The Murdoch Sun, rapidly becoming a competitor for the Express titles for the new name The Daily Brexit, has today given over a column to self-promoting Tory MP Priti Patel to expound her views on migration, which she wants to reduce significantly. She does not make an auspicious start, talking of “Hard-working British families”. This is one of the signatories to a book that called British workers “among the worst idlers in the world”.
So hypocrisy is not a problem to her. But what’s her schtick? “If we are to continue to benefit from migration then the public must be reassured that we have control over who comes here - that we are able to decide who can live and work here … As a member of the European Union, we have lost that control - and the British people have had enough. It’s time for a change”. Spoken to all of them, have we? Thought not.
What does she propose? “If Britain votes to leave the EU, we propose the introduction of an Australian-style points based immigration system - to be in place by the next general election … The automatic right of all EU citizens to come to live, work and claim many benefits in the UK would end. We would choose who we allow into the country on the basis of their skills - without discrimination on the ground of nationality”.
There is no “automatic right” to claim benefits. But let’s take her proposal and see how it stacks up. Remember, the Outers like to bang on about migration levels being too high, so this idea should mean lowering net migration. So let’s look at how Britain and Australia compare. The 2011 Census shows our population at 60.8 million versus that of Australia at 21.5 million, just over a third of our figure. Both have increased since then.
Net migration into the UK is currently running at around 330,000. It has averaged well over 200,000 for most of the past decade. By comparison, the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows net migration into that country in 2014-5 as 168,000 (a decrease of 9.8% over 2013-4). Sun readers and Brexiteers may already be congratulating themselves over this demonstration of their superior migration strategy.
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, we should not lose sight of the comparative overall populations of the two countries. Australia has just over a third of the population of the UK. If the Australian net migration figure were to be scaled up to match the overall population, the figure would be approximately HALF A MILLION. That’s half as much AGAIN as we have right now. So nothing to congratulate there.
And that is without all those Brits retired abroad who may be forced back to the UK if their access to free healthcare in countries like Spain comes to an end. But then, Priti Patel isn’t interested in them. Nor is Rupert Murdoch, who hates the EU with a passion because the folks in Brussels won’t allow him to bend them to his will, the way he can in the UK.
The idea of importing an immigration control régime from another country might look fine in the pages of the Sun. But it’s unlikely to be a magic bullet.