People say it’s impossible to talk about immigration yet during our recent EU referendum there was talk of little else. It’s a reasonable conversation about immigration that’s impossible, one based on fact not myth, typified by our treatment of international students. Such students generate £18 billion a year for the British economy, according to government figures. Yet they are targeted as a way to cut immigration.
Our international student numbers are falling. Now new research from the Migration Matters Trust shows that if the trend over the past six years persists, those numbers will dwindle to near zero within a decade.
This would be catastrophic for the economy: £18 billion per year works out at £350 million per week — sounds familiar?
This money is being sacrificed to an ideology of nativism that the British people are far too sensible to hold. It ought to be possible to begin an immigration debate focusing on our national interest and grounded in reality. Plenty of serious economic research assesses the costs and benefits of migration, but it isn’t heard over the public clamour of misinformation and deliberately slanted polemic, such as claims by Migration Watch UK that 110,000 students overstayed their visas; the actual number was about 1,500.
Quiet lobbying by business and universities staved off some of the worst effects of demands for precipitate immigration cuts. People’s concerns were apparently addressed; legislation and regulation seemed reasonable. However, the gap widened between promise and outcome. The government of which I was a member promised to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands” but failed because, rightly, it prioritised jobs and economic growth.
Encouragingly, business and universities have now realised unsustainable and are starting to make the case more forcefully.
Politicians need to play our part: it’s time to be straight with the public. Each time a politician nods along with false premises, the debate is further debased. Untruths, repeated without challenge, permeate the public square setting the tone of popular discourse. Economic competence is subordinated to appeasing the ill-informed on immigration. False claims that EU migrants took a disproportionate share of all benefits were changed to “in-work” benefits when it was shown that, overwhelmingly, migrants were in work. Both claims were falsehoods.
The unsubstantiated claim that immigration reduces low-skilled wages has been allowed to take root, even though, as the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has shown, any effect on their wages is tiny: just 1p an hour, or about £20 a year for someone working full time.
Groups like the Migration Matters Trust have a central role in rebalancing this debate. Defenders of immigration have spent too long trying to placate public opinion instead of changing it. We have ceded the field to the ill-informed, intolerant and often prejudiced. That’s why I’m delighted to become its co-chair and help Britain have the immigration debate it needs.
Anna Soubry is Conservative MP for Broxtowe and co-chairs the Migration Matters Trust.
This article originally appeared on The Times Online on November 28th 2016. You can read the original article here.