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A frank debate is needed on legal migration

Heathrow immigration
Heathrow immigration

With the Conservative Party consumed by the row over the Rwanda Bill, Robert Jenrick, the former immigration minister, has sought to put the debate into a wider context. In an article for The Telegraph, he writes that it is time for the country to pay heed to the most critical national interest: securing our borders. But this does not just mean stopping illegal migrants from crossing the Channel on a practically daily basis. The country must also limit the much larger numbers entering legally.

Mr Jenrick is not a politician associated with the Right of the Conservative Party. It is a testament to the seriousness of the problem confronting Britain that more political moderates have recognised the need for the country to take more drastic action on legal entries. Integration is probably impossible when migration is running at this scale, and in recent weeks everyone has seen the implications of the evident failure to integrate those who are already here. The pro-Palestinian marches in recent months have been shameful – with the open chanting of anti-Semitic slogans and disregard for the commemoration of Britain’s war dead.

Addressing the consequences of mass migration for public services, infrastructure and housing is just as pressing. It is highly debatable whether current immigration policy is economically beneficial given the number of visas that have been awarded to migrants’ dependants. Importing cheap labour to fill vacancies also disincentivises employers from boosting the skills of British workers. Universities appear more interested in educating international students than young people from the UK.

Across Europe, centre-Right politicians are grappling with similar problems. Voters are growing frustrated at politicians promising to reduce numbers, and then failing to do so. In some countries, traditional conservative parties are losing electoral ground to more radical forces on the Right.

To his credit Rishi Sunak appears to have recognised this. The steps announced by the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, this week on curbing legal migration are a move in the right direction. But they are also unlikely to bring immigration down to the level the public desires.

For that to happen, politicians will need to have a more frank conversation with the voters about what cutting immigration may imply. Overhauling the welfare state, to encourage more people currently on benefits back into work, is surely unavoidable. Reform of sectors such as social care and the NHS may well be necessary, to reduce dependence on foreign care workers and medical staff.

But it is essential that this conversation takes place. The pro-immigration consensus that has governed British politics for decades can continue no longer.

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