Tag Archives: immigration

What We Were Told, And What Is The Truth

We were told that leaving Europe would mean £350 million extra a week for the NHS. We now know that this won’t happen.

We were told that 100,000 overseas students outstayed their visas. We now know this wasn’t true.

We were told that non-UK EU residents needed to run our agriculture and public services would stay. Tens of thousands are leaving.

We were told that London’s place as a world financial centre was secure. Now we know tens of thousands of jobs will move to Frankfurt.

We were told that cut loose from Brussels, our economy would flourish. It is already stagnating.

We were told families would not be split up. Now people are being told to go, then told it was a mistake.

We were told that anyone asking for the “divorce payment” of £60-£100 billion to leave the EU could “go whistle”. Now we are told we will have to pay up.

We’ve been misled. We’ve been fooled. We’ve been conned. We have been lied to. I’m sick of it.

We shouldn’t be spending up to £100 billion to leave the EU, meaning jobs are lost, industry suffers, skilled staff disappear, families are broken up.

If there is £60 to £100 billion available in the Treasury for that, I want it spent instead on proper funding for local council services, replacing the £100 million a year my council will have lost by the end of the decade.

I want it spent on a proper system of social care for our ageing population, on not just adequate but world-class mental health care. I want that £350 million extra a week for the NHS.

I want money spent on decent and affordable new homes so that people have somewhere to live and businesses can get the staff they need, where they need them.

I want investment in our universities, to promote research and development into the medical, biomedical and technological steps forward that contribute to science and learning, innovation and healthcare, local and national economic wellbeing.

I want the machinery of government focused on making this country a better place to live and do business, not on disentangling 40 years of international co-operation.

We are going ahead with an extraordinary act of national self-harm, costing us tens of billions in the short term, hundreds of billions in the long term. It will put our social and economic future at grave risk. We are not “taking back control”, we’re taking our hands off the wheel and closing our eyes to what’s ahead. It is the most important and urgent issue of our time.

We should at the very least have a second referendum based on the facts, and on the deal struck with the EU, if one is at all.

Better still, our leaders should admit we were misled, and abandon Brexit before further irreparable damage to Britain is done.

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Europe: It isn’t too late to think again

21505_EU-flag-missing-starIt is becoming abundantly clear in my view that leaving the European Union will be a disaster for Britain, and bad for Brighton and Hove.

As a city, we voted overwhelmingly to remain. That view now seems to be shared by many other cities and regions who voted to leave. I choose to represent the majority of voters in Brighton and Hove who voted to remain. I absolutely respect the views of those who believe otherwise and who will reject the arguments I set out here.

Opinion has been moving against “Leave” for months. A poll of nearly 5000 voters in August found overwhelming support for Britain staying in the EU, reflecting a growing belief that we we misled and that there is no plan on how to make it happen.

There is a strong argument that we should not ignore the democratically expressed will of the people. However I believe that the reasons for the outcome were based for many on misleading information, and many would now not make the same choice in the polling station.

The idea that Brexit would reverse immigration was never realistic and controls on the free movement of labour will be catastrophic for many sectors of the economy. Migration was one of the key myths on which many based their vote, but myths are easily busted, and the impact on business through much greater regulatory burdens could be severe.

The promise of an extra £350 million for the NHS has been shown to be a false one. It was a betrayal of voters and their trust. Acknowledging a decision was wrong should mean we review it, not plough on regardless.

The referendum was not binding. The result was close, so close that Leave campaigners said quite clearly before the vote that should the result go against them by a similar margin they would contest the outcome.

Brexit will have a “catastrophic” effect on higher education, a vital sector in our local economy. Analysis by national law firm Irwin Mitchell and the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) found Brighton’s economy is expected to see a significant slowdown in economic growth following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

The idea that Brexit will boost the economy and create jobs is another myth. Open Britain argue that the UK will have to borrow an additional £58 billion to deal with the consequences. Over a quarter of a million was racked up in legal fees in the first two months following the referendum, and costs of negotiating our departure over a decade are estimated at £65 million a year, at a time when social care is in crisis, the NHS is being run into the ground, local government is being starved of funds and rough sleeping is rocketing.

The respected Brookings Institute in Washington DC warned that Brexit could be “the greatest catastrophe of the 21st Century” leading to the breakup of the UK. The Peterson Institute for Economics called it a “disastrous experiment in deglobalisation.” Richard Branson said “there’s been very, very little to be gained from it and there’s been an awful lot to lose from it.”

Many claim that Brexit has had no impact on the economy, or indeed a positive impact on the economy. Of course we haven’t yet left the European Union, the worlds largest trading bloc, and predictions remain gloomy. In May of 2016 the UK was the world’s 5th largest economy. Just eight months later we have slipped behind France and India to 7th.

The resignation of the UK’s Ambassador to the EU lays bare the stark reality that the Government has no plan for exiting the EU that in any way benefits the country. The Government never had a plan because it never expected to lose the referendum. The pledge to put EU membership to the vote was entirely designed to stop the hemorrhage of Tory votes to UKIP at the 2015 General Election and secure a Tory majority.

The involvement of figures like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove in the Leave campaign was clearly more about their ambitions to succeed David Cameron than what was right for the country.

Even senior Tories now warn that “this is grown-up stuff, with consequences”. If we trigger Article 50 in March, we have just two years to successfully conclude negotiations or leave with nothing. Today the Prime Minister said she would present a plan “within weeks“, denying thinking in Government is “muddled”. I do not have faith in this Government to deliver.

Sir Keir Starmer is right that we should find bold and progressive solutions to the issues that underpinned the narrow vote to leave, but I disagree with the view that the outcome of the referendum cannot be challenged. 70% of Labour voters now believe we are wrong to leave the EU, many of them now looking to the Liberal Democrats to represent their views. I believe Labour should speak for a pro-European Britain.

We have not yet triggered Article 50. The Supreme Court may yet rule that Parliament must have the final say. There are various legal options the Court could give Parliament to consider. MPs need to think about their responsibility to all of the people, the national interest and the future before deciding to carry on with what is at best a high risk leap into the unknown.

Brighton and Hove can and should remain oriented towards Europe, with 50% of our tourism coming from the EU. We are the home of the European headquarters of American Express, and other financial services groups like Legal and General. Our creative arts and digital sectors, our hotel and conference industry, our universities and language schools cannot afford barriers to trade with Europe. We can and shall remain open for business. 

I believe we should think again before it is too late, and remain members of the European Union for the benefit of our city and our country.

Everyone gets a chance

Migrants arriving at Ellis Island off New York City.
Migrants arriving at Ellis Island off New York City.

Most of us are familiar with the “American Dream” of the 19th and early 20th Century, when waves of immigrants left Europe for the US in the hope of creating a better life for themselves. I’ve been to Ellis Island and seen the scale and hope of those people. Years later further waves of migration followed when those fleeing war in Europe made the trip across the Atlantic to find safety and a future for their families.

We too are a migrant nation. From the times of the earliest known settlements, groups of people have come here from the mainland of Europe, tribe after tribe, right up to the Norman invasion. Since then waves of migration, whether drawn by the Industrial Revolution or the needs of our post-war economy, have helped keep our economy moving forward. In an increasingly globalised world, one which remains plagued by war and economic instability, migration to the UK continues.

Times of uncertainty breed fear and insecurity, and the myths of the immigrant benefit seeker are happily spread by our media. The public think that 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%. Even estimates that attempt to account for illegal immigration suggest a figure closer to 15%. There are similar misconceptions on ethnicity: the average estimate is that Black and Asian people make up 30% of the population, when it is actually 11% (or 14% if we include mixed and other non-white ethnic groups).

It is little wonder then that immigration is now the top issue, along with the NHS (which ironically relies heavily on staff from overseas) and UKIP popularity is increasing.

We cannot ignore those concerns, and we cannot be afraid to enter the debate – indeed to do so abandons not just our settled communities but our migrants also.

We need to break some of the myths on immigration, highlight the benefits of people coming to the UK, the fact that migrants are predominantly of working age, pay taxes and have higher rates of business start-ups than the already-resident population.

We need to be clear, as Labour, that we will act on immigration, particularly where employment markets are distorted and workers are exploited for low pay. Rights and minimum wage levels are for all workers, not just long-term resident workers. Trades unions must be at the forefront of publicising these facts, and to counter the claims that UKIP represent working people, when in truth they would strip them of rights to maternity and paternity leave, holidays and sickness absence.

We must not give in to fear and the myth that the economic security and prosperity of the British people is threatened by migrants, rather than an economic system that is increasingly unequal and exploitative, with those at the top profiting while the majority struggle. We must listen to the concerns of those who feel threatened, and win the argument.

It is ironic that a majority of Britons believe they should have the right to live and work anywhere in the EU, but that the right of other EU citizens to do so in the UK should be restricted. Millions of Britons have moved to France, Portugal and Spain not just to retire but to work, and many live in the kind of expat, English speaking communities that, if replicated amongst immigrant groups in the UK, are met with suspicion and demands to learn English. We should afford migrants the same rights and respect that we would expect in Lyons, Malaga, Poznan or Maastricht.

And a migrant is a migrant wherever they are from and whatever the colour of their skin. We should treat the person from Dhaka the same as we treat the person from Melbourne. UKIPs policies on immigration cannot be and should not be a smokescreen for racism. We have a duty to play our part in helping those risking their lives to leave their country of origin, not leave them to drown.

Brighton and Hove has relatively low levels of migration, but a strong record of helping those refugees fleeing persecution elsewhere. We do have huge pressures on housing from our resident population, from around four thousand people a year moving here from London alone, from a rapidly growing and increasingly diverse student population, and from people drawn here by our economic success. Pressures on housing must be managed and addressed, which is why I have pledged to push for 40% affordable housing and at least 400 new council homes during the first term of a Labour council administration here.

As a local politician I will represent everyone who lives here. We all walk the same streets, share the same environment, use the same NHS. We are elected to run this part of the world and we will try to make a fair and better life for all who live in it, whether their family has been here for centuries or whether they arrived this morning. Everyone gets a chance to make a start, to get a job or start a business, register to vote and pay taxes, as generations of migrants to the UK have.