The Head of Migration at the influential ippr think tank, Tim Finch, has written a stinging response to calls from the cross-party Balanced Migration Group for a 70 million population cap. A press release by the group, which is led by Frank Field, calls for “manifesto commitments to reduce net immigration to the levels of the early 1990s.”
Writing exclusively for Left Foot Forward, Finch says:
The ‘clear commitments’ from party leaders that this declaration calls for will do nothing to reduce the UK population. What the declaration does is to stoke up anti-immigrant sentiment in a dangerous way. A recent debate staged by ippr involving the Home Secretary and his two shadows showed that the main parties are prepared to discuss this sensitive subject in an open and constructive manner. This is the way to address the sophisticated and difficult business of managing migration in the 21st Century – not ill thought-through, backward looking declarations like this one.
Manifesto commitments are not going, by magic, to reduce immigration levels to those of early 1990s. Modern migration is driven by powerful and complex international forces and in an unequal world people will migrate into a country in larger numbers if its economy is booming, as happened in the UK through the late-1990s and early- to mid-2000s. Now we are in recession so net migration is flattening out – with immigration steady and emigration increasing substantially. If the economic recovery is slow, we may see lower levels of immigration over the next few years – in which case, of course, the population projection from the Office of National Statistics will be revised downwards. A population of 70 million is not inevitable. It is also the case that the Government has put in place a tight system of management and control of immigration. We certainly do not have an ‘open door’ policy on immigration.
Even so, controlling migrant inflows difficult – as to be fair, the declaration concedes. We have free movement of people within the EU – do the signatories want to stop that? We are signatories to the UN Convention on Refugees: do they want the UK to withdraw from it? Quite a lot of people arrive as a result of family reunion – do we want to stop settled immigrants being able to bring in their families? Foreign students studying at UK universities account for a substantial proportion of immigrant numbers – but surely this is good for our higher education sector and our national prestige? And as our economy recovers, we will need highly skilled workers in some areas – putting any cap on that would be highly damaging.
If the signatories to this declaration are really concerned about population growth both in the UK and globally then they would be better focussing their attention on the economic and social injustices that create it rather making simplistic calls for arbitrary limits on immigration.