thousands of people immediately stepped forward offering to throw open their homes to welcome Ukrainians, mainly women and children whose lives have been shattered by the war.

To date some 200,000 want to host Ukrainians and many more are wanting to provide help to them.

It’s an ambitious and bold programme that could see the nation provide sanctuary to refugees on an unprecedented scale. And the Government should be congratulated for making it uncapped. But nearly a month after it was launched things don’t appear to be going so smoothly.

For the scheme to be a success there are four key elements (the four S’s) required: speed, safety, support and sustainability.

Firstly speed is obviously important. Four and a half million people have fled Ukraine, the largest movement of refugees in Europe for a generation.

The neighbouring countries – Poland, Romania, Hungary are Moldova – are having to cope with a massive influx of people. Women and children are having to fend for themselves with stories of them sleeping rough desperate to find a home and start to find a way to put their lives back together.

A humanitarian crisis of this scale demands a quick response. We should be providing a rapid safe passage to the UK for those who want to come here. The EU has waived visas and countries such as Ireland, France and Spain have already welcomed tens of thousands of refugees.

Less than 2,000 have arrived in the UK on the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The Government should waive visas as an immediate short term measure and look to introduced a simplified emergency humanitarian visa process.

Instead it is insisting on a complex and extremely bureaucratic visa application process. Such managed migration systems are intended to regulate and control the flow of people into countries during normal stable times. They aren’t designed to be used in response to a refugee crisis on the scale that Europe is facing.

Not surprisingly, the system is failing. There are long delays, battles with complex paperwork requirements and a slow response from a visa system that isn’t able to respond at pace or with urgency.

Ensuring safety to vulnerable women and children traumatised by having to flee their homeland is, of course, paramount. The Government knows this and has put in place checks that require anybody who wants to sponsor a Ukrainian to be subject to not only a Police National Computer check but also a DBS application, which is required for anybody working with children or vulnerable adults.

These checks can never be foolproof and hosts could welcome Ukrainians into their homes before they are completed. So risks, will inevitably remain. But important steps are in place.

The challenge, however, is a matching process that has bloomed entirely as a DIY format and is inevitably at risk of being exploited by those who seek to harm, exploit, and prey upon vulnerable Ukrainian women and children. A Times newspaper investigation has already exposed men making sexual advances online.

The Government knows this is a serious risk and is now seeking to put in place some kind of accreditation system for matching sites so people can be directed to those it is formally sanctioning. It’s unclear, though, if this will be too little too late. Hopefully it won’t.

Support to refugees and hosts is also vital. People arriving will be disorientated, without cash or a bank account – all the basics we take for granted in our daily lives. Enabling them to quickly settle and get the requisite documentation they need to function is no easy task.

Councils have been provided with funding so they can put in place what is being called wrap around support. It’s vital this is actually provided as supporting refugees to settle and rebuild their lives is so important for their well being and their overall mental health.

It requires input from agencies who have a track record in this work and can’t be left to hosts, however, committed they are.

Sponsoring a refugee can be a rewarding experience and a huge commitment. While it’s heart warming that so many people have signed up to help those from Ukraine, we should be realistic about the challenges involved on both sides in making this arrangement a success.

The relationship between a host and a refugee comes with risks and responsibilities. Inevitably, things may not always work out. That’s why it’s so important that hosts and refugees are provided with the right training and specialist support to make a success of this potentially challenging on-going relationship.

Professionals need to be on hand to provide them with the advice and help needed, including therapy, access to services, and support with integration – and to step in on the occasions when this arrangement doesn’t work out.

Avoiding sponsorship breakdowns is obviously important to the sustainability of the scheme, but equally important is putting in place a route for people to move into independence with their own home and job. The DWP has a critical role to play in ensuring a quick and seamless move onto universal credit and assistance with employment advice.

Regional housing taskforces, made up of the key agencies, should also be formed to ensure accommodation barriers are addressed that already exist due to the pressured housing stock.

Britain could and should be welcoming refugees at a scale and pace not seen before. The public seem to be ready to do this. But the biggest failing at present is the barrier created by the visa programme.

Paperwork is being put before people. Control above compassion. And bureaucracy ahead of agility.

The Government needs to recognise this and change the system. At the same time it must continue to work with councils, other agencies and civil society to form a well resourced partnership that makes the Homes for Ukraine programme a real success.

If it fails the anger and frustration of the residents of North Moreton will only get worse, and the Government is likely to lose support.

Robert Halfon: Our Party’s track record on refugees is one to be proud of

20 Apr

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Britain and Conservative Governments should be proud of their record on refugees.

I went to Rwanda, in both 2008 and 2009, as part of the Conservative Social Action ‘Project Umabano’ led by Andrew Mitchell MP. I was there to teach would-be English teachers English.

During my visits, I saw perhaps some of the most harrowing scenes I will ever witness, as we visited memorial and remembrance sites to the 1994 genocide in which over half a million Tutsi Rwandans were slaughtered in just one hundred days.

One of the sites, at the Murambi Memorial Centre, is indelibly etched into my consciousness. At this awful place of tragedy, you walk into classrooms, seeing mounds of skeleton skulls and stacks of bones from human remains.

Even now, when I think of what I saw, my mouth goes dry, as the awful massacre flashes through my memory. After that visit, I wrote an article, for Conservative Home in 2008, entitled ‘It was as if Bergen Belsen came to the Hills of Rwanda’. It gives some sense of the awful events of the slaughter that took place.

Given the terrible tragedy that befell that country, and the scars of genocide – which the West bears some responsibility for – it is quite remarkable what has been achieved, in terms of education, economic development and infrastructure. This country is not a basket case, as some are suggesting.

That is not to say there are not significant issues and worries around the advancement of democracy, the rule of law and justice. But to imply that Rwanda is not a suitable country for resettlement is at best inverted snobbery and at worst ‘reverse colonialism’.

Is it really only ‘white’ European countries that are suitable places for migrants and asylum seekers? No. The UNHCR began facilitating the voluntary repatriation of Burundian refugees to Rwanda in August 2020. If the Government had announced that these individuals would be processed in Sweden, would anyone have batted an eyelid?

It is worth noting that it was not Priti Patel, but the liberal Conservative, Oliver Letwin who first proposed this policy idea for asylum seekers. As Shadow Home Secretary, he told the Conservative Party Conference in 2003:

“We will replace the present asylum system – in its entirety – with a system of quotas for genuine refugees and the offshore processing of all claims, to deter all but genuine claims for protection from persecution.”

Letwin’s model was Australia: this country had decided to process asylum seekers offshore and reduced the number of boat crossings, deterred economic migrants, and struck a blow to people traffickers.

However, the Australian model was by no means perfect, and left women and children in particular vulnerable to safeguarding hazards. Although the UK is not proposing the exact same process as the Australian model, for this policy to work it will be vital that the correct safeguards are put in place to ensure this never happens.

Controlling one’s borders’ should be a given for any country. Whilst Britain must always be welcoming and kind, an immigration and asylum system must have three tenets: Is it fair to both immigration and the taxpayer? Is it humane? And, does it work?

Currently the system is not fair to the taxpayer, with almost £5 million spent every day to accommodate asylum seekers in hotels up and down the country.

It is not so humane either, because those who are benefiting the most are the people traffickers who are taking advantage of individuals by fleecing them for thousands of pounds, and putting vulnerable children in the hands of people smugglers and modern-day slavery risks.

Will this new system work? Well of course the jury is still out and there are both serious moral and financial hazards ahead but as one colleague noted during the Home Secretary’s statement in the House yesterday, both the EU and UN have used Rwanda as a country for resettlement.

But it is incumbent on those who are expressing opposition to the proposals to come up with serious plans of their own to deal with the problem.

In addition, it is worth reminding ourselves that those who are travelling here on perilous Channel crossings, are coming from France – a safe country where they are able to make an asylum claim.

Contrary to what has been reported, the Conservatives have a proud record on refugees.

Whether it be the 28,000 Ugandan Asians, who came here under Ted Heath in the 1970s, the 20,000 Syrian refugees who were offered sanctuary through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme during the Cameron years, and most recently, the Johnson Government’s commitment to allow 20,000 Afghans to come to the UK to escape the ravages and barbarism of the Taliban.

Let us also not forget that given China’s ever-tightening leash of control over Hong Kong, Britain has offered the opportunity to every Hong Kong citizen, who wishes to take advantage of the chance, to come and live in Britain.

I am proud that the United Kingdom has, as it has done so often, acted as a haven and sanctuary for so many fleeing persecution. Whether it be the Sir Nicholas Winton Kindertransport for Jewish children during the Nazi era, or the Ukranian refugee scheme developed by the Department for Levelling Up and the Home Office.

In my own constituency of Harlow, I recently met an Afghan refugee who had given great support to the British army, and was transported out of the country last summer, and with other refugees has now been re-settled here with his family.

Of course there are bureaucratic hurdles that need urgently to be overcome. We do, for instance, need a separate Immigration Department fit for purpose and broken away from the Home Office.

But, to those who are fair-minded, they will know that creating a new programme, bringing in many thousands of new citizens, is not always easy. It is not just about visas, but infrastructure too: accommodation, schools, jobs, the NHS, and much more.

Controlling our borders is not the same as being uncompassionate. Far from it. As someone whose father was an immigrant to this country many years ago, I care deeply that our country has outstretched hands to those in need.

Looking at our record, as opposed to the rhetoric, I remain convinced that this is still the case.

Gerard Lyons: Immigration is a complex challenge which defies quick fixes

19 Apr

Dr Gerard Lyons is a senior fellow at Policy Exchange. He was Chief Economic Adviser to Boris Johnson during his second term as Mayor of London.

Migration has returned to centre-stage. There has been much commentary regarding the morality, legality, likely effectiveness, and uncertain cost of the Government’s Rwanda policy to halt Channel crossings.

Whether it will act as a deterrent, or incentivise smugglers and those being smuggled to behave in a different way, remains to be seen.

There is little doubt that the UK has benefited in economic and cultural terms from migration, with one in seven people living in the UK and 18 per cent of workers born overseas. But it is clear that this policy area is going to become more important, and contentious, the further one looks ahead.

The wider policy debate too continues to evolve, whether that be those advocating open borders or those changing the focus from illegal to undocumented migrants.

According to the UN, 36 out of every 1,000 people live in a country that is different to the one that they were born in, reaching 281 million in 2020 from 173 million in 2000.

International migrants are people who cross a border into a different country, and are classified into economic migrants and those seeking a safe-haven, such as refugees fleeing wars or famines, or asylum seekers who may be escaping persecution.

Often refugees flee to the nearest possible safe-haven, many of which may be poor countries that can’t cope with the influx and need international help. Half of international migrants in low-income countries are refugees, whereas in high-income economies refugees make up only three per cent of the total. The latter would include those fleeing Ukraine into other European countries.

Future migration flows are likely to increase. One factor will be climate change, as it triggers famine and as flooding impacts some heavily populated coastal parts of the globe. Meanwhile, demographic change could impact future economic migration.

For instance, there will be increased migration flows from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe. Africa’s population is close to 1.3 billion and will see a mammoth rise of 450 million in its working age population by 2035.

Two-thirds of international migrants live in twenty countries. The largest numbers are in the USA (51 million), Germany (16 million), Saudi Arabia (13 million), Russia (12 million) and the UK (nine million). The United Arab Emirates has also seen large inflows.

The vast bulk are economic migrants whose primary motive for moving is in pursuit of improved opportunities and a better life. Thus, money sent back home can be high, and last year total remittances were $589 billion, higher than governments send overseas via development aid. While some migrants are initially poor and unskilled, there are many who are well qualified.

It is interesting to see how the migration flows to the UK have evolved. In the 1960s and 1970s there was more emigration than immigration. The 1980s witnessed net immigration that averaged about 7,500 per year.

The big changes followed the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, rising to an average of 62,500 per year in the 1990s, and the enlargement of the EU in 2004, with net inflows averaging over a quarter of a million per year for the following decade.

For many firms, there was a virtually limitless access to a low-cost workforce, negating the need in many instances to invest in skills training at home. Now non-EU migrants coming to the UK exceed those from the EU.

The latest available data, up to March 2020, shows a 6.3 million increase in the UK population this century, driven by net migration alongside rising life expectancy.

In March 2020, 9.2 million people were foreign born in the UK. Increasingly of diverse origin, the largest numbers are from India (847,000), Poland (746,000), Pakistan (519,000), Romania (370,000), and Ireland (364,000).

Migrant workers are spread across high- and low-skilled sectors, with at least one in five workers in hospitality, transport and storage, information communication, and information technology, and about one in five in health and social care.

(Whether we should be attracting skilled doctors and others from lower income countries – the so-called brain drain – where their impact could be significant, is for another discussion.)

Also, reflecting the UK’s strong humanitarian role, between 2011 and 2020 the UK granted protection to about 70,000, with Syria (31,000, Iran (16,000), Eritrea (12,000) and Sudan (11,000) figuring prominently.

In the wake of recent elections, including the 2016 referendum, a number of issues have come to the fore. This includes the fact that the large rise in population has reinforced the need to address existing pressures on public services and housing.

The policy preference has remained for a points-based system to attract targeted migrants the economy needs.

Impact assessments by the Government show a £2.4 billion cost over the next decade from the new skilled-persons route. Also, the British National (Overseas) visa scheme aimed at Hong Kong is expected to attract 290,000 people in the first five years.

According to Oxford’s Migration Observatory the overall fiscal impact of immigration is small, although they acknowledge it depends upon assumptions made and upon the characteristics of migrants.

A long-term analysis by the Office for Budget Responsibility showed a net fiscal positive, although they note, “higher migration could be seen as delaying some of the fiscal challenges of an ageing society, rather than a way of resolving them permanently.”

Indeed, as the UN note, three out of four international migrants are of working age, and as a result the dependency ratio (which shows the number of dependents to the working age population) would otherwise be slightly higher in high income countries.

What does this complex picture mean for the UK?

Migration has been a positive, but I think it important we don’t fall into the trap of assuming that because migration may be seen to pay for itself in fiscal terms we should just allow it to continued uncapped.

Britain is a low-skilled, low-wage economy and we must not lose focus from the need to invest more here at home, rather than always attracting workers from elsewhere because it is easy to do so.

As with other areas of policy, the UK needs to continue to ensure its policy on migration is fit for purpose, not just for economic migration but also refugees and asylum seekers

It is right to try and stop illegal migration. Whether the Rwanda plan or a better alternative can be found is for those who are more intimate with the policy area.

Notwithstanding that, it is important that the UK has sufficient safe channels for refuges and others.

There are both push factors triggering people to leave their home countries and pull factors attracting them to this country. Through overseas aid, bilateral relationships and via international fora, the UK needs to work with other countries to influence push factors.

Perhaps too we can link our overseas aid to exporting the courses and services of British universities, helping African economies and others grow their numbers of highly educated people, the key to future growth.

While, at the same time, directly addressing the pull factor, I have favoured changing from a Beveridge benefits system, where everyone qualifies, to a Bismarckian system where a person’s contributions history determines what they can receive.

Nonetheless, the controversy surrounding the Rwanda policy issue, plus the bureaucracy that characterised the UK’s initially slow response to hosting refugees from Ukraine, should not take away from the fact that the UK is a very  open, globally-minded, and tolerant society.

Andrew Mitchell: The Government’s Rwanda plan will be impractical, ineffective – and expensive

19 Apr

Andrew Mitchell MP is a former International Development Secretary.

The Government’s determination to tackle cross channel illegal immigration. No one can have anything but abhorrence and disgust for the people smugglers deathly business model is creditable. The Home Secretary deserves credit for her single-minded determination to stop this filthy trade.

But the Rwanda solution is impractical, likely to be ineffective and, above all, extremely expensive.

It is a myth that those crossing the Channel, and taking appalling risks in leaky boats, are African economic migrants looking for a cushy new life. If only that were true. The new plan to cart them off to central Africa makes no distinction between those fleeing persecution and economic migrants seeking to come here when they are not welcome.

Overwhelmingly, 87 per cent, are coming from four countries alone: Iran, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. And historically, 75 per cent of them will receive permission to remain in the UK as legitimate refugees who qualify for asylum status.

Rwanda is a poor country; one of the most densely populated in the world. They receive refugees from Burundi, the Congo, and across central Africa because they are a beacon of stability in their locality – around 130,000 refugees in a country of 12 million people.

If I may answer the question my friend the minister was unable to answer at the weekend, yes, I’d certainly be happy to live in Rwanda. The history of the last 28 years is one of progress, recovery and reconstruction. When the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting takes place this June, Commonwealth leaders will see for themselves one of the greenest, cleanest most beautiful of capital cities, Kigali.

That, alas, is not the point.

Those who we seek to deport will not go to Rwanda willingly. I remember when similarly, we sought to expel so-called ‘Vietnamese boat people’ from Hong Kong in the late 1980s. Conservative ministers like Chris Patten and William Waldegrave were horrified at the pictures the media would procure of desperate people fighting the authorities putting them forcibly on to planes.

Those being deported will physically resist. They will super glue themselves to structures; the international media will show pictures of British officials forcing desperate people genuinely seeking asylum onto aeroplanes. Civilian planes may well not be willing to take off with detainees on board. Pilots won’t be willing to fly and their insurers won’t give them insurance.

So military aircraft, much needed for other activities, will have to undertake the task. Reluctant detainees on board will need to be handcuffed and manacled to avoid in-flight dangers.

Perversely, sending only single men may actually add to the “pull factor” we all want to discourage, by encouraging more people to come with either spontaneous or longstanding relationships.

Nor will people sent to Rwanda necessarily stay there; having already shown determination to start a new life in UK, they will start their long weary journey all over again. This is one of the reasons the Israeli government abandoned their attempt at a similar scheme with Rwanda.

For those arriving in the UK illicitly, once the scheme is up and running, there is a far greater likelihood of them disappearing within the UK unaccounted for and unaccountable.

And then there is the cost. We are already paying the Rwandan government a fee of £120 million and credible estimates, drawn up for the approach now abandoned by Australia, suggest it would be cheaper to put these poor people up in the splendour of the Ritz hotel.

Surely the Government won’t insult Parliament next week by asking for a vote in support of this policy without any idea of the costs involved? How would we explain this extraordinary lack of detail to our constituents?

So, what is the answer? There are four policy changes which Britain should pursue with vigour and which will largely have the desired effect.

First, we need to process initial claims in the UK and do so speedily. Rwanda deals with asylum claims in three months. We need to recruit more people to process claims in the UK. And we need to stop the ridiculous legal time-wasting circus which surrounds this process, leading to absurd legal delays.

Second, in the short term, the frankly appalling relations which currently exist with our nearest neighbour must be addressed. There are a wealth of excellent relationships at senior level with France and we need to re-energise these urgently. No serious progress will be made without France’s active cooperation or, at the least, passive acquiescence in what we need to do.

Thirdly, we need to introduce – as Lord Kirkhope, the minister for immigration under Michael Howard set out recently in the Lords – safe and legal routes for those seeking asylum. (He, as minister for immigration, holds the record for deporting the largest number of undesirables from the UK.)

David Cameron introduced safe and legal routes for Syrian refugees and more recently we have done it for Afghans and latterly Ukrainians. But such routes do not exist for others. If there are no safe and legal routes by which people can enter the UK, entry by definition will be illegal. This is not a tenable position.

Fourthly, we need to understand that this is part of a much bigger international problem. We need a new International Convention for refugees and migrants. The 1951 agreements are out of date; international travel has been revolutionised since then and climate change migration is likely to become an increasing push factor.

Without this new international agreement little progress will ultimately be made. Britain was central to negotiating the 1951 agreements and could be so again, using our pivotal role at the United Nations and the experience and skill of the world’s most effective diplomatic service.

I put this point to Boris Johnson on the 25th of July last year; a proposal he described as “excellent”. But nothing has happened since.

There is a better and more humane way of tackling the smugglers sordid and vile business model. Trying to bundle people indiscriminately onto planes for central Africa is a breach of our international undertakings, bad for our country’s and the Conservative Party’s reputation, eye wateringly expensive, and most unlikely to achieve its aim.

Welby, small boats and asylum. What’s his alternative?

18 Apr

Let’s start by agreeing that both the gangmaster trade in people trafficking – which makes a mockery of those refugees seeking legal asylum routes – and the deportation of trafficked people to Rwanda are undesirable.

The question that follows is whether the first can be stopped without resort to the second (or a policy very like it).  So move on to mull the only alternative for control on offer that I know of.

Which would be to allow asylum applications from abroad: this is the “safe and legal” route of which we have all read during recent days.

It could be that instead of taking small boats to Britain, asylum seekers would queue up patiently in Paris, Bordeaux and Marseilles to apply for entry.

Which would mean presenting their papers to the authorities abroad rather than tearing them up before arrival here, as is often the case, in order to further their claims.

Some might do so but others wouldn’t: there is really no way of estimating the proportions.  But even were the majority to do so, the number of people seeking asylum in Britain and elsewhere isn’t a fixed number.

And there is no limit on the number of refugees that we and other countries are obliged to take, due to international agreements on refugees drawn up three quarters of a century ago.

In other words, the most likely consequence of such a policy would be higher refugee and migration numbers, as more people entered by both legal and illegal routes.

For once a new means of travel has been hit upon, people are willing to pay to use it, and their number is large, the only direction numbers are likely to go in is up.

So it is with the discovery that a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, dinghy or kayak can profitably be packed with people and sailed from the beaches of Normandy to the coastline of Kent.

A French government better disposed to ours than Emmanuel Macron’s could help reduce the numbers, but by how much, given the length of the coastline, is debatable

And remember: there is no good reason, were the Government to open up “safe and legal” routes from France, for it not to do so automatically for those applying from other countries.

Which suggests taking a much larger number of refugees than the combined total of up to three million Hong Kongers, 20,000 Syrians, and 20,000 or so Afghans that this pro-migration Government has committed to taking.

Plus, of course, Ukrainians.  There were 84 million refugees worldwide in 2020.  Obviously, that total, a larger one than the population of the UK, wouldn’t all want to come here were the prospect on offer.

But it is only a fraction of the total eligible to apply.  How many are the supporters of “safe and legal routes” willing to take, since given our international commitments there is no cap on numbers?

If it is now the teaching of the Church of England that Britain is morally obliged to take as many asylum seekers as wish to come here, Justin Welby should say so.

It just could be that the only alternative on offer is the Government’s Rwandan scheme, which itself is not unprecedented: consider the EU’s deal with Turkey over migration in 2016.

Unless, that is, the Archbishop would prefer Ministers collectively to shrug their shoulders and let the small boats cross – endangering their passengers, enriching criminals and making a mockery of law-abiding asylum seekers.

If so, the view of the Church would presumably be not only that we should take an unlimited number of asylum seekers, but that we should abandon all control of our borders while we’re at it.

A conventional take on the Rwanda policy is that Boris Johnson, down on his luck at the polls, has hit on the cynical wheeze of waging a culture war against migrants.

If so, dropping the annual limit on semi-skilled work permits; easing the salary threshold and allowing an unlimited number of foreign students can stay on for up to two years – all of which he has done – is an odd way of showing it.

As it happens, closing down openings for a British Marine Le Pen would strike me and perhaps others as no bad thing in itself.

For when mainstream parties don’t control migration, opportunities open up for extremist ones.  First past the post and the good sense of voters have kept them at bay.  The cost of living crisis presents them with new opportunities.

At any rate, the events of the last year suggest that the Prime Minister is a wobbly trolley rather than a focused strategist, at least as far as small boats are concerned.

I’ve watched the argument sway back and forth among Ministers, civil servants and SpAds as the small boat numbers climbed from 2,012 in 2020 to 23,000 by November last year.

Some have been unwilling to countenance the Rwanda policy because they don’t like it. And because they fear what must follow if the Government first talks big and then climbs down.

Namely, the mother of all ding-dongs with the courts, and perhaps with parts of the civil service too, followed by the revisiting of obligations from another age that leave us with no limit on numbers and which are decades out of date.

At any rate, the Government now seems to have made up its mind – due perhaps to the arrival of Steve Barclay et al – and now that it has made a decision it must see it through.

In the meantime, the opponents of the policy will warn of the coming of an anti-Christ: Johnson and all his works.  Some are bad faith actors, willing to abandon all control of our borders, but unwilling to say so.

More are good faith ones: believers in a policy of “safe and legal” routes which implies a larger number of asylum seekers than I believe most voters would be willing to take.

Even so, I would sympathise with Welby’s point of view were the small boats making the long journey to Britain from Gwadar in Pakistan or Bushehr in the Persian Gulf or Tartus on the Syrian coast.

But they are coming from France.  From France, for goodness sake – a neighbour that sees itself, not without reason, as the country that gifted civilisation to the world.

Does the Archbishop really think that France is a country from which asylum seekers are compelled to flee to these shores? If so, his sense of Christianity may trump that of his critics, but not his sense of proportion.