When it comes to immigration Theresa May seems to have no idea what she is doing

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 21 July 2017 in Comment

Recent evidence on immigration shows the UK Government is far from 'taking back control'

Immigration - image credit: PA

The UK government has no idea what it is doing. Or its approach is “woefully inadequate”, at least.

A harsh verdict, but who said it?

Was it Guy Verhofstadt on the UK’s approach to Brexit negotiations? A disgruntled Tory backbencher on economic policy? Nicola Sturgeon on almost anything?

For Theresa May, a Prime Minister who seems to be going into the summer recess with all the relief of someone on the brink of exhaustion grasping for a life raft, the most concerning aspect of the criticism is that it could have come from almost anyone.


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In this case though, it was the Lords. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, to be precise, as it released a damning new report on the UK Government’s mishandling of immigration.

Finding that the government does not hold accurate data on the number of migrants entering or leaving the country, or the number of migrants in work, or how long migrants stay in the UK, committee chair Lord Forsyth of Drumlean warned that Theresa May was making crucial decision “in the dark”.

With the margin of error on the latest net migration statistics estimated at around 40,000, Lords warned the Government must prioritise plans to improve the longstanding flaws in the data if it is to take effectively manage migration.

For a government hell bent on “taking back control”, the report is a bruising one.

As the Lords put it: “The available data on migration are extremely poor. They fail to provide an accurate number of migrants entering or leaving the country or the number of migrants in work. The data, based upon flawed sample surveys, are wholly inadequate for policy making and measuring the success or otherwise of the policies adopted.”

The concerns highlighted in the report are not isolated. In fact they come just days after Lady Susan Williams, a home office minister, admitted the UK Government does not hold data on whether European immigrants in the UK had secured jobs or not.

Williams was also unable to provide an answer to Lord Hain on how many EU nationals have been removed from the UK because they did not satisfy the work requirements or were homeless, saying “the data requested could only be obtained at disproportionate cost”.

The answer was buried in with hundreds of other responses to written questions from the Lords, but the reference to deporting homeless people was a significant one.

It comes as part of a change in Home Office policy, made in February – a month before the UK’s attempts to ‘take back control’ began with Theresa May triggering Article 50 – which means that European Economic Area nationals found rough sleeping in the UK will, under certain circumstances, be considered to be in breach of their treaty rights. As such they can be arrested and removed from the UK, because they are homeless.

In fact, despite the apparent cost of releasing information on how many people have been removed, immigration officials have already begun enforcing the policy, with reports emerging of Immigration Compliance and Enforcement teams expanding their work from London to the rest of the UK, including in Scotland.

Predictably, homelessness charities reacted in outrage, with Adam Lang, Head of Communications and Policy at Shelter Scotland, warning the new guidance may be misinterpreted or applied incorrectly to remove people unlawfully.

He told Holyrood: “This change to UK Government guidance on administrative removal of EEA nationals makes an already complex legal situation even harder to understand for very vulnerable people who may not know their rights.”

And while the Home Office said it would work with local authorities and homelessness agencies in enacting the new policy, Freedom of Information requests reveal that Edinburgh City Council has not been issued with direct guidance on how they would be implemented. Meanwhile homelessness charities told Holyrood they will not hand over information on European rough sleepers to enforcement authorities, except in circumstances where they are legally required to do so.

The idea of arresting and deporting someone for the crime of sleeping rough on the streets is one many will find repulsive. The whole thing looks like a mess.

Worse, given Theresa May has spent years determined to reduce net immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’, and has failed spectacularly to do so – the latest figures put it at around 275,000 – the PM seems doomed to please no one.

And so the UK Government seems to have achieved a unique position of upsetting both the people who worry immigration is too high and the people who think it will be too low, while also acting as a magnate for condemnation after deciding the best approach to finding someone sleeping rough is to arrest them.

Meanwhile, regardless of what the right number for migration should be, the government apparently doesn’t hold accurate data on it anyway.

Put simply, and no matter which direction you approach the question from, it looks like the UK Government has no idea what it is doing. Or its approach is “woefully inadequate”, at least.

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