This report reveals the true extent of the UK government’s control over immigration and makes the case for greater political honesty about that control.
The impression given to the UK public has been of an immigration system that is out of control. Successive UK governments have failed to build confidence that their immigration policies properly serve the interests of the UK public. Legal constraints on the UK Government’s scope for action are largely blamed. But the Government can — and does — exercise far greater control over immigration than is commonly perceived. All the evidence actually points to the fact that overall the UK exercises extremely effective control over immigration.
What might the impact be if this were made clearer to the public? Some of the public may be pleasantly surprised. Some may be unpleasantly surprised. But the central point is that most would be surprised, and all would be better informed. Greater transparency could significantly address the feelings of distrust and suspicion and perhaps start to address the concern that the Government is not doing enough to control immigration.
Promises to “take back control” would at last be subjected to meaningful scrutiny. Policymakers might be able to consider whether the best response to public opinion on immigration is to change policy or simply to better communicate existing policy. Being more transparent about the true extent and nature of the UK’s control of immigration would not only allow a more informed and balanced debate, but being more transparent about the often stark realities of the means of that control, but also the practical limits to it, would potentially create a real space to debate the actual, lived experience of immigration control.
Only when we have more open and honest acknowledgement of the extent of the Government’s control over immigration will we truly be able to have a fully informed and honest debate about the immigration policy that we want outside the EU. Honesty about the reality of immigration rules – the extent of legal controls but also the limits — is also vital to prepare the public for the difficult facts of immigration life which almost certainly lie ahead for Brexit Britain, so that the country does not repeat its recent experience of allowing public anxiety and anger over misperceived immigration policies to build up, unchecked, to the point of political rupture.