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After Brexit, immigration key factor in UK polls

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Nov 23, 2019, 2:28 am IST
Updated : Nov 23, 2019, 2:28 am IST

The British, or 51 per cent of them, don’t like this and voted to leave the European Union to a great measure because of this principle.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: AP)
 Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: AP)

“I think, therefore I am
But I am, therefore I think.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Skunks think humans stink

Money is the root of all evil
Isn’t evil the root of all money?
We skeptics say there’s no God
God probably thinks that’s funny…”
From The Hazards of Balan Singh by Bachchoo

When were passports invented? Did the East India Company’s traders require them when they landed in India? Did the Native Americans ask the Pilgrim Fathers for them when they landed in their Old World? Or did Marco Polo travel to China with documents?

It’s obvious that at some point in history the nation-states of the world sought to control, survey, or restrict people crossing borders into their countries. Passports were born and just as nearly everyone today has a number which, in the communicative dimension, defines them, travelers are obliged to possess passports or be deemed hapless and even stateless.

Apart from tourists, those who cross borders to work are deemed to be, as the Germans used to call them “Gast Arbeiters” or as is now universal, “immigrants”.

Some economies would not be economies at all without them. Who builds the roads and skyscrapers of Saudi Arabia? Who runs its hospitals, drives its taxis and does most of the work that requires sweat, blood and tears? South Asians, Filipinos, Indonesians — guest workers who intend to save their wages and return “home”.

Not so in the “New World”. Donald Trump wants to build a wall separating the USA from Mexico in order to keep Mexicans, who don’t want to disclose their passports at a legitimate border crossing, out. He knows that most workers who enter the US don’t go back. They settle. Apart from the Native Americans, the US population is made up of immigrants from all round the world who forcibly and voluntarily arrived at its shores and are free under the unity of the states to travel between them. It’s one country, dude!

The more recent uniting of states into the European Union specifies as one of its ideals and four principles, the mobility of labour. Citizens carrying the passports of any country which is a member of the European Union can cross the border of any other country of the EU without let or hindrance and can live there as long as they want and share the rights of the native citizens of that country.

The British, or 51 per cent of them, don’t like this and voted to leave the European Union to a great measure because of this principle. Of course, the very narrow decision in 2016 of Britain to leave the EU had other persuasions. Some said they voted to leave because they didn’t want French and Spanish boats fishing in Scotland’s waters. The cunning members of the Tory Party said they wanted to “take back control from the bureaucrats of Brussels” pretending for public consumption and votes, in a travesty of truth, that they had ceded all power to make laws from Westminster. The appeal of the slogan was in control of the borders.

Thus, the metaphoric elephant in the room of the forthcoming British election on December 12 is the issue of what the parties say they will do about immigration. Throughout the last decades a case has been, and is still being made for the usefulness of immigration to the economy of this country. A majority of workers in several sectors of the National Health Service, which means free and comprehensive medical treatment at the point of need for every citizen, are British citizens of immigrant stock or are recent immigrants from the EU. This includes thousands of doctors, surgeons, nurses and hospital staff.

There are other sectors of the economy such as hospitality — pubs, cafes, restaurants, hotels and catering which are heavily dependent on immigrant labour from the EU. The harvesting of British fruit is absolutely dependent on immigrant labour from the EU, with thousands of apple and pear orchards rotting because of the uncertainty of their welcome here. The plumbers, building workers and electricians of British cities are today mostly EU immigrants. These and other sectors, including scientific and research establishments, hire workers who migrate, earn their money, pay their taxes and contribute much more to the economy than they take from it.

The voters of Britain have been made aware of the fact. The party manifestoes being published this week have to take account of both — the xenophobia of a considerable section of voters and the perceptible and indispensable value of immigration.

Boris Johnson’s Tory manifesto plays to the first section by promising to “Get Brexit Done!” a slogan which implies that the open-door requirement of EU membership will end. Playing to the opposing perception, the Tory home secretary, Priti Patel, says they will implement an Australian-style immigration policy which will only allow immigrants into the country if they have a contracted job.

The Labour Party maintains its ambivalent stance. It says it wants to negotiate a new deal Brexit which will ensure no loss of investment and employment and while not committing to the free movement of EU labour, they pledge to stop immigrants undercutting the wages of British workers by getting employers to pay a newly-set hourly minimum.

The question of immigration in a world where capital crosses borders easily and labour does not, is entering the politics of very many countries in the world. Those nations with porous borders through which immigrants pass to work and contribute positively to the economy, at whatever level, have to formulate rational and humane policies.

The one decent and reasonable policy that Boris Johnson has in the past suggested, is an amnesty and legalisation for immigrant labour which has illegally entered the country. If this resolve reaches the manifesto, it’s a brave move and can even be an example to other nations with workers who lack documents to legitimise their hard-working, even necessary, presence.

Tags: brexit, boris johnson