This week we learned two things which are a result of Brexit. Well, I say “learned”. Both of them were entirely predictable. The first is that the British government has decided to adopt draconian immigration laws which will effectively prevent low skilled workers or people who don’t possess fluency in English from coming to the UK, and so putting at risk many economic sectors which have relied upon labour from EU countries. The second is that the EU isn’t going to do the UK any favours as it negotiates a final trade deal with Brexit Britain. Greece has signalled that it could veto any trade deal with the UK unless illegally acquired cultural artifacts are returned to Greece meaning that it could refuse to consent to any deal unless the Elgin Marbles are returned to Athens. Spain has stated that it could veto a deal unless the question of Spanish claims to sovereignty over Gibraltar are addressed. And it’s only been a couple of weeks. The UK is about to discover how weak it is when faced with a bloc of 27 countries.
The new immigration policies which the UK plans to adopt will quite likely be mirrored by the EU. No longer will UK citizens be able to move to the EU to live and work. In 1998, that’s what I did. My late husband Andy and I decided to move to Spain. I didn’t speak much Spanish at the time and had no job offer. I learned the language after moving there and eventually became self-employed. That option is no longer possible for EU citizens who wish to move to the UK, and will be closed down for UK citizens who wish to move to the EU.
The new immigration rules are due to come into effect next year. Freedom of movement from the EU is replaced with a points based system which will effectively block low skilled migration to the UK, the very type of migration upon which important economic sectors rely – such as social care, agricultural workers, staff in the hospitality industry. The new visa will cost £1200. Self employed workers will no longer be able to come to the UK, as migrants will now need a firm job offer first. To be eligible to come and work in the UK, a potential migrant will have to attain 70 points. In order to do so they will need a job offer which gives 20 points. The job must be a skilled one, giving another 20 points. They must prove their ability to speak English, 10 points. And in addition they will in the majority of cases have to show that their new job will provide a salary of £25,600 or above, giving another 20 points and taking them to the magic figure of 70. Many jobs in social care, agricultural labour, and the hospitality industry do not pay a sufficiently high wage, and there are insufficient British citizens who are willing to take those jobs.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel has said that there are over 8 million “economically inactive” people in the UK, and those people should take the jobs that migrants will no longer be able to. However those people are almost entirely made up of full time students, unpaid carers, retired people, the chronically ill, and the disabled. Imagining that they can make up the labour shortfall is as much a fantasy as Boris Johnson’s plans for a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland.
It has also come to light that the British Government hasn’t kept the devolved goverments informed about its change to immigration policy. The changes will have a direct impact upon important sectors of the Scottish economy, yet the Scottish Government isn’t being officially told by Westminster what it has in mind. The Scottish Migration Minister Ben McPherson told BBC Newsnight last night that the Scottish Government had to rely upon journalists to send it a copy of the British Government’s new plans. There was little in the way of concern from Newsnight’s presenter Emily Maitliss, “Come on, you’re a part of Britain”, she metrosplained as though that was a justification for Boris Johnson treating the devolved governments with contempt.
Immigration policy is reserved to Westminster, however the Scottish Government has made repeated calls for devolution of aspects of immigration policy to Scotland in order to mitigate some of the effects of Brexit. Scotland depends upon inward migration in order to maintain its population, and certain economic sectors which are particularly important in Scotland rely heavily upon EU workers. Tourism is hugely important to the Scottish economy. One in 12 of all jobs in the country are in the tourism sector, and one fifth of those are filled by workers from outwith the UK. The chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Marc Crothall, described the changes to immigration policy as “the biggest threat to Scotland’s tourism industry”. Meanwhile in the social care sector, which is also heavily reliant upon labour from outwith the UK, the average annual salary is £17,000. The sector is already struggling to find sufficient staff.
Senior figures within the British Government, such as Michael Gove, have said in the past that they are open to discussions about devolving aspects of immigration policy to Scotland. These overtures have of course come to naught, leading to increasing frustration in Scotland that the British Government is not taking Scotland’s needs and concerns into account. Today there are renewed calls for a “Scottish visa” which would allow workers to come to Scotland. These calls will be rejected by the British Government. It is highly unlikely that the British Government will pay any more heed to those calls than it has done in the past. In 2018, the then Immigration Minister Caroline Noakes said, “Immigration is a reserved matter. We are not going to grant an ability to the Scottish government that I might not also be granting to Lincolnshire county council.” There’s no sign that this British Government arrogance and intransigence has softened any. As far as Westminster is concerned, the Scottish Parliament is merely a glorified county council.
You might think, given this history, that it would simply be good practice for the British Government to ensure that the Scottish Government didn’t have yet another immigration related issue to complain about and to keep it officially informed about its plans to change immigration policies, even if it’s still not disposed to allow Scotland any input into what those changes might be. If the Scottish Government is not officially informed what changes are coming down the line from Westminster, it cannot alter its own plans on those devolved policy areas which suffer an impact and cannot act in coordination with Westminster to ensure that the new Westminster policies are introduced smoothly and seamlessly in devolved areas.
The Scottish Government has said that it is “disappointed” that the British Government hasn’t kept it informed. That’s not nearly strong enough. I’m “disappointed” when a train runs a few minutes late. But if the train operator decided to completely revise the service without informing anyone, making it impossible for me to get to work but it still insisted that it wouldn’t refund my season ticket, I’d be absolutely livid. So it’s time for less disappointment and more anger and outrage. It’s time for the Scottish Government to start playing hard ball.
If the British Government won’t keep Holyrood officially informed, as per established protocol, then the Scottish Government should simply refuse to recognise or implement Westminster’s changes. If a change in policy is not officially communicated, then a change in policy cannot officially exist. Boris Johnson isn’t going to start playing nice because he’s asked nicely or because the Scottish Government tells him it’s disappointed, he needs to understand that there will be a political consequence to his arrogance. Contempt can only be met with contempt. Anger needs no visa.
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