Alex Morton was a member of David Cameron’s Downing Street Policy Unit.
Britain will face colossal pressure to accommodate tens of millions of people during the next few decades. A handful of free marketers argue that backing free movement of goods and services also means backing free movement of people. A key assumption of those proposing open borders is that people have a right to enter the UK; that o treat people in other countries differently to those here is racist and nativist, and that to protect our borders is no better than other protectionist measures.
This is quite wrong. Trade is inanimate objects and people are people. The impact of a cheaper furniture piece and a newly arrived migrant are obviously distinct. Conservatives need on this, as so many other areas, to be able to put forward a coherent case for what three quarters of the public (including a majority of BME voters) want – reductions in migration.
People do not have the right to move to the UK
The first key point is that people do not have the right to enter the UK. You are born into a nation, just as you are born into a family. You inherit a set of laws and institutions that have evolved over time in the same way you inherit a greater or lesser level of wealth. The argument that all have equal rights to live where they please is a socialist concept based on a false premise. The Adam Smith Institute or others would agree that you might be unlucky to be born without wealthy parents, but it is not an injustice. It is the same with national identity. You are unlucky to be born in a poor country, but it is not an injustice. You have no more right to walk into another country and demand residence than you do in the UK to walk into a richer person’s home and demand to live in it.
Like a family, you should be free to leave at any time once you are an adult. But other countries, no more than other families, are not required to take you in. You may reject your country, but that does not mean that the UK must take you in, any more than a family must take in someone who has severed ties with their existing family. We may choose to let people in, but this is a privilege, not a right.
We have an obligation to the rest of the world, in terms of trade and aid, and helping groups like women, religious and sexual minorities advance human rights overseas – but that is where our moral obligation ends. We do not have an obligation to welcome them here. David Cameron’s policy on supporting refugees close to the conflict was absolutely the right one. Those travelling across a dozen countries to break into Europe are no different to those who break into a house. We might feel sorry for them, but we cannot simply ignore the law.
Immigration is economics of agglomeration and addition
If migrants have no right to enter the UK, who we accept becomes a question of economics and culture. In terms of the economics, the evidence is clear – what might be termed the economics of agglomeration and addition. Agglomeration is the very clear evidence that high skilled workers benefit from the presence of other high skill workers, and if this generates an overall increase in wealth large enough it increases average incomes. This is why London and other global cities have such high productivity and income: they have huge pools of skilled labour. Addition, meanwhile, what happens when you simply add workers of average to low skills to an existing labour pool. In this case, it is a simple case of supply and demand – more workers means lower wages (though employment is not impacted).
All this also explains why there is a class divide over migration among Conservatives. High skill and high-income groups benefit from migrants who are like them because they increase their income. Some Conservatives in this group tend to think all migrants therefore increase wealth. Those on more average incomes, while they might like migrants as individuals, colleagues and friends, correctly sense that while their employer benefits from a pool of similar workers, they do not.
Immigration has a cultural cost
Furthermore, nations are the marketplace of cultural ideas and institutions. We can examine Venezuela, and discover that Corbynite socialism is a disastrous idea. We can look to the Arab and near East, and see the impact of a strong Islamic influence versus more secular viewpoints. National competition enables us to learn from one another about how to progress and what makes for a better country.
When migrants enter the UK, they rarely discard their cultural worldview. There is not only a purely economic cost, but a cultural cost to migration. The very institutions and culture that have generated the wealth and freedom in our society, or any society, do not exist in some vacuum or textbook. Despite the efforts of many on the Left, they remain embedded in the hearts and minds of the British people, and to varying degrees, in institutions here (though under tremendous attack).
Individually, migrants can come to embody these values better than many on the Left who were born here (if you wanted a fantastic statement of the importance of British values, see Kemi Badenoch’s maiden speech here). You don’t have to be born British: you can become British. But the evidence suggests that this takes time, and the greater the gap between a migrant’s language and culture and British language and culture, the longer it takes. We should also note that within many groups that there is a strong cultural tendency for group and collective solutions, and many migrant groups therefore vote heavily Labour. Tony Blair’s increase in migration was entirely cynical.
If you concede the principles on immigration, you concede the argument
So in general, we should welcome high skilled, culturally similar migrants, and few low skilled, culturally distinct migrants. And we should not be embarrassed about making the case for doing so.
Immigration is yet another area where if you concede the principle, you concede the argument. If our compassion is measured by how many people we open our borders to, Diane Abbott is preferable to Amber Rudd. If migration is just about public services, promising to end austerity (as Corbyn does) will solve it. The oddity is that Conservative voters tend to be more united on immigration than, for example, on the role of state, and our views are the views of the general public. Intellectually and politically, there is a strong case for our party to champion both free trade and controlled migration.