Commentary on global affairs and where they may be headed

Posts tagged ‘immigration’

An outward looking country – really?

As the government tries to work out what its approach to Brexit will be – and so far its mantra that it won’t give a running commentary seems to be designed as much to hide the lack of substance to its plans as it is to disguise its negotiating strategy – it’s insisting the UK will remain an outward-looking country.

This seems partly designed to counter the impression that may have been given by the vote to leave the EU that the English – and it is primarily the English – are turning their backs to the world.

It also seems designed to reassure investors and businesses and shore up confidence in the economy hit by a 15% devaluation in the pound since the referendum.

That fall may make exports cheaper, but it’s widely predicted to lead to an increase in inflation in an economy that imports more than it exports.

Despite all this, the message about an outward-looking country doesn’t seem to be hitting home.

It’s being drowned out in the inchoate debate – if that is not too strong a word – on what Britain’s post-Brexit place in the world should be.

That’s because there’s another message coming from the upper echelons of the government.

This came through loud and clear in the Prime Minister’s speeches and comments during the Conservative party conference last week.

It was added to by Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s promise to cut immigration and pressure business and universities to reduce the numbers of foreign employees and students, as well as Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s pledge to cut the numbers of non-British doctors in the NHS.

They all seemed to be saying the same thing: foreigners are no longer welcome in the UK.

And the message doesn’t seem to be getting through just to prospective immigrants who maybe considering a move to the UK.

People who’ve come to Britain from other EU countries in good faith over the past 43 years are also feeling uneasy now they’re openly being used as a potential Brexit bargaining chip.

International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, was caught on mic advocating this last week.

And Theresa May repeated it – in more veiled terms – at her meeting with her Danish counterpart in Copenhagen on Monday when she said: “I expect to be able to guarantee the legal rights of EU nationals already in the UK, so long as the British nationals living in Europe – countries who are member states – receive the same treatment” (my emphasis).

With all this, it’s tempting to treat the outward-looking country rhetoric as just that – rhetoric

And judging from social media many foreign residents in the UK have taken from all this that they aren’t really welcome any more.

Of course, May, Rudd and Hunt were all in the Remain camp – with varying degrees of enthusiasm – before the referendum, so you can understand if, politically, they feel they need to convince the Tory grassroots and the 52% of voters who backed Leave that they are the people to deliver Brexit.

And paradoxically, it is leading Brexiteers, like Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, and International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, who have talked most about the country’s future being an outward-looking one.

But, the rest of the world could be forgiven for missing this when the message from the very top of government is dominated by an expressed intention to keep foreigners out of workplaces, universities and hospitals.

In the face of protests from business, the government has partly rolled back on its proposal that firms report on the numbers of foreigners they employ – they now say firms will have to report them, but the numbers won’t be made public.

If Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues want to dispel the impression they’ve given that post-Brexit Britain is far from being an outward-looking country, they’re going to have to work a bit harder.

They could start by unequivocally guaranteeing that all the people who’ve already come to the UK from other EU countries to live and work are very welcome and there’s no question they could be forced to leave if London doesn’t get what it wants in the upcoming talks.

They also need to bear in mind that 48% of voters opted to remain in the EU on June 23rd and part of why they did so was because they do want to live in an outward-looking country.

 

 

A foreign free election – or is it?

You don’t win many votes for foreign policy.

In keeping with this thought the main parties had largely avoided talking about it so far in the campaign and been criticised as a result – until Ed Miliband’s speech at Chatham House yesterday.

But then he was taking advantage of another political adage.

You can lose votes for foreign policy.

Following the hundreds of deaths of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy, the Labour leader clearly decided it was a good moment to attack David Cameron for the ill-thought out intervention in the north African state that helped overthrow Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 and then the subsequent failure to support efforts to prevent the country collapsing into the state of anarchy the people smugglers and migrants are taking advantage of now.

As Mr Miliband tacitly acknowledged in his speech, Labour knows how foreign policy can lose you votes when he referred to learning the lessons from the 2003 Iraq invasion more than once.

He knows many of the votes his party lost to the Liberal Democrats in 2005 and 2010 were because of Iraq.

To be fair to him, Ed Miliband did more than take a pop at David Cameron’s record.

He made a reasonable fist of his speech – he pointed out the world is not a stable place at the moment and there are a variety of problems that the world’s fifth largest economy with – despite spending cuts – some of its more capable diplomatic and military services should be doing more to help tackle.

His analysis of the complex challenges facing the world ticked most of the right boxes – and he is to be praised for emphasising the threat posed by climate change and the opportunity to do something about it at the next UN climate summit in Paris in December.

But if he does replace Mr Cameron in No 10, will he follow through on his promises?

Would a Labour government re-engage with Britain’s EU partners to make the reforms many agree are needed in the revive the Union?

Would a Prime Minister Miliband increase defence spending to meet the 2% of GDP the country committed to at the last NATO summit? He hinted strongly yesterday that his party would spend more on defence without actually saying he would.

Miliband defended his opposition to military intervention against Syria which led to the government’s defeat in parliament – a vote many commentators – reading too much into it – saw as a symptom of Britain’s increasing isolationism.

He says military action is sometimes necessary, but should be a last resort and be undertaken in alliance with others, including regional powers.

But whether the voters agree is another matter.

It is notable that when the last British troops left Afghanistan after a 13 year mission last October it was a headline for a few hours and there was very little fanfare.

Neither of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were very successful in their own terms and many British people don’t seem to think the casualties suffered were worth what was achieved.

While it is true that foreign policy is not something that attracts mass interest and is often the reserve of the few, the appeal of a party like UKIP seems to derive partly from a weariness with – and wariness of – international involvement.

And also to say foreign policy has been largely absent from the campaign is only true if you define it narrowly.

Several foreign policy issues are playing a prominent part.

After all, UKIP’s raison d’etre is getting out of the EU – a more significant foreign policy move for the UK is difficult to imagine – and the Conservatives are promising an in-out referendum on membership if they win.

Immigration is a concern to many voters – all the parties talk about the need to control it – whether they are basically for or against it. And though immigration is usually categorised as domestic policy area, it cannot be seen in isolation from foreign policy.

One of the reasons migration to and from Britain is quite high is that recent governments – both the last Labour administration and the current coalition – have said they want Britain to be a global hub – not just for business, but for education, culture and diplomacy too.

Another issue that has come up in the campaign and featured in the TV debates is overseas aid – a fundamental plank of foreign policy.

UKIP are calling for the aid budget to be cut and the money spent at home, but this is an area where David Cameron is not guilty of Ed Miliband’s charge of being small-minded and inward-looking as his government protected foreign aid from cuts and he is committed to the 0.7% of GDP spending target if he is returned to power.

So foreign policy is part of the warp and weft of the campaign, but what was largely lacking until yesterday’s speech was an attempt to join up the dots and spell out a role for Britain in the world.

Will David Cameron take up the challenge to give voters the Conservatives’ overall vision for foreign policy?

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