Sometimes great damage can be caused by a government policy idea that doesn't end up seeing the light of day.
Think back to 2013, when the Tory-LibDem coalition announced plans to introduce a visa bond. The idea would have seen arrivals from countries such as India or Nigeria paying a £3,000 bond as part of the visa application process, forfeited if they failed to make the return trip. It was part of a push to reduce migration from outside the EU as David Cameron’s government worked to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands”.
Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister at the time, threatened to veto the policy and it was dropped just five months after being announced. But the damage was done. Editorials in the Nigerian press attacked “the departure from the family spirit which had hitherto prevailed in the Commonwealth” and commentators on Indian television had reacted with outrage at the idea, questioning the impact of the policy on bilateral trade and advocating political retaliation.
Now another row over immigration policy has tainted Theresa May's post-referendum government. Proposals to require British firms to reveal the number of foreign workers they employ caused an almighty spat before cabinet heavyweights toured the studios yesterday to row back from the idea. Defence secretary Michael Fallon said “we will not be asking companies to list or publish or name or identify in any way the number of foreign workers they have”.
Instead, it’s reported that the government will merely embark on a “data-gathering exercise” to help plan for skills shortages and labour market requirements. Nevertheless, the idea of “naming and shaming” firms who happen to have an international workforce has added to the mood music of a government that seems determined to appear tough on immigration.
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Liberal leavers (and there are many) look on in horror as May appears determined to interpret the referendum result as a call to get tough on immigrants and the employers who harbour them.
The PM says that when it comes to Brexit, “we’re going to make a success of it.” If that’s the case, it's time to drop the immigrant bashing. Incidentally, who cooked up the visa bonds idea in 2013? You guessed it: Home secretary Theresa May.