Richard Short is the National Coordinator of the Conservative Trade Unionists, Chairman of Wigan Borough Conservatives and was a Parliamentary Candidate for Warrington North in 2015. His remarks on Brexit have raised a very viable argument in the unravelling of the negotiations of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
According to Mr Short immigration was the central concern to many of the voters in the EU referendum. But was the vote really about stopping immigration altogether, which is almost impossible, or reducing and effectively controlling it in the best interest of British citizens? A misrepresentation, which is showing little sign of abating, is that Brexit means stopping immigration altogether. Scaremongering and fabricated and distorted stories about NHS funding, nursing staff shortages and disastrous consequences for the agriculture and fishery industries, among many others, have been doggedly pursued on the Remain side during the Referendum campaign in the vain hope that if they scared people hard enough Brexit would not happen.
Many post-exit models have been examined and hotly debated as the right path for the UK - the Australian points based system, the Norwegian model of integration, Switzerland’s special status, or even a unique combination of all. Mr Short is adamant in his conviction that in securing a positive Brexit deal successive policy-makers should look closer to home for useful clues. At the heart of a winning approach is prioritising the electorate and their needs, concerns and aspirations, first and foremost, in all policy choices, rather than those of external stakeholders. An established successful precedent has been set in the middle of the Irish Sea, where the Manx government has been quietly getting on with a simple, effective and flexible system of Manx citizens as a priority and key decisions taken in the interest of the domestic economy.
The Isle of Man is a low tax economy that is a very attractive place to live and work. But this has not always been the case. Back in 2009 the island was gripped by a harsh economic crisis. The Department of Trade and Industry put into place a controversial, but popular policy of refusing work permits to overseas workers in five low skilled sectors where there was a clear availability of suitable Manx workers. The results were decisive - unemployment came down to an envious 2.2 per cent. The success of the scheme was also partly due to its flexibility and room for manouvre - such as exemption of some sectors like hospitality, identified as very reliant on foreign labour. As more time has passed the real successes of this policy have been showcased. The Manx economy has been boosted and its government seems to get what needs to be done - always placing the Island’s residents at the centre of its immigration policy.
But is there really such an easy fix – governments having the choice to act solely in the interests of citizens. More often than not policy-makers are constrained by competing ever more complex demands and conflicting impositions of both internal and external stakeholders. Surely transporting one model to a completely different country is not straight forward, and many sectors in the UK will be more adversely affected by a limitation of overseas labour. The point of Mr Short is more general. The Manx system may not be suitable for the hospitality sector in Britain, but its motivation should be valid for its domestic situation. Politicians need to make tough choices every day. It is just a matter of making the right choices by the fitting target public. Making sensible post-Brexit changes to our immigration path, or drawing up a completely new policy, should address domestic concerns and needs first and foremost. That is what holds the key to prosperity post-Brexit – an adequate and manageable immigration, not NO immigration. Whether our elected government representatives will have our best interest at heart, and will act to defend those interests, is a whole other matter that seems rather hazy.