How will Priti Patel’s proposed migration reform impact the UK?

Published: October 9, 2019
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Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel attends the final day of the annual Conservative Party conference. PHOTO: AFP

Priti Patel’s ascension to the post of home minister of the United Kingdom (UK) deserves a lot of praise. Arguably, she is one of the few principled individuals left in politics, even if we may fervently disagree with her principles. Patel has held an ardent Euro-sceptic view for her entire career, long before it became fashionable.

She even had a brief stint heading the Referendum Party in 1997 which campaigned for Britain to have a vote on their membership of the European Union (EU), years before the referendum was actually called. She is a self-described Thatcherite and has long been the darling of the Tory party’s right wing, which resembles the UK Independence Party (UKIP) of 2016 and is just a few shades away from the newly founded Brexit Party.

It has become commonplace in liberal circles to deride those on the right who hail from groups or identities that the left would like to claim as their own. Whether it’s Sajid Javed, Britain’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer, or Patel. But both have seemingly betrayed their ethnic identities by joining a party which has traditionally been stricter towards multiculturalism and has recently flirted heavily with bigotry. However, I think that it is a weak tactic. To tackle people’s policies on an ad hominem basis rather than the merit of their views gives them an easy ‘get out of jail’ card in defence of their stance, because opposition to some forms of identity politics is being weaponised to silence genuine criticism of policy.

In fact, Patel’s recent conference speech alluded to a “North-London metropolitan liberal elite” that was opposed to her and her policies for those very reasons. This mythical and vaguely identifiable group are seen by Patel as the beneficiaries of globalisation whereas the rest of the UK has “lost out” and her migration policy seeks to remedy that.

So let’s tackle her policy.

Patel’s immigration reform is a move away from the globalised Britain that was being shaped in the first decade of the 21st century and is a shift towards a heavily regulated and policed migration system. Patel likens her proposed system to the Australian “points-based system.” Previously, any EU citizen from any member state regardless of their education or technical proficiency could come to the UK. Now applicants will be ranked according to various factors (that are to be decided) before they are granted access to the UK.

The vague outline that Patel has presented does not make it clear as to how exactly this policy will manifest itself. However, one heavy indication comes from the political tradition she has embraced. Euro-sceptics have a very simplistic view of immigration. To their mind, coming to the United Kingdom is the greatest gift on Earth and therefore the country should only choose the finest non-Brits to come and join us here in Elysium. Their reasoning is ignorant to a world that has moved beyond this Victorian view of the UK.

Britain’s greatest strength in the last century has been in its diversity, and we should not be under any illusion that this “point-based” system would definitely impact that diversity. This would be largely due to the fact that the criteria that migrants would be measured against is under the government’s control. I have a strong feeling that those who wanted to leave the EU to reduce migration from countries like Lithuania and Estonia will not be too thrilled to have an influx of Shahs and Maliks coming over from India and Pakistan, no matter how skilled they are.

What’s more is that this policy is not occurring in isolation. As Brits, we have to realise that there are now more centres of global influence than there were a few years ago. So, if the UK is leaving the single market, and a whole host of multinational companies are going to move their operations abroad; who will be left to employ this ‘high skilled labour?’

Critics of my criticism would point to the fact that international students can now stay for two years after completing their degree in the UK rather than just the handful of months under the previous policy. This caused much joy amongst Pakistani students who suddenly have 24 more months to find employment in the UK before they would be obliged to leave. But the question remains, will the jobs be there for them to apply to in the first place?

We all know that business hates uncertainty and the angst that Britain has endured negotiating Brexit for the last three years has not endeared the country to businesses who have been unable to plan for the future. So with less than three weeks to go before Boris’s Brexit deadline, we still don’t know what Britain’s relationship with the EU will look like and so it’s hard to say what migration to the UK would look like after this date.

Patel has an inspiring story. The daughter of Ugandan migrants who were expelled from their homes due to their ethnicity and found their way to the UK. She then worked hard and has become one of the holders of the great offices of the state. Once her policy is outlined it will be interesting to see whether her own family would have passed the points based test, or could it potentially prevent a future home minister for coming to the country that has found so much success in diversity.

Mustafaen Kamal

Mustafaen Kamal

The author is currently a student at Oxford University and has previously graduated from the London School of Economics. He has founded the Dil Internship Project and is a Laidlaw Scholar at Cambridge University. He tweets @MustafaenKamal (twitter.com/MustafaenKamal)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.