My Lords, I draw attention to my receipt of agricultural subsidies from the EU. It seems that taking back control of our borders and migration swung the Brexit vote. The Prime Minister said that net migration had to fall below 100,000; overseas students would be unwelcome and a hostile environment towards workers from the EU and the rest of the world would be created.
Now, we learn that to fill the inevitable future labour gap, low-skilled EU citizens under 30 years of age might be offered two-year work visas. That is far too little, far too late. However, we do not know that for sure. The immigration White Paper has been delayed until after the Commons vote due to disputes between No. 10 and the Home Office. This situation is stupid. It just emphasises that the Commons is being asked to vote on one of the most important decisions in our lifetime in a knowledge vacuum where the political declaration is vague and our future relationship depends on ongoing negotiations.
The Government say that they want to replace EU labour with home-grown staff trained up by industry. So what have they done? They certainly have not invested in further education; there was nothing for that in the previous Budget. Further education spending has been cut extensively since 2010 and a divide has grown between those going to university on their £9,000-a-year fees and those who do not get the right A-levels and do not go. Second chances for the latter category are diminishing. The percentage of people enrolling for and qualifying in further education has dropped dramatically. The Government are not investing sufficiently in skills training; they are just freezing the funding for technical colleges, causing many of them to close. I think that the Government want Brexit to force companies to train and further educate the people that they want to replace the EU staff working here today, but that is not working properly.
Together with the funding issues, that means that we will not be able to fill positions with UK nationals and that companies will not be able to recruit readily. That will have an impact on the economy and drive down prosperity. Realistically, we will need skilled immigration at all levels for many years to come. Priority might be given to skilled immigrants earning more than £30,000 a year. This is to ignore the demands of sectors that employ lower-paid staff; I should emphasise that this does not equate to low-skilled staff. We only have to think of NHS nurses, agricultural workers, vets, hospitality cooks and servers—people from all walks of life doing the jobs that the British do not want to do and have not been trained to do. These people will probably not earn £30,000, so this is another policy that needs rethinking if many sectors are not to suffer a lack of staff in the future.
Why did the Prime Minister set out her red lines so early, before she had negotiated anything, while abusively attacking foreign-born “citizens of nowhere”? What was wrong with programmes such as Erasmus, where young people could broaden their outlook by living, studying and working abroad, learning languages and tolerance of other cultures and customs? Instead, we have schoolchildren, no doubt inspired by the attitudes of their elders, bullying and attacking foreign schoolmates. This is surely the logical conclusion of a Brexit deal dominated by phobia of foreigners. Throughout history, we have been warned. Leviticus preached:
“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself”.
Primo Levi, writing powerfully after Auschwitz, said that,
“so long as the conception”— that is, the fear of the outsider—
“subsists, the conclusion remains to threaten us”,
the conclusion being the concentration camp. That was humanity at its most extreme and not Brexit, but it demonstrates that encouraging the fear of the foreigner can set in motion thinking that defies reason and can have terrifying consequences.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, pointed out to us yesterday, Mrs May as Home Secretary had control of both non-EU and EU immigration under Article 7 of the citizens’ rights directive, but she did not act. More sensibly, the present Home Secretary acknowledges that our country is a lot stronger for the inflow of EU talent and that migrants create more wealth than they cost.
The EU Committee report published yesterday states that 1 million-plus UK citizens living in other EU states, including my daughter, have not yet secured any legal rights. The withdrawal agreement is silent on the right of onward free movement between member states as well as on the charging regime and the lifelong right of return. Those will have to be negotiated in the future. How appalling is this? It is made worse by the threat of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa having no agreed protections in the event of a no-deal Brexit. They are all truly vulnerable. We see that immigration control is more important than prosperity and that one woman’s view is the only one allowed in town.
We plan to leave our privileged, rebated place in the fellowship of the EU, with all its faults, for something beyond our control with unknown terms and conditions and disliked by all shades of opinion. If the Commons vote fails, I join those advocating that Parliament should choose either an EEA-type Brexit, where people can continue to move around Europe, or, better still, a people’s vote held in the fuller knowledge of the cost of their decision.