What more can be said on the net immigration pledge? As has been clear for a while now, it’s dead.
In February I made three points which still stand:
- Net immigration was an unwise measure. It can be swayed not only by the numbers arriving (which have risen) but also by the numbers leaving (which have fallen). If immigration rose to a million, but emigration also reached a million, would voters be content? No, because their concern isn’t about the net impact on population but on the gross impact of the number of people coming into the UK from abroad. (Whisper it, that’s because there’s a cultural element as well as an economic element to their concerns.)
- This is a symptom of economic growth. Why are more people coming here and fewer leaving the country? Simply because Britain is an increasingly good place to live – particularly compared to the economic instability in the Eurozone and all sorts of other problems across the world. Pledging to manage net migration was unwise – pledging to do it while setting out to make the UK an economic safe haven was doomed.
- Doomed, that is, while we’re in the EU. While we remain members of the EU we have open borders to a range of struggling economies, with no power to change that policy. Leaving the EU is a necessary condition of controlling immigration – though in itself it isn’t a guarantee of controlled borders, it only allows us to set our own policy (whatever that may turn out to be).
There’s a fourth point to introduce, now:
- This is bad news for Theresa May’s future ambitions. The longest-serving Home Secretary in fifty years has achieved her longevity by acquiring a reputation for competence. Indeed, by keeping her personal views rather quiet she’s emphasised the tendency to judge her on her performance. The total failure of a flagship pledge is bound to be a blow to that reputation – and will inevitably come up if there is a leadership race.