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The big Brexit immigration myth and a monumental deception

The harsh realities of Brexit can no longer be concealed by our increasingly overstretched Government, writes LORD HESELTINE.

The negotiations to sever our links with the EU have turned nasty – and far worse is to come. It is tragic to watch and see the humiliation of our country as the tasty fruits of the Brexit promise are replaced by the sour grapes of the cold outside world.

The relationship between Brexit Secretary David Davis and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, has become strained to breaking point over the ‘divorce bill’ that we will have to pay before we can even start to discuss a trade deal.

This was, I’m afraid, entirely predictable: as the clock ticks ever louder towards our departure, the harsh realities of Brexit can no longer be concealed by our increasingly overstretched Government.

Lord Heseltine (pictured) says the harsh realities of Brexit can no longer be concealed by our increasingly overstretched Government

This was strikingly illustrated by the leak last week of Ministers’ plans to crack down on immigration after Brexit. Free movement of labour would end immediately and all but the most highly skilled EU workers deterred from coming to this country.

I fear the very social fabric of our caring society, health services and swathes of the public sector which depend on immigrant support could be destroyed if this happens.

There have to be controls on immigration across Europe. Free movement is under question and we should join a discussion that could follow on from the German elections.

The Brexit process is being driven by a highly organised group of politicians and journalists who, aware of the fragility of our negotiating position, are desperate to hide the consequences from the public.

They hope that they will not realise how disastrous this process is going to be until the EU Withdrawal Bill – paving the way for our exit – has successfully cleared Parliament.

That was the intended purpose of the recent General Election – to secure a sufficient majority to allow Brexit to be pushed through before the electorate could get its hands on the decision.

Even though that part of the plan backfired spectacularly, I believe that this represents a calculated deception of the British people on a monumental scale.

The referendum result of 2016 was driven by frustration over the freeze in living standards since 2008. This fed the anger over immigration, which has always been a ‘low hanging fruit’ for politicians: they can blame it for the pressure on public services, overcrowded estates – igniting prejudices in the process. This Government promised, but failed to deliver, a massive cut in immigration to lower than 100,000 a year.

But now, thanks to the Home Office leak, we have details of how they intend to achieve after Brexit what they patently failed to achieve before it. Promising to end European immigration is a popular political promise with the pain deferred to the longer term. The consequences will be felt largely after we leave. The figures are clear and simple.

Last year, a quarter of a million Europeans came here while only 117,000 left – a net inward immigration of 133,000. However, 264,000 non-Europeans came while 88,000 left, resulting in a net immigration of 176,000. No one is better acquainted with the problems this entails than the Prime Minister, who had the responsibility to control our borders for six years as Home Secretary. No European law or court can interfere with our sovereign right to control our borders to non-EU nationals. So why has so little been done over the years?

The Brexit process is being driven by a highly organised group of politicians - including David Davis (pictured) - and journalists who are desperate to hide the consequences from the public

The answer, of course, is that the consequences are of such damage to our economy and social services that it is better to gain electoral advantage from the promise rather than risk the inevitable backlash when it is put into effect.

The public services need immigration – for example the NHS is short of 30,000 nurses, with numbers of EU staff collapsing since last year.

The private sector’s reaction to the leak was equally clear. The stark fact, in warnings from company after company, is that there is no alternative supply of skilled labour from our own population. The British Hospitality Association says that three-quarters of waiting staff in the UK are EU nationals – and at least 60,000 new EU workers are needed every year to fill vacancies. No wonder they describe these proposals as ‘catastrophic’ for their industry. It would take a decade to train up enough British workers to fill the gaps. The respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s world education comparisons have indicated that education standards in the UK, measured every three years, have failed to progress and highlighted concerns about the shortage of teachers.

There is another reason why the Government is more attracted by the promise of cutting immigration than by the implementation.

INTERNATIONAL Trade Secretary Liam Fox is travelling the world seeking markets to replace those lost in Europe by Brexit. Courtesies will be extended to any British Cabinet Minister – but behind not very closed doors a much less comfortable message will be conveyed.

British universities are going to be restrained in attracting overseas students upon whom their financial viability depends. How is that going to be greeted, for example, in India, which sends some of their brightest to learn here – often raising the standards of our students in the process? There is a simple solution. Students should be excluded from the immigration figures.

The anti-immigration argument may satisfy the anxieties of a domestic audience concerned for their own welfare, but how will it go down in some of the poorest countries on Earth – which we hope will open their doors and trade with us for our goods, while we cream off their skilled people to bolster our living standards?

An interesting poll published recently reveals that there has been little change in public opinion about Brexit since the referendum. There is one exception: public confidence in our negotiators is low.

Immediately after the referendum I wrote in this newspaper that it was essential for Brexiteers to be put in charge of the negotiations. Already the indications are from No 10 that Mrs May would like to move Boris Johnson and Liam Fox. The public have realised the inadequacies of the messengers. It is only a matter of time before they realise that the problems lay in the message.

As the autumn of Mrs May’s premiership creeps in, we should learn from the courage and vision of Winston Churchill in the 1930s and Harold Macmillan in the 1950s. Both told a reluctant Conservative Party what it did not want to hear. Where is tomorrow’s Conservative leader who can articulate Britain’s essential self-interest in Europe?