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Tories forced into partial U-turn over foreign worker lists

Home Secretary Amber Rudd

Home Secretary Amber Rudd

Home Secretary Amber Rudd was yesterday forced into a partial U-turn on her policy to “name and shame” businesses who employ large numbers of non-UK nationals by publishing lists of how many overseas workers were at their firms.

Justine Greening on Peston on Sunday, following Michael Fallon’s appearance on The Andrew Marr Show, told viewers, “There will be absolutely no naming and shaming.” Minutes earlier, David Cameron’s former spin doctor Sir Craig Oliver had told Peston he expected a “managed retreat” on an issue that Steve Hilton, Cameron’s former policy guru, had likened to printing numbers on immigrants’ forearms. Former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan had also weighed into the debate, calling the policy “repugnant” on Sky News that same afternoon.

Jeremy Corbyn broke with the convention that parties do not comment on stories during each other’s conference season by saying the policy would “fan the flames of xenophobia and hatred in our communities”. Without such firm opposition, it is perhaps unlikely the Tories would have U-turned on a policy that instantly polled as popular, with 60% of the public agreeing, and only 25% dissenting. More right-wing figures in Labour, such as Rachel Reeves, had recently said the UK could “explode” if immigration was not curbed, and had they been in the leadership, might have been tempted to try a variety of Ed Balls, “too far, too fast”, albeit for immigration controls rather than austerity.

This U-turn represents a further split among Theresa May’s Conservative government, who face the possible of a series of rebellions over coming weeks, with large backbench rebellions and therefore defeats likely on proposals to open new grammar schools, the ‘Great EU Repeal Bill’, and a third runway at Heathrow. Meanwhile the Tory cabinet itself is deeply divided over how ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit should be. Philip Hammond’s Treasury are keen that Britain retains access to the European Economic Area, the so-called ‘single market’ that would mean accepting some form of freedom of movement for goods, services, capital and crucially, people. Yet both David Davis, the Tories’ Brexit Secretary, and Liam Fox, Secretary for International Trade, are believed keen for a Brexit that leaves the EEA altogether, which would not only cost the UK and result in an economic shock, but allow the Tories to implement immigration controls. Hammond ratcheted up the rhetoric on Saturday by slamming Davis and Fox as “bulls in a China shop”.

Senior Europhile Ken Clarke also appeared on the Sunday politics circuit, telling Marr that, “The reason the pound keeps zooming south is that nobody has the faintest idea of what we’re going to put in place of membership [of the EU]”. Clarke went on to say, “I do not think in the entire referendum campaign anyone remotely addressed this esoteric subject of what are our trading relationships with markets across the globe.”

Labour has a clear opportunity to exploit the division in the Conservative party over single market access, but only if it decides its own line on both EEA membership, which Labour has been broadly supportive of since Brexit, and freedom of movement, of which there is a greater variety of opinion.

Recently Ed Miliband has been holding discussions with pro-EU Tory MPs in an attempt to force a vote on May’s proposals to trigger Article 50. It is thought that given just over half of Tory MPs voted remain, there may be a strong parliamentary majority to endorse EEA membership, which could force May to enter negotiations on the basis that Britain will attempt to remain in the single market, and accept the necessary conditions around freedom of movement, albeit with some limitations (some commentators are even citing Liechtenstein as an example of a country that is in the EEA but can set a limit of several dozen EU migrants being granted entry per year). If Corbyn were to lead on pursuing EEA membership, he could unite much of the Commons and Lords around averting the inevitable economic shock of leaving the single market, and protect freedom of movement at the same time.

Yet on the party’s right flank, there are those who remain committed to remain firmly in the wake of the Tories and UKIP. Dan Hodges, the notably Blairite commentator, stated that May was simply following public opinion on the issue, arguing:

People who have accused May of ‘dog-whistling’ on immigration are missing the point. She’s said clearly and loudly to the British people: ‘I hear you. I agree with you. I’m going to do something about this.’

Even when the Tories are falling about themselves to disown Rudd’s speech, there are those in Labour who are pondering what form, or how far, they can take an anti-migrant line to win back UKIP supporters. Perhaps they need a reminder of the last time Labour tried to triangulate the far-right on immigration.

One Comment

  1. John Penney says:

    Spare us the liberal sentimentality, masquerading as socialist principle and strategy. Why is it unacceptable for firms to have to state what percentage of their workforces are sourced from outside of the UK ? I don’t think it was being suggested that individual names and addresses of EU workers be put online as a prelude for a door by door pogrom !

    Totally unlimited labour supply is a fundamental pillar of the neoliberal agenda and the EU specifically – alongside freedom of movement of capital, and in addition ever increasing legal “restraint of trade” restrictions on trades union activity. Is it rally OK that the likes of Symphony furniture in Barnsley now deliberately recruit most of their workers from Poland ? Or Bernard Matthew Turkeys in Norfolk, almost exclusively from Portugal ? And on it goes, Sports Direct, Amazon, etc, etc. Businesses increasingly recruit from less developed, low wage economies, both low skilled workers, and high skilled , trained at no cost to the UK Businesses or the state, workers. There is little possibility of trades union organisation amongst such a shifting, rootless, workforce. Defending neoliberalism’s unlimited labour supply objective , and systematic looting of trained workers from poorer states, via a simplistic “anti racism” narrative, merely continues the neoliberal status quo – and excuses the Left from developing and proposing a very different, democratic state-led comprehensive planning alternative way to organise our economy.

    The sudden claimed indignation by so many UK businesses at the “heinous human rights violation” involved in them having to state what percentage of non UK citizens they employed, had NOTHING to do with human rights and everything to do with their huge fear that Brexit might turn off even a tad the totally unlimited labour supply tap they have come to depend on to keep wages down, and trade union organisation OUT, over the last few decades.

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