Douglas Hansen-Luke was Parliamentary Candidate for Walsall North last May, and advises and consults with government sovereign funds on best practice asset allocation and impact investing.
During my career in investments, I’ve worked through 1992’s Black Wednesday, the Asian Financial Crisis and the Global Financial Crisis. In each of these periods, it was the acknowledgement of the problem and decisive action that restored order to markets. In 1992, this was leaving the ERM; in Hong Kong, it was the Government buying shares in the stock market and, for the Global Financial Crisis, it was quick action from the Treasury to nationalise banks that staved off systematic collapse.
In his unifying, generous resignation speech, the Prime Minister has reassured markets and other governments that Britain remains open to business and trade. Now let us go further, and decide that we should now be as open a market to the rest of the world as we currently are to the EU. And, most important of all, let us provide clear principles on our approach to controlled immigration and reassurance to the two million EU nationals working here today. We must reinforce that all existing EU workers are welcome to stay, and that until full exit their current status does not change. This would immediately provide stability and reassurance to those who work here, and show to the outside world that we’re not going retreat in upon ourselves or do anything that could justify repercussions against our own citizens in Europe.
The political elite can no longer ignore immigration
As a party, we also urgently need to acknowledge immigration as an issue. After this referendum result, it is almost impossible to do otherwise, but this will not be easy. During my two and a half years campaigning in Walsall North, I was repeatedly told not to mention or respond to the overwhelming canvassing feedback on immigration. Perhaps if the Party had taken this issue head on, we would not only have won more seats in 2015 but would have been in a much stronger position when negotiating with the EU this year.
In 2014, I wrote for this site, in defence of the Government’s immigration policy. Then, I said that we had the right tough policies on immigration but were failing to get the message across. I was wrong. We had the right policies, but a combination of European law and political expediency prevented them from being implemented. Now, with the country’s clear decision for Brexit, we can review those policies and principles and thoughtfully prepare for their introduction.
Let us make it clear that we’re in favour of intelligent and carefully managed controls. That what we want is an immigration policy which is open and allows a continuous inflow, but which is fair and enriches existing citizens culturally and economically.
EU immigration has been great for government and companies but not so good for workers
At the moment, Westminster and the City are pro-immigration because it benefits them economically. Profits go up and the economy as a whole grows. Yet for the working people of Walsall and the West Midlands, it’s meant downward pressure on wages and living standards. The first duty of government should be to its own people. By “importing” labour from Europe, governments of all parties have been able to dodge their duty to address Britain’s long-term unemployed and our relatively low skill-base compared to other developed countries. Fixing problems with our own education system, benefits and social care is so much easier to avoid when we can go with the soft alternative of encouraging immigration and growing the economy at the same time. Easier but wrong.
And now we can be open to the whole world
It has been unfair and inequitable to give preference to European immigration over the rest of the world. In a world in which one billion people still live on around £1 a day, we will always have those that want to come here. No resident of the EU lives in that degree of poverty. Ethically and economically, there is no reason why, going forward, we should give priority to EU citizens over the most talented and deserving in a global population of seven billion. We cannot put our heads in the sand and ignore those people, many of them extremely worthy and deserving, who want to come to our small island. Any responsible Government should acknowledge this fact and articulate a fair plan for dealing with this challenge. A plan which should benefit both our own existing population and those that have the ambition and drive to join us.
Playing to our international strengths
Britain has always been an open, internationally mixed nation, and we’re better at integration than most. It is one of our competitive advantages and, intelligently and fairly, we should play to it. Immigrants should be welcome provided they respect our values, add to our economy and to median incomes.
Yes. Let’s keep free movement of Europeans to our country. If they can get a job and they’re better qualified then Brits, then let them have the job. Do not, however, make them citizens, and do not subsidise new immigrants by paying benefits. How can it be fair that immigrant labour is able to price itself below British workers because of child benefit paid outside the UK or by providing housing from local authorities?
For non-EU residents, let them know too that we are open for business. If someone can get a job that pays above our median income, is willing to pay tax and make our economy grow then let’s take them. A points and skills based system is not racist, it’s not preferential, it judges all people fairly and objectively based on their skills and not where they were lucky or unlucky enough to be born.
Leaving the EU is the first step in this process. After Brexit we as a nation now need to acknowledge, debate and agree the best immigration policy. This outer for one, hopes that this great international country remains open but, even better, honest, intelligent and fair.