UK Conservative Party’s migration comments prompt anger

Conservative government’s clampdown on immigration provokes anger from opponents and business leaders.

British pm
At least 3.2 million EU nationals live in the UK [Rui Vieira/AP]

Comments made by senior British ministers proposing stricter immigration rules have provoked an angry backlash from government opponents and business leaders alike. 

In a series of interviews and speeches at the ruling-Conservative Party conference on Tuesday several ministers, including Prime Minister Theresa May, outlined post-Brexit reforms that prioritised limitations on the number of people entering the country. 

Speaking to the BBC, May seemed to suggest that foreign doctors may have to leave the country after enough British doctors had been trained. 

“There will be staff here from overseas in that interim period – until the further number of British doctors are able to be trained and come on board in terms of being able to work in our hospitals,” the British prime minister said. 

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The British Home Secretary Amber Rudd further outlined new laws to force companies to reveal the proportion of foreign staff they were employing and to make it harder for companies to justify employing foreign workers. 

Her cabinet colleague International Development Secretary Liam Fox condemned immigrants who “consume the wealth of the country without ever having created anything”.

Both Rudd and Fox praised the positive contributions immigration had brought to the UK but said they wanted to distinguish between that which benefited the country and that which did not.

Overstepping Brexit remit

Concern over the number of immigrants entering Britain was one of the biggest factors influencing the outcome of Britain’s referendum on European Union membership in June. 

Many opponents of the government and a significant number of Brexit supporters were hoping for a soft exit from the EU, one that kept access to the European single market with negotiated reform of freedom of movement agreements with the bloc. 

Instead, May’s government appears to opting for a hard-Brexit, favouring restrictions on immigration over full access to the common market. 

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Seamus Nevin, of the Institute of Directors, Britain’s largest organisation of business leaders, told Al Jazeera that while many people had voted for a Brexit based on immigration, they did not draw the connection to policies that would hinder economic progress. 

“Businesses know that the EU referendum result means change to free movement of workers from the EU, but people were not voting to make the economy weaker,” Nevin said. 

“The evidence is clear that migrants are a benefit to the economy. The UK has a record level of employment, so immigration is not hurting jobs.

“It’s a great disappointment that this government continues to risk presenting an image of the UK as not being open, right at the moment when more than ever we need to trade and engage with the world.”

Kirsty Rigden, the development director at video game studio FuturLab, told Al Jazeera it was “imperative” businesses had access to outside labour markets. 

“We require highly skilled programmers, artists, designers and producers. The demand for these skills is greater than the current talent pool. With continued cuts to education budgets and increases in university fees, the skills gap is only going to widen,” Rigden said. 

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“Creating a video game is also a creative endeavour which requires a diverse workforce. In order to produce a commercial and artistic success it is so important to have different influences, which includes influences from outside the UK. 

“None of the team, regardless of birthplace, is impressed with the government’s current rhetoric. Our [non-British] employee says he feels harassed and unfairly singled out by the government. He excels in his field, pays his taxes and positively contributes to society, so why does it matter where he is from?”

Widespread anger 

Political opponents of the Conservative Party have condemned the comments made by May and her colleagues. 

In a joint statement, the leaders of the Scottish National Party, Green Party, and the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru condemned the “divisive rhetoric”. 

“The narrow vote in favour of leaving the EU has now be interpreted as the pretext for a drastic cutting of ties with Europe, which would have dire economic results – and as an excuse for the most toxic rhetoric on immigration from any government in living memory,” the statement read. 

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The opposition leader, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, said the Conservative government was “turning people against each other”. 

“Conservative Party leaders have sunk to a new low this week as they fan the flames of xenophobia and hatred in our communities and try to blame foreigners for their own failures,” Corbyn said in a statement on his Twitter account. 

At least 3.2 million EU nationals live in the UK and more than 1.2 million British people live in other member states. 

The future status of these migrants will be the subject of negotiations when the UK formally submits its notice – known as article 50 – to leave the bloc in March 2017. 

Negotiations are expected to last at least two years and must be ratified by each of the EU’s 27 remaining members.

Source: Al Jazeera