Emily Carver is a broadcaster and commentator.
A couple of weeks ago, Philip Hammond told LBC’s Andrew Marr that the government should consider relaxing immigration to help bring down inflation. By his logic, more immigration would increase competition for jobs, and therefore we would see less wage inflation.
This was revealing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because I seemed to admit that large-scale immigration puts downward pressure on wages (something many supporters of free movement within the European Union have long denied).
But second, it revealed that mass immigration has not simply been an inevitable consequence of globalization, but rather a political choice, seen almost exclusively through the lens of economics.
It is true that immigration increases the size of our economy on paper, which gives the Treasury reason to pat itself on the back. But it also masks the fact that GDP per capita in this country is pitiful.
Here’s what men and women across the country really care about: Between 2007 and 2022, per capita household income in OECD countries increased by 20 percent; in the UK it rose a paltry six per cent. Yes, there are many factors that contribute to this stagnation in living standards, but the sad truth is that the average person doesn’t feel better, despite immigration in the hundreds of thousands year after year.
At the same time, they see with their own eyes the enormous pressure that high levels of immigration place on housing, local services, infrastructure and the community.
Successive Conservative governments, after the Blair years, have promised to address concerns about immigration. But all this turned out to be empty promises, didn’t it?
We all remember David Cameron’s promise of tens of thousands that turned out to be worth less than the paper it was written on. Boris Johnson has promised to reduce overall immigration levels before further liberalizing the immigration system.
And now, even after freedom of movement from Europe was restricted, we have seen net immigration continue to rise, reaching over 600,000 last year alone, with a whopping 1.2 million people moving to this country in one year.
While many will point to the fact that this includes students and refugees, the truth is that our economy has become so dependent on mass migration that it seems almost impossible to break the addiction.
The Brexit vote was for many a vote to reduce numbers; failure to do so is one of the many reasons why trust in the Conservatives is so low and why I imagine many of those who voted for Boris Johnson may stay away from the Conservatives in the next election.
Who’s going to believe after 13 years of the Conservatives in power, that if they get re-elected one more time, it’s time they start cutting back on immigration? What is the point of the Prime Minister talking tough about illegal immigration, while he fails to stop the boats and continues to encourage sky-high migration?
It is true that there are Tory voters who are very relaxed about immigration. There are those who saw Brexit as an opportunity to liberalize immigration after losing freedom of movement within the EU.
But this was not the economic model that the vast majority of people who put their vote in the Brexit box wanted. They have been betrayed and immigration remains the go-to recipe for our economic woes. However, with our infrastructure being overloaded, it is becoming a very difficult pill to swallow.
Considering this, it is not surprising that several Conservative MPs have decided to put pressure on Sunak to reduce migration. The New Conservatives, a group made up predominantly of Red Wall MPs, are demanding that he cut net migration by two-thirds before the next election.
Proposals have already been picked and shredded in the media, notably the recommendation to close visa schemes for care workers and limit the number of refugees to 20,000 per year.
But should there really be that much pushback to a plan to reduce immigration to just 2019 levels?
It may be a tall order for a government that has presided over an economy driven (or propped up) by the availability of cheap labor; it is also true that we need a boost in our birth rate if we are to care for our aging population.
But it is short-term thinking that has led us to a situation where we have five million people out of work, industries and public services that depend on easy access to foreign labor, and an economy that is far from the highest. wage and high-growth economy that we were promised.
Sunak is unlikely to make the drastic changes needed to change this state of affairs, especially given the time constraints before the next election. But it is becoming increasingly obvious that mass immigration is not the economic panacea that Hammond and Jeremy Hunt believe it to be.
If the Conservatives want to avoid being beaten in the next election, they must at least agree on a path forward for migration. For the moment, as with most issues, the Party seems hopelessly divided.
We need to know what a Conservative migration policy looks like in the future, confident that Labor’s assumption that it would be worse no longer stacks up.