The immigration policies we need won’t come from Brexit


Source: Getty

The Brexiteers were in no position to make any promises – least of all that we would take back control of our country – when they fought the EU referendum campaign.

Had the referendum campaign been policed by the Electoral Commission in the same way as the Advertising Standards Authority polices ads, with the powers to fine advertisers for misleading campaigns and pull their commercials off the air immediately, there never would have been the claims that Britain was going to have to join a European Army or that Turkey was going to join the European Union.

But the Electoral Commission proved completely toothless.

Among the most misleading of the Brexit arguments were the preposterous claims made about immigration, particularly that Britain’s EU membership had led to it losing control of our borders.

Read more: DEBATE: ­Should students be included in the UK’s net migration figures?

Our failure to take control of our borders, and shape immigration policy so that it benefits our businesses, our citizens, and the economy, is not the fault of the EU; it is down to government policies debated in our Houses of Parliament.

We had the power to repatriate citizens of other EU countries, if they stayed any longer than three months without finding a job or means to support themselves. The European Parliament and Council Directive 2004/38/EC gave us this power, but successive governments refused to use it, despite the fact that Belgium has in recent years used it to return thousands of citizens of other EU countries.

If the public knew we had this ability to control EU immigration, surely there would not be the fear that exists, but the government has no interest in being clear with the electorate about immigration policy in the UK, as that would only make clear the government’s own failures in that respect.

Over a year after the referendum, home secretary Amber Rudd has promised that there will be an independent enquiry into the economic impact of EU immigration. But this will report back in September 2018, well over a year from now and only six months before the Article 50 deadline for Brexit.

Why has there not been such a study long before now?

Second, the government insists on using figures from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) to estimate that just under 100,000 international students overstay their visa every year, which is nonsense.

Read more: Net migration target will haunt the Tories

Two weeks ago, during parliamentary recess, the Office for Statistics Regulation issued a report deeming the IPS figures to be unreliable, forcing the government to revoke their official status.

We would never have relied on these surveys had we installed exit checks on our borders. Tony Blair removed exit checks in 1998. We scan every passport of every individual who comes into this country, EU and non-EU, but nobody scans your passport on departure. As a result, we have no idea who has left the country.

Our government simply does not know how many people overstay their visa, or subsequently how many illegal immigrants there are in the UK – not even to the nearest quarter of a million.

Mistakes are inevitable as a result of our government’s oversight. Not only do lapses at our borders pose a grave security risk, but a Home Office report, which was leaked last year by The Times, found that barely 1.5 per cent of students from overseas were overstaying their visa every year, based on e-exit check data gathered in 2015.

This rubbishes the government’s stance on international students altogether, providing further evidence that students should be classified as “temporary residents” – as they are in the US, Canada, and Australia – and not included in the government’s target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands; international students need to be removed from net migration figures.

There are 450,000 international students in the UK – 130,000 of them from the EU – adding over £25bn to the economy. We should instead have a target to increase the numbers of international students that come here.

The government’s stubborn persistence to reduce net migration to baseless targets of tens of thousands – regardless of the needs of our economy, our businesses, or our citizens – can no longer be blamed on the EU.

With unemployment currently at 4.5 per cent, the lowest in living memory, without the 3m EU citizens in the UK, we would have an acute labour shortage, be it skilled or unskilled. We should be grateful to these individuals who come to our country, work hard, pay taxes, and put in five times more than they take in terms of benefits. Far from being a drain on our public services, hundreds of thousands of them work in our public services, which would collapse without EU and foreign workers.

The immigration policies that we need will not come from Brexit – they will come from our government, or not at all.