A national conversation on immigration launches today to help advise the government on its post-Brexit immigration policy. In launching this consultation, the Home Affairs Select Committee has called on civic society to get involved, which we fully intend to do.
There is no disguising that the ‘immigration debate’ has become toxic in recent years. Real anxieties have been deliberately exploited and fed by unscrupulous politicians and both mainstream and alternative media outlets to the point where it has become almost impossible to have a decent discussion on the topic.
But as the government moves to trigger Article 50, which will start the process of the UK leaving the European Union, it is a debate we cannot and should not ignore any more. The Government is going to have to create a new immigration policy and we need to make sure all voices are heard.
We believe it is vital that this debate is as wide and inclusive as possible. Not only is there a lack of public trust in the government’s ability to manage immigration, but if we are the remove the toxicity from the debate then it has to be one that involves as many people as possible.
We need to engage with the public to have an honest discussion that balances their views with the needs of our economy and the rights of migrants. This is our chance to have a proper debate, which means being prepared to listen to people, including those who might not agree with us, without thinking that we have all the answers. We believe that an honest and open conversation will show that British people are more open and realistic about immigration than the media and politicians often think.
A debate around a post-Brexit immigration reform offers us a real chance to build common ground in what is currently such a polarised topic.
Politicians will decide how many people are able to make their home here in future years and also what kinds of migration are prioritised. By ensuring as wide a debate as possible we hope to not focus on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ migrants, or an arbitrary discussion of numbers, but on what our economy needs and the rights of those coming here not to be exploited.
Together with think tank British Future we will be travelling to 60 towns and cities across the UK this year to hear the views of local people. We’ll run a mass online survey to allow everyone to express their views, take the opinions of marginalised groups – including migrants themselves – and conduct polling across the social spectrum.
This is an opportunity to influence immigration policy with voices from our communities, who may hold genuine concerns. Polling suggests that only a tiny fraction of the population wants to close the door to immigration, and that the majority reject the toxic nature of tabloid debates. We need to open up a neutral conversation with the public so that political debate is not guided by those that shout loudest.
We’ll also be meeting businesses, industry and employers, who have so far remained on the fringes of the conversation. They face huge risks in any substantial changes to immigration rules. Likewise, regional and local governments will see real changes in the way their services are delivered. Trade unions will also understand the need for migrant labour, as well as the challenges being faced by many low-skilled British workers.
Migrant voices will be key to these conversations, alongside those who live and work with them.
This is a debate in which progressive voices need to be heard. The ‘immigration debate’ has become so poisonous that it is understandable we might want to keep our distance. But progress does not happen if we remain fixed in our echo chambers, speaking only to ourselves.
This is not what we are all about. HOPE not hate is an organisation that first set out to fight the far-right British National Party (BNP) through community engagement. We have spent over 10 years reaching out to local people to address issues concerning voters, countering feelings of alienation by taking those concerns seriously. But in every conversation there is one issue that has come up consistently: immigration.
If we are ever going to achieve a more cohesive society than we need to get involved in the issues that are dividing us.
Whether we like it or not, these conversations are going to happen. It is not enough to sit on the sidelines and look on as decisions we disagree with are taken. The uncertainty of what will happen to immigration as we leave the European Union offers us a real opportunity to find a solution that works with the variety of needs and opinions in our communities.
It’s a conversation we need to be involved in.