Net non-EU migration peaked under the Coalition at 228,000 in September 2011, the autumn after the Coalition was formed. It now stands at 190,000 – marginally lower than when the Government took office.
Theresa May has closed bogus colleges, toughened language requirements, and tightened the student visa regime. Given the Conservative majority government that didn’t happen, it’s reasonable to believe that she would have done further – raising thresholds for spousal visas, constaining work permits further, restricting the entry of dependents, and making students leave the country at end of their visa term.
In the imaginary world in which there was such a government, no EU, and all other things were equal, she might well have delivered David Cameron’s unequivocal pledge of earlier that year: “I believe that will mean net migration to this country will be in the order of tens of thousands each year, not the hundreds of thousands every year that we have seen over the last decade…with us, our borders will be under control and immigration will be at levels our country can manage. No ifs. No buts.”
But all other things are not equal and we do not live in an imaginary world. We live in the real one, in which Britain is governed by a coalition and is part of the EU – in which the cardinal principle of free movement applies. The Prime Minister’s promise has thus been torpedoed by the Coalition he formed, by the EU membership which he wishes to maintain, and by the influx of labour from it from the low-employment Eurozone (and elsewhere) into the high-employment UK, with its fastest growth in the G7. So it’s not just the Coalition and the Euro that’s done for his pledge. It’s George Osborne’s restoration of economic confidence and Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms.
We need to make a national decision about the trade-off between controlling our borders and quickfire economic growth. To do so, we have to be able to control entry in the first place. This means ending freedom of movement as we know it – as the ConservativeHome Manifesto argued.
If that can’t be done (and there’s no real reason to think that it can be), this means leaving the EU – as Mark Wallace keeps pointing out in his pieces on the futility of the net immigration pledge.
Until or unless that happens, UKIP will grow – or far worse will come – schools, hospitals, roads and rail will be under pressure, an added twist will be given to house prices, and cohesion and integration will be more difficult. We thus need an EU referendum and a Conservative majority government to deliver it.
Since the latter looks unlikely (though a minority administration or a second coalition are real possibilities), the former does too. And more fuel will be poured on the fire of belief that we are governed by shifty and inept liars – whoever wins elections.