The Home Office Leaks Shouldn’t Come as a Surprise - They’re In Line with Conservative Policy
Whether Home Secretary or Prime Minister, there’s at least one guarantee with Theresa May: she’s determined to scapegoat migrants. The leak of the 82-page Home Office document spelling out the country’s proposed post-Brexit immigration policy is a reminder that May wants to introduce harsher immigration laws and create an even more aggressive climate for migrants.
The list of regressive proposals, which would apply to EU migrants, makes for grim reading: attacks on family reunion rights, capping the number of so-called ‘low-skilled workers’ who can come into the country, deporting people after two years of being here, introducing an income threshold and giving preference to British workers in the job market - which sounds eerily similar to the old fascist slogan “British jobs for British workers”. If these proposals were to become policy it would amount to splitting up families and creating more precarious work visas – essentially making a workforce that’s easier to exploit.
But it’s not surprising; it’s in line with Tory policy. While it was light on the detail of most other policy areas, the Conservative manifesto was full of anti-migrant proposals. During the EU referendum, Leave campaigners like international development minister Priti Patel promised it would be easier for non-EU citizens to come into the country, but instead the manifesto declared the Tories would ‘bear down on immigration from outside the European Union’ and ‘increase the earnings threshold’, which was already set at £18,600.
In fact, the contents of the leaked document mirror the reality non-EU migrants have been living for some time now. If implemented, the latest proposals would drag EU migrants into the ‘hostile environment’ May has created for migrants from outside the EU since 2013: landlords and teachers have been turned into everyday border guards, people have been pressured to leave the country and others have been discouraged from coming here. Outrage at the plans for EU migrants must extend to fury at the current system for non-EU migrants; the 15,000 children (or “Skype kids”) growing up without one of their parents in the country, the thousands of people separated from their partners simply because they don’t earn enough money and the people at risk of being deported because they earn less than £35,000 a year.
In the days following the leak, a chorus of voices have pointed out the potentially catastrophic economic repercussions of such an immigration policy. Yet we should also be concerned with the human cost – peoples’ worth, security and right to be in the UK shouldn’t be entirely predicated on their economic contribution. Despite the commonly repeated misconception, all the evidence (including the nine reports suppressed by May) shows immigration doesn’t cause low wages, but solely pointing this out or shaping immigration policies around economic concerns of business needs results in dehumanising migrants. It clears the way for May to claim repeatedly that migration is bad for jobs, and for people to believe that, even if the evidence shows otherwise, or, in the words of the report, for human beings very worth to be dependent on whether they “make existing [UK] residents better off.”
The leaked report and the xenophobic nature of the UK’s migration system for non-EU migrants is the outcome of a deeply ingrained political and media orthodoxy that says immigration is a problem. This is not a time for the left to stay silent; Brexit provides a moment to begin shaping an alternative. It’s a prime moment to boldly advocate for levelling up rights for all migrants and rhetorically shift the ground away from the xenophobia within which the immigration debate has been lodged in for decades. The Labour party has an opportunity to begin unpicking the immigration myths used to legitimise these proposals and oppose the government’s potentially vicious Brexit plans.