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Britain is in desperate need of workers. So why is it trying to keep them out? | Simon Jenkins

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Nothing makes sense. Along the east coast of England, British employers scan the horizon. They are desperate for any migrant workers whom Boris Johnson will bless with visas to pick fruit, kill turkeys, staff hotels or care for elderly people. At the same time along the south coast British politicians howl with horror at boatloads of just such people as they come ashore, desperate to offer their services. Brexit is a shamble of hypocrisies.

Immigration materially affects very few Britons. It is more a feature of the politics of xenophobia. The 24,000 asylum seekers who have crossed the Channel so far this year are presented by eager Tories as presaging a new Viking horde or a Norman conquest. There is something ominous in people arriving on beaches, rather than coming through Terminal 5.

Turn the boats around, cries home secretary Priti Patel. Send them to Albania or the Falklands. Blame the French. Blame the Border Force. Blame those snowflakes in the lifeboat service. If the refugees land, make them sorry they ever left home. Johnson may have backed immigrants when he was London mayor – and needed them. Now he apparently spends half his time trying to stop them.

In reality the cabinet should fall to its knees and give thanks for having to deal with only 24,000 refugees. Italy this year has had 60,000. More than 150,000 entered Europe, mostly through the Balkans. This is paltry alongside the Syrian surge of close to a million in 2015, who now seem to have merged miraculously into the German economy.

Most of these refugees are by definition “middle class”. They have paid dearly for their journey. They include doctors, engineers, academics and nurses; builders, cooks and farmers. These are occupations Europe badly needs and which Europe’s open labour markets, notably Britain’s, have traditionally welcomed.

The free-market pretensions of leading Brexiters now emerge as only skin deep. Behind the authoritarian slogan of “take back control” and fuelled by the toxins of lockdown, Johnson, Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg are erecting a pastiche of a command economy. They must decide how many Bulgarian butchers Britain needs, or Romanian fruit pickers, or whether a German truck driver speaks enough English. They are control fanatics. Meanwhile the 650 Chinese millionaires who arrived this year are a “boost to Britain”, while a destitute Afghan doctor is a threat to the British way of life.

We should never forget that the chief driver of the current surge in European immigration is the west’s crusade of devastation of the Muslim world over the past two decades. Its destabilising chaos spread from Afghanistan to Iraq, Kurdistan, Libya, Syria and Lebanon. We can hardly complain when the victims of our arrogant aggressions come beating on our door.

Of all the fantasies of Brexit, the stupidest was that it would enable Britain to withstand the tides of global migration. Nor should a robust economy need to do so. Growth needs immigrants. The idea that Britain might actually prosper by denying itself access to the EU’s labour pool was illiterate.

Instead in London we now have an intellectual, and a human, obscenity. Near the NHS’s chronically understaffed University College hospital is a hotel recently requisitioned by the Home Office. It is packed with hundreds of mostly English-speaking Afghan refugees, kept in limbo by Patel and banned from working. Why? It is the sure sign of a state gone mad.



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