On the face of it, you can see why those sitting in European capitals might scoff at Liz Truss’ plan to open up the door to higher migration in order to assist Britain’s growth push. After all, the vote for Brexit – perhaps not for its architects but unquestionably for many of those who put their tick in the out box – was in large part a reaction to ‘uncontrolled’ migration and the localised impacts it can have on job markets and public services. Now, they might say, you want the migrants back?
Well, yes. In just a few weeks, Liz Truss has built an ample case to be Britain’s least populist politician in decades. First she took the cap off bankers’ bonuses, got rid of the largely pointless in revenue terms top rate of tax, and took on the NIMBYs with what appears to be genuine planning reform. Now she’s going to allow more immigrants. Whether the anti-populist can be sufficiently popular in time for the next election will depend on whether the fruits of her economic reforms can be felt by then.
The truth is, of course, that Britain does need more bodies and brains from abroad. If demography is destiny, without a regular influx of twenty- and thirty-somethings then the UK’s destiny is to become a health service with an economy attached, rather than the other way around. But it’s more than those basic maths – entrepreneurial, hard-working folk should always be welcome in the UK. Truss is right to want to update the occupational shortage list, but should go further: a plan to effectively grant a free pass into the UK to anybody who went to a global top-50 university strikes us as a no-brainer.
We are told this is not the last of it. There are plans for more genuinely radical policies on the way in the coming weeks, from childcare regulation to infrastructure. It’s amazing what politicians can do when they’re not fussed about being popular.