Richard Short is the National Coordinator of the Conservative Trade Unionists, Chairman of Wigan Borough Conservatives and was Parliamentary Candidate for Warrington North in 2015.
To many who voted in the EU referendum, immigration was front and centre of their decision. A misrepresentation which is showing little sign of abating is that Brexit means stopping immigration altogether. Scare stories about the NHS running out of nurses and crops rotting in the ground as they go unharvested have been perpetuated by those who doggedly pursue the Remain agenda – in the vain hope that leaving the EU somehow won’t happen if they scare people hard enough and complain long enough.
Brexit is not and never has been anything to do with stopping immigration: but it has been and is about controlling immigration in a way that is best for the UK. Nurses can still be recruited from anywhere in the world, and farmers will still have the workforce they need to harvest seasonable crops.
Many models have been muted as being the right one for the UK. The Australian points based system, the Canadian system, a combination of systems? But for a solution that works you only have to look to the middle of the Irish Sea, where the Manx Government has been quietly getting on with a simple, effective and flexible system which places Manx citizens as a priority and is always in the interests of the Manx economy.
This low tax economy, completely separate from the UK, is now very attractive as a place to live and work, but back in 2009, as the economic crisis gripped hard, The island’s Department of Trade and Industry pledged to refuse work permits to overseas workers in five low skilled sectors where there was a clear availability of suitable Manx workers. Bear in mind that to the Isle of Man overseas includes the United Kingdom (or ‘Across’ as we are affectionately called).
The policy was immediate – and the results decisive. While the UK’s unemployment rate went up, the Manx unemployment rate was at an envious 2.2 per cent. This had knock-on effects for the hospitality industry, where regular seasonal workers were away for the close season when the changes were made, and were unable to return to their jobs which they had had for years. But the flexible approach to the scheme meant that this could be rectified by allowing an exemption for hospitality as temporary work permits for the season.
Recently the Manx economy has been doing very well, with growth exceeding the UK. Unemployment is down to its lowest level in a generation at just 1.2 per cent, and only 507 people in a population of 85,000 claiming unemployment benefit. Employers found it so difficult to recruit that appeals to the Government to relax the work permit scheme could not be ignored. In the face of hard evidence, selected permit exemptions have been introduced to the industries most affected.
This move has given the industries concerned and the Manx economy a major boost, and the economy continues to grow. In short, the Manx Government ‘gets it’. They still and will always place the Island’s residents at the centre of their immigration policy. The permit system can be tightened up again, as it was in 2009 if the economy is squeezed. This is their decision and this is the whole point of this article: it is their choice to act in the way they choose in the interests of their residents.
A similar idea to the Manx system for the UK hospitality sector was floated and the press, as they would, dubbed this the ‘Barista Visa’. Those of us who are deep inside the hospitality sector know just how sensible a move this would be to support this service industry, essential to UK economic growth. This is unfortunately lost on some of the more shallow politicians who just see the consumer end of the argument, and not the fact it is a major employer and contributor to GDP.
Indeed, Andy Burham, now Greater Manchester’s newly-elected Mayor, completely ignored the employees and went straight for the cheap political point. This may look like a bit of political banter but it is what policy makers are up against when trying to make sensible post Brexit changes to our immigration policy. If I were asked to draw up a post Brexit immigration policy I would be doing an awful of cutting and pasting from the Manx system.