What could give the Government a sense of purpose – and chances to achieve? Making Gove Deputy Prime Minister.

18 Sep

Boris Johnson has a majority of 80, the Conservatives are still above 40 per cent in the polls, there is no leadership challenge pending, and there are still over four years to go until the next election.

But the Tory press this week is behaving as though none of that applies.  It hasn’t given up on the possibility of the Prime Minister winning in 2024.  However, it seems close to abandoning hope of him achieving anything substantial before then.

The joint catalyst of this development has been the Government’s adventures with international law, to which many voters are indifferent.  And its handling of the Coronavirus, to which they are not.  The common theme is that the country is all at sea, and that the captain has no sense of direction – or grip.

It may be that the media, some Tory MPs and Party donors are getting everything out of proportion.  The hysterical anti-Johnson hyperbole from the Remainer residue certainly muddies the waters.  To give an example almost at random, one prominent pro-Remain journalist once implied that Johnson’s Covid illness was faked.

None the less, ConservativeHome thinks that the critics have a point – and then some – for two solid reasons.  The first is all to do with the unique circumstances of last December’s election.  Johnson was elected to Get Brexit Done and spend a lot of money: at least, that’s what the hostage-free Tory manifesto suggested.

He has delivered Brexit as most voters see it (even if there is no trade deal), and his spending plans have been absorbed by the Coronavirus crisis, along with nearly everything else.  “Levelling up” is on hold.  So is the economy.  The manifesto had no programme for public service reform in any event.

If it had, the virus would make its delivery all but impossible. Covid means all hands to the pump, unless the Prime Minister is prepared to let the disease which put him in intensive care let rip.  That isn’t going to happen.  Global Britain may not either, at least if one means by it a coherent approach to China, Russia and radical Islamism.

The second reason is all bound up with Johnson himself.  We endorsed him last summer as “not the Prime Minister we deserve, but the Prime Minister we need right now”.  By which we meant that his character, gifts and personality are best shaped for campaigning rather than government.

Just before he made up his mind to declare for Brexit, he told friends that he was “veering all over the place like a shopping trolley”.  That captures the essence of how he works when trying to deliver many ends, as one must in office, rather than single one, as is the case in elections.

A shopping trolley can’t move on its own.  It needs someone to direct it.  That person is thought by those demented Remainers to be Dominic Cummings.  Certainly, parts of the Government’s programme are Cummings-driven: upending the civil service, challenging judicial power, overhauling procurement, “investing in science”.

But Cummings’ hands are only some of those on the trolley.  His old Parliamentary supporters, Simon Case, colleagues from his London mayoralty days, Carrie Symonds: all these and others push and pull at Johnson, who has no enduring ideology of his own to steer by, and can be as indecisive in private as he is bombastic in public.

We don’t mean to suggest that the Prime Minister has no beliefs.  He does, and his experience in City Hall has shaped them.  He wants to build more houses (good for him), invest in infrastructure, spend money on policing – and he has liberal instincts on immigration, as Government policy confirms.

But these are not so much convictions as impulses.  This is not the man to throw himself into the culture wars, as his response to the Black Lives Matter eruption confirms.  Rather, he is Lord Stanley, pitching in to the Bosworths of the conflict only when they’ve already been decided.  So it was with Churchill’s statue and the Proms.

The big point is that his response to Covid-19 is in deep trouble.  Success would see test and track taking the strain this winter.  Instead, regional lockdowns have already kicked in, and it’s only September.  The Government wants life at work to be as close to the old normal as possible, but life at home to be a new normal – under compulsion.

Hence marshalls, curfews and the rule of six.  Last spring, voters swung behind the Prime Minister as they’ve sometimes swung behind others when wars break out.  Now, there is war-weariness.  The winter is shaping up ominously and the Parliamentary Party is skittish.

At this stage in editorials, the usual course is to reiterate advice.  Appoint better Cabinet Ministers – not just people who voted for you.  Find an Andrew Mackay-type figure to take the backbench temperature.  Get a single, strong Party Chairman.

We add: forget trying to carry out, in current cirumstances, a spending review that looks more than a year ahead.  Concentrate on sorting testing, keeping schools open – and saving the Union; concede that turning the civil service upside-down will have to wait; prepare for a pro-EU Biden presidency.  But there is a fundamental problem.

Johnson just isn’t the man to exercise self-discipline outside an election campaign.  This is integral to what makes him so interesting: As Sasha Swire puts it, he has a “greatness of soul…and best of all a wonderful comic vision of the human condition. He is not like any politician I have ever encountered before, and I have met many.”

He will carry on boostering about moonshots, world-beating systems and (James Forsyth writes this morning) hydrogen.  It’s a form of manic defence.  A David Cameron would think tactically; a Margaret Thatcher strategically.  But the Prime Minister doesn’t think so much as intuit.  And will carry on doing so because that’s how he is.

Perhaps memory can reach where advice can’t.  Johnson has worked at his best when he lurches noisily forwards and someone follows quietly behind, carrying a dustpan and brush: Simon Milton in London (then Eddie Lister), Stuart Reid at the Spectator.  To put it more neutrally, he performs and someone else administers.

The safe, secure choice to do this now would be Oliver Dowden.  The one that would cause a sensation, explode a mass of leadership speculation and conspiracy theory, and drag up horrible memories of commitment and betrayal would be the psycho-dramatic appointment of Michael Gove.

The media’s field day could last for the rest of this Parliament.  But in the meantime, Gove would get on with what he does better than any Minister other than perhaps Rishi Sunak: strategic thinking – and messaging – government with a purpose, and zeal for reform.

The planned New Year reshuffle would be the right time for the change, though we admit that it almost certainly won’t happen.  All the same, the Government’s shaping up to be in its own bleak midwinter by then.  Sure, the next election is there to be won.  And never underestimate Johnson’s strange bond with a big slice of the British people.

But getting the state’s creaking machinery up to responding to Covid, let alone achieving much before 2024, depends on him doing what all of us find it hardest to do: changing what he does; almost who he is.

Arminka Helic: Three easy ways for the Government to hugely improve the Domestic Abuse Bill

17 Sep

Last year I visited a London shelter where migrant women – survivors of domestic violence – sought refuge from partners turned abusers.

Their stories of abuse, coercion, and gaslighting were all too similar to the stories of countless other women in Britain and around the world, with one distinction: their immigration status was used as a weapon against them.

Migrant women are often told by their abusers that they will not be believed by the police and that if they report abuse, they will be deported. They are reminded that their abuser holds their money, passports, official documents – everything they might need to forge their own life. Many abusers ensure that their partners immigration status remains insecure, to limit their options to escape.

In the words of one woman: ‘He tells me… you are in this country because of me, I have the power to get you out of the country. He controls me in every way’.

As the Domestic Abuse Bill comes to the House of Lords, three measures will make a real difference: extending existing safety net provisions to all victims domestic violence; guaranteeing safe reporting mechanisms; and ensuring that all survivors receive equally effective protection and support, regardless of their background or their status.

The first step should be to extend the Domestic Violence Rule (DVR) and Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) other migrant women. These mechanisms provide a safe route to support and legal status for people who have come to our country and then been subjected to domestic abuse. At the moment, they only apply to migrants who arrive on a spousal or partner visa.

Yet there are many women in the UK on different grounds – such as via work or student visas, or because of family members – whose immigration status can be thrown into jeopardy by domestic abuse: for instance, if their partner holds all their official documents, or if escaping from abuse would also mean having to leave their job. Extending the DVR and DDVC would mean that they too can get help and address their legal position free from the control of their abuser.

Second, we need to guarantee safe reporting. Too many women live in fear of going to the police. A joint study by King’s College London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service found that 54 per cent of migrant women who had suffered domestic abuse thought that they would not be believed by the police because of their immigration status, and worried that reporting abuse would lead to deportation.

The result is that migrant women often experience multiple incidents of domestic violence before reporting it, and that almost a fifth of women included in the study did not formally report their abuse at all.

The personal data of a victim of domestic abuse, processed as the result of reporting abuse or seeking support, should not be used for immigration control purposes. This is a matter of common sense and of justice. When a crime is committed on the streets of Britain, we do not ask the victim their status. We seek to protect them and to punish a perpetrator. Crimes committed at home should not be treated any differently.

Third, the Bill should ensure that all victims of abuse are treated equally. The government have supported this principle in Parliament. During the committee stage of the Bill the minister agreed that “victims of abuse should first and foremost be treated as victims”. But words alone are no help to women being abused: the principle should be enshrined in law.

Some people suggest that the system will be manipulated, and that claims of domestic violence could be used as a route to remain in the UK when the applicant should be returning to their country of origin. But such manipulation as there is of the current system is by abusers using immigration status as a means to control their victims, not by people falsely claiming abuse. The standards of proof are stringent, and false claims of abuse are unlikely to be encouraged by the people who would be cast as abusers.

Offering the DVR and DDVC to more visa types would not make manipulation of the system more likely, but it would provide a legal route for them to escape from their abusers’ control. Likewise, separating the police and immigration enforcement would not prevent the latter doing their job, but would increase the police’s ability to do theirs.

The Government have also said that there is not enough evidence to justify these changes to the law. But groups such as the Southall Black Sisters, who work with victims of domestic violence every day, have provided copious evidence of the problems with the current system. Not listening to evidence is not the same as it not existing. Domestic violence, and the abuse of migrant women, are pressing problems, made all the more so by the coronavirus pandemic — these simple changes would go a long way to helping.

The Government’s ambition with the Domestic Abuse Bill has been admirable. In order to make that ambition match reality we must make sure that everyone is covered by the full protection of the law.

Extending the DVR and DDVC, ensuring safe reporting mechanisms, and guaranteeing equal treatment for all victims of domestic abuse are small steps for ministers to take. Their financial impact will be negligible, their impact on immigration figures almost unnoticeable. Yet for the women whose lives will – quite literally – be saved by being able to trust the police, access help, and begin new lives free from abuse, the impact will be immeasurable.

It is the duty of government to protect the most vulnerable members of society: the Domestic Abuse Bill, and these steps, offer a clear and simple way to further that goal.

Arminka Helic: Three easy ways for the Government to hugely improve the Domestic Abuse Bill

17 Sep

Last year I visited a London shelter where migrant women – survivors of domestic violence – sought refuge from partners turned abusers.

Their stories of abuse, coercion, and gaslighting were all too similar to the stories of countless other women in Britain and around the world, with one distinction: their immigration status was used as a weapon against them.

Migrant women are often told by their abusers that they will not be believed by the police and that if they report abuse, they will be deported. They are reminded that their abuser holds their money, passports, official documents – everything they might need to forge their own life. Many abusers ensure that their partners immigration status remains insecure, to limit their options to escape.

In the words of one woman: ‘He tells me… you are in this country because of me, I have the power to get you out of the country. He controls me in every way’.

As the Domestic Abuse Bill comes to the House of Lords, three measures will make a real difference: extending existing safety net provisions to all victims domestic violence; guaranteeing safe reporting mechanisms; and ensuring that all survivors receive equally effective protection and support, regardless of their background or their status.

The first step should be to extend the Domestic Violence Rule (DVR) and Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) other migrant women. These mechanisms provide a safe route to support and legal status for people who have come to our country and then been subjected to domestic abuse. At the moment, they only apply to migrants who arrive on a spousal or partner visa.

Yet there are many women in the UK on different grounds – such as via work or student visas, or because of family members – whose immigration status can be thrown into jeopardy by domestic abuse: for instance, if their partner holds all their official documents, or if escaping from abuse would also mean having to leave their job. Extending the DVR and DDVC would mean that they too can get help and address their legal position free from the control of their abuser.

Second, we need to guarantee safe reporting. Too many women live in fear of going to the police. A joint study by King’s College London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service found that 54 per cent of migrant women who had suffered domestic abuse thought that they would not be believed by the police because of their immigration status, and worried that reporting abuse would lead to deportation.

The result is that migrant women often experience multiple incidents of domestic violence before reporting it, and that almost a fifth of women included in the study did not formally report their abuse at all.

The personal data of a victim of domestic abuse, processed as the result of reporting abuse or seeking support, should not be used for immigration control purposes. This is a matter of common sense and of justice. When a crime is committed on the streets of Britain, we do not ask the victim their status. We seek to protect them and to punish a perpetrator. Crimes committed at home should not be treated any differently.

Third, the Bill should ensure that all victims of abuse are treated equally. The government have supported this principle in Parliament. During the committee stage of the Bill the minister agreed that “victims of abuse should first and foremost be treated as victims”. But words alone are no help to women being abused: the principle should be enshrined in law.

Some people suggest that the system will be manipulated, and that claims of domestic violence could be used as a route to remain in the UK when the applicant should be returning to their country of origin. But such manipulation as there is of the current system is by abusers using immigration status as a means to control their victims, not by people falsely claiming abuse. The standards of proof are stringent, and false claims of abuse are unlikely to be encouraged by the people who would be cast as abusers.

Offering the DVR and DDVC to more visa types would not make manipulation of the system more likely, but it would provide a legal route for them to escape from their abusers’ control. Likewise, separating the police and immigration enforcement would not prevent the latter doing their job, but would increase the police’s ability to do theirs.

The Government have also said that there is not enough evidence to justify these changes to the law. But groups such as the Southall Black Sisters, who work with victims of domestic violence every day, have provided copious evidence of the problems with the current system. Not listening to evidence is not the same as it not existing. Domestic violence, and the abuse of migrant women, are pressing problems, made all the more so by the coronavirus pandemic — these simple changes would go a long way to helping.

The Government’s ambition with the Domestic Abuse Bill has been admirable. In order to make that ambition match reality we must make sure that everyone is covered by the full protection of the law.

Extending the DVR and DDVC, ensuring safe reporting mechanisms, and guaranteeing equal treatment for all victims of domestic abuse are small steps for ministers to take. Their financial impact will be negligible, their impact on immigration figures almost unnoticeable. Yet for the women whose lives will – quite literally – be saved by being able to trust the police, access help, and begin new lives free from abuse, the impact will be immeasurable.

It is the duty of government to protect the most vulnerable members of society: the Domestic Abuse Bill, and these steps, offer a clear and simple way to further that goal.

Arminka Helic: Three easy ways for the Government to hugely improve the Domestic Abuse Bill

17 Sep

Last year I visited a London shelter where migrant women – survivors of domestic violence – sought refuge from partners turned abusers.

Their stories of abuse, coercion, and gaslighting were all too similar to the stories of countless other women in Britain and around the world, with one distinction: their immigration status was used as a weapon against them.

Migrant women are often told by their abusers that they will not be believed by the police and that if they report abuse, they will be deported. They are reminded that their abuser holds their money, passports, official documents – everything they might need to forge their own life. Many abusers ensure that their partners immigration status remains insecure, to limit their options to escape.

In the words of one woman: ‘He tells me… you are in this country because of me, I have the power to get you out of the country. He controls me in every way’.

As the Domestic Abuse Bill comes to the House of Lords, three measures will make a real difference: extending existing safety net provisions to all victims domestic violence; guaranteeing safe reporting mechanisms; and ensuring that all survivors receive equally effective protection and support, regardless of their background or their status.

The first step should be to extend the Domestic Violence Rule (DVR) and Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) other migrant women. These mechanisms provide a safe route to support and legal status for people who have come to our country and then been subjected to domestic abuse. At the moment, they only apply to migrants who arrive on a spousal or partner visa.

Yet there are many women in the UK on different grounds – such as via work or student visas, or because of family members – whose immigration status can be thrown into jeopardy by domestic abuse: for instance, if their partner holds all their official documents, or if escaping from abuse would also mean having to leave their job. Extending the DVR and DDVC would mean that they too can get help and address their legal position free from the control of their abuser.

Second, we need to guarantee safe reporting. Too many women live in fear of going to the police. A joint study by King’s College London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service found that 54 per cent of migrant women who had suffered domestic abuse thought that they would not be believed by the police because of their immigration status, and worried that reporting abuse would lead to deportation.

The result is that migrant women often experience multiple incidents of domestic violence before reporting it, and that almost a fifth of women included in the study did not formally report their abuse at all.

The personal data of a victim of domestic abuse, processed as the result of reporting abuse or seeking support, should not be used for immigration control purposes. This is a matter of common sense and of justice. When a crime is committed on the streets of Britain, we do not ask the victim their status. We seek to protect them and to punish a perpetrator. Crimes committed at home should not be treated any differently.

Third, the Bill should ensure that all victims of abuse are treated equally. The government have supported this principle in Parliament. During the committee stage of the Bill the minister agreed that “victims of abuse should first and foremost be treated as victims”. But words alone are no help to women being abused: the principle should be enshrined in law.

Some people suggest that the system will be manipulated, and that claims of domestic violence could be used as a route to remain in the UK when the applicant should be returning to their country of origin. But such manipulation as there is of the current system is by abusers using immigration status as a means to control their victims, not by people falsely claiming abuse. The standards of proof are stringent, and false claims of abuse are unlikely to be encouraged by the people who would be cast as abusers.

Offering the DVR and DDVC to more visa types would not make manipulation of the system more likely, but it would provide a legal route for them to escape from their abusers’ control. Likewise, separating the police and immigration enforcement would not prevent the latter doing their job, but would increase the police’s ability to do theirs.

The Government have also said that there is not enough evidence to justify these changes to the law. But groups such as the Southall Black Sisters, who work with victims of domestic violence every day, have provided copious evidence of the problems with the current system. Not listening to evidence is not the same as it not existing. Domestic violence, and the abuse of migrant women, are pressing problems, made all the more so by the coronavirus pandemic — these simple changes would go a long way to helping.

The Government’s ambition with the Domestic Abuse Bill has been admirable. In order to make that ambition match reality we must make sure that everyone is covered by the full protection of the law.

Extending the DVR and DDVC, ensuring safe reporting mechanisms, and guaranteeing equal treatment for all victims of domestic abuse are small steps for ministers to take. Their financial impact will be negligible, their impact on immigration figures almost unnoticeable. Yet for the women whose lives will – quite literally – be saved by being able to trust the police, access help, and begin new lives free from abuse, the impact will be immeasurable.

It is the duty of government to protect the most vulnerable members of society: the Domestic Abuse Bill, and these steps, offer a clear and simple way to further that goal.

Arminka Helic: Three easy ways for the Government to hugely improve the Domestic Abuse Bill

17 Sep

Last year I visited a London shelter where migrant women – survivors of domestic violence – sought refuge from partners turned abusers.

Their stories of abuse, coercion, and gaslighting were all too similar to the stories of countless other women in Britain and around the world, with one distinction: their immigration status was used as a weapon against them.

Migrant women are often told by their abusers that they will not be believed by the police and that if they report abuse, they will be deported. They are reminded that their abuser holds their money, passports, official documents – everything they might need to forge their own life. Many abusers ensure that their partners immigration status remains insecure, to limit their options to escape.

In the words of one woman: ‘He tells me… you are in this country because of me, I have the power to get you out of the country. He controls me in every way’.

As the Domestic Abuse Bill comes to the House of Lords, three measures will make a real difference: extending existing safety net provisions to all victims domestic violence; guaranteeing safe reporting mechanisms; and ensuring that all survivors receive equally effective protection and support, regardless of their background or their status.

The first step should be to extend the Domestic Violence Rule (DVR) and Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) other migrant women. These mechanisms provide a safe route to support and legal status for people who have come to our country and then been subjected to domestic abuse. At the moment, they only apply to migrants who arrive on a spousal or partner visa.

Yet there are many women in the UK on different grounds – such as via work or student visas, or because of family members – whose immigration status can be thrown into jeopardy by domestic abuse: for instance, if their partner holds all their official documents, or if escaping from abuse would also mean having to leave their job. Extending the DVR and DDVC would mean that they too can get help and address their legal position free from the control of their abuser.

Second, we need to guarantee safe reporting. Too many women live in fear of going to the police. A joint study by King’s College London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service found that 54 per cent of migrant women who had suffered domestic abuse thought that they would not be believed by the police because of their immigration status, and worried that reporting abuse would lead to deportation.

The result is that migrant women often experience multiple incidents of domestic violence before reporting it, and that almost a fifth of women included in the study did not formally report their abuse at all.

The personal data of a victim of domestic abuse, processed as the result of reporting abuse or seeking support, should not be used for immigration control purposes. This is a matter of common sense and of justice. When a crime is committed on the streets of Britain, we do not ask the victim their status. We seek to protect them and to punish a perpetrator. Crimes committed at home should not be treated any differently.

Third, the Bill should ensure that all victims of abuse are treated equally. The government have supported this principle in Parliament. During the committee stage of the Bill the minister agreed that “victims of abuse should first and foremost be treated as victims”. But words alone are no help to women being abused: the principle should be enshrined in law.

Some people suggest that the system will be manipulated, and that claims of domestic violence could be used as a route to remain in the UK when the applicant should be returning to their country of origin. But such manipulation as there is of the current system is by abusers using immigration status as a means to control their victims, not by people falsely claiming abuse. The standards of proof are stringent, and false claims of abuse are unlikely to be encouraged by the people who would be cast as abusers.

Offering the DVR and DDVC to more visa types would not make manipulation of the system more likely, but it would provide a legal route for them to escape from their abusers’ control. Likewise, separating the police and immigration enforcement would not prevent the latter doing their job, but would increase the police’s ability to do theirs.

The Government have also said that there is not enough evidence to justify these changes to the law. But groups such as the Southall Black Sisters, who work with victims of domestic violence every day, have provided copious evidence of the problems with the current system. Not listening to evidence is not the same as it not existing. Domestic violence, and the abuse of migrant women, are pressing problems, made all the more so by the coronavirus pandemic — these simple changes would go a long way to helping.

The Government’s ambition with the Domestic Abuse Bill has been admirable. In order to make that ambition match reality we must make sure that everyone is covered by the full protection of the law.

Extending the DVR and DDVC, ensuring safe reporting mechanisms, and guaranteeing equal treatment for all victims of domestic abuse are small steps for ministers to take. Their financial impact will be negligible, their impact on immigration figures almost unnoticeable. Yet for the women whose lives will – quite literally – be saved by being able to trust the police, access help, and begin new lives free from abuse, the impact will be immeasurable.

It is the duty of government to protect the most vulnerable members of society: the Domestic Abuse Bill, and these steps, offer a clear and simple way to further that goal.

Andrew Green: As unemployment soars, why are Ministers harming our young people – by helping migrants compete for their jobs?

9 Sep

Lord Green is President of MigrationWatch UK and a cross-bench peer.

This week, the Government is promoting its “Kickstart” scheme – a £2 billion programme which Ministers claim will put young people at the heart of our economic recovery.

Really? So what about their “new entrant” route in the immigration system that will come into force in January? Perhaps this is another case of the left hand having no idea what the right hand is doing?

Very few people have realised what an impact this new route could have on our youngsters. Their employment prospects are already very worrying. Unemployment is likely to run into millions across the whole workforce, and our school leavers will already face strong competition from British workers who will have lost their jobs and who already have several years of work experience.

That is a daunting prospect, but it is made even worse by the special deal that the Government is planning to offer to employers to recruit young workers from all over the world.

The Government already intends to lower the qualifications required to work in the UK from degree level to A level, thus placing migrants in direct competition with our school leavers. Worse, there will be a special scheme for younger workers, under 26 when they first arrive, for whom the salary requirement will be only £20,480 per year – little more than the National Living Wage.

As if that was not enough, the Government is also planning to remove the current requirement that jobs should be advertised in the UK before being offered to workers from abroad. This has been a requirement for decades and for a very good reason – to require employers to give British workers a shot at applying before a job is given to a foreign applicant.

However, employers say this is inconvenient (no surprise there), so the Government is deferring to their wishes, and will abolish it from next January when the new immigration system comes into force.

And, on top of all that, there is to be no limit on the numbers, from all over the world and of whatever age, permitted to come to work in the UK.

Will they come? Of course they will, and not just “new entrants”. The number of foreign workers who meet these requirements and are likely to have the necessary level of English (so far unspecified) runs literally into tens of millions.

For many, the salary is far more than they could earn at home. Furthermore, some will have relatives already here who will encourage them. Others will be attracted by the right to settle here after five years – a right that also extends to “new entrants”

That in turn will bring the possibility of eventually bringing a wife, children and other dependants over from their home country with free education for any children and, after settlement, free health care for all. What is there not to like about such an offer?

As for the employers who have ruthlessly pressed for these arrangements, how will they respond? Well, of course, they will be out recruiting. Cheaper, obedient labour unlikely to unionise. What more could they ask for?

And, if you are in any doubt consider what happened when we opened our labour market to East European workers with no limit on numbers. Within four years, there were half a million in the UK, and hundreds of thousands more were taken on in the years following the Great Financial Crash while the number of unemployed British workers remained stubbornly high.

Then, some half a million Romanians and Bulgarians came following the opening up of the employment market to them in 2014. Remember that firm in Northampton that recruited a plane load of 300 Hungarians to make sandwiches? When the Government checked afterwards, they found that the firm had not even approached the local job centre to see if there were any British workers available.

So, in a nutshell, there is to be no limit on the number of foreign workers that employers can bring in to the UK and if they are under 26, have the equivalent of A Levels, and speak some English they can be brought in on pay not much higher than the living wage.

This scheme threatens the jobs, training and future of our young people. The number of young British workers who will be directly affected by this scheme is roughly one and a half million. They have had disruption enough in their young lives. The least that the Government can do in the current crisis is to withdraw this dangerous proposal.

Scott Benton: Why we must win the culture war – and deliver a Blue Collar programme for the economy

8 Sep

Scott Benton is the MP for for Blackpool South.

Whilst the left-wing inspired anarchy which has afflicted cities in the US has not been repeated here, make no mistake that the political flashpoints of the summer (the BLM protests, the ensuing “statues debate” and the BBC’s decision regarding the Proms) are undeniable proof that Britain is in the midst of its own “culture war”.

This is scarcely something that a Conservative government, dealing with the biggest health and economic challenges in a generation, would have chosen to fight. But whether we like it or not, how it chooses to respond to this battle will shape the political landscape and our chances at the next General Election.

The increasingly-evident cultural divide in Britain was unmistakeable throughout the Brexit debate. The defining moment in that battle, December’s election, confirmed the seismic political consequences of this divide for both main parties as the historic class-based voting pattern was shattered in favour of a values-based realignment of British politics.

This spectacularly allowed us to knock down the so-called “Red Wall” and to gain seats that only a few years ago would have been unthinkable. The reasons for our success (Brexit and the intense loathing of Corbyn) were obvious, but with neither of these pull factors in play at the next election, it remains to be seen whether we can build our own “Blue Wall”.

If we are to do exactly that, we must understand the instincts of those who switched to us from Labour. The evidence suggests that they are economically more left-wing than the average voter, but considerably more right-wing than average on social issues: in fact, they are more socially conservative than loyal Tory voters and Tory MPs.

As December’s election was a “values election”, predicated on Brexit, we were able to break through and convince many of these socially conservative, life-long Labour voters to support us for the first time, and to abandon the Labour Party whose social values are a world away from their own.

The leap of faith that many of these voters took should not be taken lightly. Many of these people have long had (and continue to have) doubts about our party’s economic values and commitment to public services, and have far more in common with Labour’s values on these issues. Such was the lure of Brexit, however, helped by our sympathetic positioning on public spending and levelling up, that they entrusted us with their vote.

If the next election is fought on traditional issues of the economy and public services (particularly if a post-Covid economic recovery is sluggish), a moderate Labour Party may tempt back some of these same voters who naturally gravitate leftwards on the economy. On the other hand, the social and cultural values of the contemporary left could well be the means by which we keep those voters’ support.

Whilst the Government does not wish for a “culture war”, then, it may well be the determination of many on the left to engineer one which paradoxically allows us to demonstrate that we share Red Wall voters’ values and are truly on their side.

Throughout the summer my mailbag has been full of correspondence on issues such as the lawlessness of some of the BLM protests; the revulsion of seeing the Union Flag set alight on the Cenotaph; the absurdity of those wanting to rewrite our history by tearing down statues, and the alienation felt by many at the actions of the BBC in wanting to chip away at our national culture.

The vast majority of my constituents in my Red Wall seat are sick and tired of those who are embarrassed by our culture, and who want to apologise for Britain’s past. They are yearning for the Government to stand up and be courageous in dismissing this nonsense that is directing the national conversation and political narrative.

Sentiments like those expressed by the Prime Minister on the Proms are very welcome and we need more social commentary and reassurances from the Government on issues such as these, but ultimately, ministers are judged on their actions.

Take the situation on the south coast: if the Government cannot use the current legislative and diplomatic tools at its disposal to stem the tide of illegal immigration then it must completely redesign our asylum and immigration policy so that it can.

Likewise, if the BBC cannot get its own house in order and demonstrate that it is able to occupy its privileged position as an impartial national broadcaster, then the Government must embark on reform, starting with scrapping the licence fee.

The emotive reach of social issues means that they will remain politically pivotal for as long as they dominate the conversation, but if we are going to retain the confidence and support of our new voters on these issues, we must do more than merely sympathise with their deep concerns.

A Conservative Government with a large majority should not shy away from having the political and intellectual confidence to lead the debate on cultural issues and to deliver reform on law and order, sentencing, immigration/asylum and the BBC. These are all policy areas where our new and traditional supporters alike demand a tough approach.

Although social values are increasingly likely to drive voting patterns longer-term, the upcoming autumn budget will dictate the short-term political weather. There was a collective sigh of relief in my Red Wall constituency when the Prime Minister ruled out a return to austerity: we simply have to fulfil our spending commitments on the NHS and schools, which were so instrumental in reassuring those former Labour voters who switched to us.

Whilst I think it would be a mistake to break our manifesto commitment on the triple lock, slashing international aid would be met with almost universal acclaim in constituencies such as mine.

It is only through wealth creation and economic growth, however, that we will make a significant impact on the deficit. We must deliver our commitment to levelling up by prioritising regional growth through a meaningful industrial strategy which aims to reduce the north-south divide through a laser-like focus on transport investment, incentives to locate in “left-behind areas” (including enterprise zones and freeports), training and skills.

Real investment, however, at a time of huge pressure on the public finances, doesn’t come cheap. If we are serious about levelling up, there will inevitably be difficult decisions about taxation, which will present some unpalatable choices for colleagues.

Rather than shy away from these choices, we should relish them. The current situation (as well as Brexit) affords us with a once in a generation opportunity to deliver an economic strategy which can tackle the inherent structural weaknesses that have hampered the UK for decades: an approach which makes political as well as economic sense, as it repositions the Party’s economic policy far closer to the public (and our new and traditional voters).

The cultural and economic challenges facing the UK have changed, as has the political geography. Conservatism must adapt to face these challenges and not only reflect the nation’s mood, but also demonstrate that we are the only party which is able to protect the values that people cherish, and provide the means through which their lives can be improved. The economic orthodoxy and social liberalism of the past (Cameron’s “Notting Hill” modernisation) is not what our core voters, and especially our new converts, want. Indeed, it never was.

Repositioning our party to meet these cultural and economic challenges, and in doing so, striving to ensure that we maintain our recent gains, will challenge the ideology of many colleagues.

The prize for successfully doing so, however, is enormous. By building a lasting coalition of our new and traditional supporters, based on their shared cultural values and a blue collar economic programme, we can create a truly one nation party that is able to occupy the common ground for years to come – and in doing so cement our own “Blue Wall”, thereby locking Labour out of power.

Channel crossings are undermining the Government’s narrative about ‘taking back control’ of immigration

4 Sep

When Vote Leave promised to ‘take back control’, one of the issues at the top of the list was immigration. Leaving the EU meant ending freedom of movement and gaining the freedom to implement a points-based system which better reflected Britain’s national priorities.

This did not necessarily mean a draconian system – evidence suggested voters’ attitudes towards immigration actually got more liberal after the referendum – but that would be up to Parliament.

Yet only months after the electoral triumph of what has been called a ‘Vote Leave’ government, this narrative of control is being undermined by the toxic drip-feed of stories about migrant boats crossing the Channel.

Priti Patel clearly grasps that this is a problem, which is why we’re getting tough-sounding stories about calls to institute Royal Navy patrols and thwarting bids by ‘activist lawyers’ to prevent deportations. This morning she hit out at social media companies for allegedly failing to take action against people smugglers publicising their businesses online.

But it is less obvious what can actually be done. Patrolling the Channel invites the same problem as we see in the Mediterranean, wherein refugees located by the Italian Navy often put themselves into the water knowing the Italians won’t leave them there. Likewise footage of dingies arriving on the beach and their occupants disappearing inland may spark outrage, but the Home Office can’t really prevent that without erecting some sort of Atlantic Wall on the Kent coast.

Theresa May’s strategy was a more ‘defence in depth’ approach, with the Home Office drafting landlords and employers to help locate illegal entrants once they were in the UK – the ‘hostile environment’. The problem with this, setting aside the political challenges posed by the fallout from Windrush, is that without an effective detention and deportation system it risks just forcing people into the black economy.

This is all without getting into the possible difficulties posed by the above-mentioned ‘activist lawyers’, the courts, our membership of the ECHR, and so on, which Natalie Elphicke MP touched on in her article on the subject.

Usually Australia, which has been running ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ since 2013, is held up as the example to follow. But it enjoys some advantages Britain does not: it is outside some of the aforementioned legal structures; would-be ‘boat people’ face a much longer journey; and it has in Nauru a very handy offshore detention option unavailable to the Home Office (unless Sealand were interested).

Some of these problems are soluble. It should be fairly straightforward to legislate on the issue of traffickers exploiting social media, and Tim Loughton’s suggestion of using cruise ships as offshore detention facilities could be very timely given that the industry is facing a billion-dollar question about what to do with its mothballed vessels. Smoothing the legal pathway to deportation could also be including in whatever replaces the Government’s now-abandoned Constitution, Democracy, and Human Rights Commission.

But ultimately the Home Secretary is in a difficult position because the real keys to a lasting solution – new agreements with France and the other countries to which illegal entrants ultimately need to be deported – are not her department. But managing the day-to-day fallout is.

Julian Brazier: How tackling the causes of rising demand would help the Government solve the housing crisis

14 Aug

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017.

Robin Hodgson’s excellent recent pamphlet, explores the critical link between our growing population, and issues like housing shortages and infrastructure overstretch. He has – rightly – won support from some heavy hitting MPs, including John Hayes, in his call for a standing commission – a Demographic Authority – to examine and advise on population issues, along the lines of the Office of Budget Responsibility’s oversight of fiscal matters.

Good as the proposals are, I want to suggest a different intermediate approach for the short term, closer to the Government’s current programme. At a time when it is handling both the Covid crisis and an unusually heavy programme of change, not least from Brexit, there is a danger that a proposal to set up an entirely new body may be simply brushed aside as a bridge too far.

First let’s take a deep dive into the issues. The Government’s commitment to more building is surely right, whatever one’s view of the detail of the proposed planning reforms; this site has carried many articles on how unaffordable housing is in large parts of the UK. It is terrible for young people wishing to set up home, and the collapse in home ownership has played a critical role in the fall in Conservative support among the under 40s. We have to make housing – both to rent and, even more important, to buy – affordable again.

Yet, at the same time a parallel, and almost entirely separate, debate has taken place on immigration, despite the fact that immigration is the major factor in population growth, itself the main cause of increased demand for housing; last year, the Office for National Statistics predicted that the population would rise by another three million over the next decade to around 70 million.

It predicts that four fifths of this will be from migrants arriving and having children, only one fifth from natural change – ie more births than deaths as people live longer. (There is an additional factor driving demand, independent of population size, but smaller in effect: household size is on a long-term decline, as families break up and more people live alone, meaning more homes required per thousand people).

In other words, in the course of two Parliaments, on current projections, we have to build homes for three million extra people – more than the population of Greater Manchester – before a single extra property is available to tackle housing shortages.

It is against this background that our new immigration policy needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency. It contains a welcome end to free movement with the EU, in line with our manifesto promise. We also have pledges from Boris Johnson and Priti Patel to take action on the disgraceful cross-channel trafficking of illegal migrants.

Nevertheless, important and welcome though these measures are, neither addresses what are now the two largest categories of migration: those coming to work (now overwhelmingly from outside the EU) and – counter-intuitively – students who settle and their dependants.

Take workers first. The new points-based approach for all migrants applying to work is welcome but the key is the level of movement it allows. It is right that some categories (such as doctors) should have no cap but surely, at a time when unemployment is rising fast as a result of Covid, wrong that the Government proposes to lower the minimum income level, paving the way for more workers from outside the EU.

Leaving the current Covid crisis aside, a wider point applies. Immigration policy, especially in the field of employment, is set after taking advice from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).

That body has a remit which is focused almost exclusively on a narrow subset of economic factors, the needs of the labour market. The papers the MAC has published look in a balanced but narrow fashion at the requirements of sections of the economy and regions of the UK, as well as the impact on existing workers. Housing and infrastructure issues – such as transport congestion, water shortages, flooding etc – are barely mentioned.

This is underlined by work MAC commissioned from Oxford Economics, which analyses the net benefit/cost of categories of migrants entirely in “current” terms, ie tax payments made, benefits drawn etc, ignoring the capital (and social) costs of funding new infrastructure to meet a rising population. What is urgently needed is for the Government to extend MAC’s brief to cover housing pressures and infrastructure requirements as well as the job market.

The second major problem with the system relates to students. All governments have recognised the importance of encouraging “the brightest and the best” young people from around the world to come and study in our universities. But here has also been a sustained campaign, orchestrated by the higher education lobby, to take these students out of our immigration statistics.

This would, incidentally, mean abandoning the internationally agreed measure of migration. Much more important, two studies by ONS illustrate why it would be a serious policy mistake. In 2016, one study showed that the influx of students was running at well over double the number of students leaving the UK, (those who had finished their stay and British students travelling to study abroad), a net inflow of 135,000.

The second ONS study in 2018 showed that students and their dependents amounted to almost 30 per cent of all people granted settlement in the UK the previous year. Any serious attempt to get control of migration has to include students.

Under the new (but pre-Covid) rules, any student is automatically granted two years right of abode after finishing his or her course, despite the large surplus of UK graduates; only half of recent UK graduates work in graduate level roles, according to an Education Select committee report – and that was pre-Covid.

This is compounded by the fact that there are no national standards for student entry (domestic or foreign) so any university struggling for funds can accept any student who can get a study visa and can pay the first year’s fees. Worse still, the visa regime is under constant pressure from the universities and others to “relax”. David Cameron closed over 800 dodgy colleges, but we are close to a point where, without proper academic hurdles, would-be economic migrants no longer need them – they can often use a university instead.

So students should be included in our immigration strategy. The policy of allowing a two-year stay needs to be reviewed in the light of Covid and a tight restriction imposed on staying on, unless they have valuable skills not available in the domestic pool. Overdue measures should be introduced to ensure that students do actually return at the end the end of their stay.

In summary, the Government, from the Prime Minister down, is right to identify housing shortages as a critical social ill and boost building. But a policy which seeks to boost supply without doing anything to tackle rising demand, driven by heavy migration, can only succeed if we build on a scale which is probably unachievable.

Even if it did succeed for a while, it would come at the price of overload on public services, heavy congestion, water shortages and even flooding, as flood plains disappear under concrete.

Adopting these simple reforms for applicant workers, advice from the MAC and for students – and improving enforcement – would go a long way to solving the housing crisis and reducing the growing pressure on our infrastructure.

Tony Smith: Expanding the UK refugee resettlement scheme is one way we can improve our border security

12 Aug

Tony Smith is a former Head of the UK Border Force and Director of Ports and Borders in both the UK and Canada. He is now Managing Director of Fortinus Global Ltd, an international border security company, and Chairman on the International Border Management and Technologies Association.

On July 3 I wrote in these pages that in order to turn the tide on migrant boats entering UK waters illegally we would need a new agreement with France, which would enable us to return the migrants safely and securely immediately whence they came.

This week immigration minister Chris Philp is seeking precisely that with his French counterpart. Meanwhile numbers have continued to rise with over 4,000 now having made the journey this year, and new intake records being broken almost every week.

As a former practitioner with over 45 years’ experience in the immigration and borders business I have been inundated with requests for media interviews. Why do they come? How do they come? How can we stop them? Why don’t we let them in? Why don’t we let more in?

In my time in the Immigration Service (and the UK Border Force, which it later became) I was criticised from both ends of the political spectrum for working in the field of immigration and border control.

Many a taxi driver said to me (hopefully in jest) that it was “all my fault” that we were overwhelmed by immigrants. Others (less so in jest) saw me as having some kind of character flaw for being so nasty to innocent people, by denying them entry or by making it hard for them to enter and stay illegally in the UK.

In my many media appearances on this topic over the past few weeks I have appeared with several commentators from across the political spectrum – some wanting complete border closures: others wanting the complete abolition of borders.

I was Director of Ports of Entry in the Blair years. In 2002 we saw a record intake of over 80,000 asylum seekers. The vast majority were coming across the English Channel on ferries, trains, or concealed in vehicles. Since then we have concluded several bilateral agreements with France to enhance immigration controls on those routes. This was a top priority for that government, just as it is for this one.

By 2005 we had reduced asylum intake to 25,000. It went lower still before creeping up again in recent years, to around 35,000 last year. Even then the Home Office never really recovered from the 2002 crisis. The Department was criticised year on year for “failing to get a grip” of the asylum backlog, despite a three-fold increase in resources and a massive spend on asylum accommodation and infrastructure across the country.

Asylum applications are notoriously difficult to assess; the easy option is to grant asylum (or at least exceptional leave to remain). Even when refused, the route to removal is a tortuous one riddled with endless appeals, judicial interventions and – even then – non-compliance with the documentation and reporting processes.

According to UNHCR there are now 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world at the end of 2019. 26 million are outside their country of origin in places like Turkey (1.6m) Pakistan (1.5m) Lebanon (1.15m). Hundreds of thousands are in other countries close to unstable states, such as Iran and Ethiopia.

Meanwhile despite pleas from UNHCR, the Western World has consistently reduced its contribution to refugee resettlement schemes. In 2019 countries previously renowned for a more generous approach to refugee resettlement reduced the numbers to a trickle – 21,000 in the USA, 9,000 in Canada, 3,000 in Australia. In the EU the UK took 5,774 refugees through resettlement routes – more than any other EU country.

Yet we hear of far more “generous” approaches to asylum in other countries. The fact is the number of asylum applications in mainland EU countries far exceeds their political will to accept refugees. They have no choice, because the external EU border is porous and a great many irregular migrants have managed to penetrate it. Once there, many want to choose which EU country they would like to live in. Encouraged by the borderless Schengen zone, many will drift North and lodge asylum applications in those countries they see as more attractive (eg Germany, Scandinavia, France).

Because the UK is not (and never was) in the Schengen zone the final hurdle is the English Channel, and how to penetrate that. Given enforcement measures by successive governments of all colours they have found it evermore difficult to do so – at least until they discovered this latest loophole of getting out onto the waters and getting “rescued” by a British vessel.

I have heard many commentators argue that it is lawful for asylum seekers to cross borders without papers or permission, to make their claims. In fact, the correct terminology is “irregular” rather than “illegal” migration; but it cannot be right that International Conventions can effectively trump border controls altogether as people seek new lives in other countries. Not least because this fuels international organised crime and human smuggling chains who will continue to prey on vulnerable people by exploiting “irregular” routes.

Many of those in Calais have already been refused permission to stay in an EU country; but as far as they are concerned that is only the start of the process, not the end of it. Those who argue for major UK resettlement offices in France miss the point.

First, if there is hope that by getting into France you have a greater chance of getting into the UK, then more will come to France. Hardly desirable from their point of view, given their own asylum backlogs. Second, we already know that many won’t take no for an answer; and while they remain in France, they will continue to try to penetrate the UK Border by irregular means including this one.

There is certainly a global debate to be had about legal resettlement routes. The frustration of the UNHCR and refugee lobby is palpable. By refusing to open legitimate resettlement programmes for those displaced in source and transit countries, the Western world is simply encouraging irregular migration across multiple borders.

As the transition period comes to an end and we depart the Dublin Convention, we must firstly negotiate safe third country agreements with our neighbours to stop irregular migration and asylum shopping. Anything less is clear evidence that we have lost control of our borders; something we know is unacceptable to most people living here already.

Assuming we are able to do so, the UK could then show the way for the rest of the world to encourage the proper resettlement of some of the 26 million refugees who are already displaced around the world by expanding the UK refugee resettlement scheme.

However, it would be impossible for any government to do so without first demonstrating very clearly to the public that this is “controlled” migration to people who are genuinely deserving of protection; and not “uncontrolled” or “irregular” migration to the UK, over which we have no control.

First and foremost, we must stop the boats and “take back control”. Anything less will continue to undermine public confidence in our border controls and play directly into the hands of the smugglers.