Lens Blog

Psychological insight on current affairs


posted on 22nd May 2019 by Peter Starkings

Today’s papers – as befits the day before an election – are not short on politics. The PM ’s speech went down about as well as the last one. Well-respected Labour, Tory and cross-bench Peers (including a member of the Global Future advisory board, Lord Cooper) are in the Guardian announcing they will vote Lib Dem. ConHome has come out for, well, not the Conservatives. The spectre of Nigel Farage winning the European elections for a second time in a row is being taken as a given; like a dull Premier League season the only interesting questions for the final day are lower down the table.

So – a lot going on. You would be forgiven for missing this report that Sajid Javid is to scrap plans that recommended EU migrants must earn £30k to work in Brexit Britain. Steve Hawkes in the Sun has news of a letter from the Home Secretary to the Migration Advisory Committee asking it to reconsider the central plank of the Government’s – more specifically Theresa May’s – post-Brext immigration plan: an effective ban on low-paid immigration.

The letter is not published in full so we’ll have to make do with the below from the report:

‘He instructs the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to consider allowing firms to pay the “going rate” for foreign recruits after Brexit – and to look at regional wage limits.

He also wants them to study exemptions for a range of professions, and whether “new entrants” or inexperienced workers can be paid less.

A source said: “Saj is basically telling the MAC to go away and do their work all over again. He knows Theresa is off and he’s cashing in.”

What are we to make of this? Well, it’s definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s not quite all it seems. As always in politics, the context is everything.

To state the obvious, if May goes she won’t be in a position to implement her immigration plans – nor anything else. This is very significant in immigration policy in particular because, as was widely reported in December when the White Paper was published, the PM is believed to be just about the only person in cabinet who thinks the £30k threshold is a good idea. (As I’ve written before – it’s really not. The impact of a blunt £30k threshold on social care alone should be enough to rule it out.)

So it’s a good thing that the Home Secretary is making it clear that he is not a fan. But against the background of the looming vacancy in Number 10, it’s clear the Home Secretary is posturing. He’s signalling to business that he is their man: like them, he’s saying, he sees that the threshold won’t work.

To be clear, the Home Secretary directing the MAC away from the blunt policy favoured by May is a good thing in itself. But there is a new PM and very probably a new Home Secretary to come before Javid’s new plans – or any – see the light of day.

So Javid’s intervention is far from the end of the story. We now know that a prospective leadership candidate is not only opposed to the threshold but deems it politically useful to make those feelings known. That is most welcome. But other candidates to replace May have less encouraging track records. The ‘liberal’ group of Tories aiming to prevent a no-deal supporter becoming PM is not likely to push in the right direction on immigration: it’s coordinated by Amber Rudd, whose policies as Home Secretary were indistinguishable from May’s. And would-be leaders will try to cater to the anti-immigrant Tory membership. If the government’s damaging proposals are to be properly consigned to history, and the benefits of free movement to be preserved as far as possible, the campaign must go on.