UK Prime Minister suppresses evidence that EU immigration is beneficial

The UK's prime minister David Cameron has ordered that the release of a government report commissioned by the Home Secretary Theresa May should be delayed until after the European elections in May 2014.

The Financial Times, a UK newspaper, reports that Mr Cameron believes that the report might be damaging to the Conservatives' chances in the election. The FT reports that some Whitehall insiders believe that it will never be published.

The report was commissioned by Ms May in 2013. She, along with other Conservative politicians, was seeking to justify taking steps to limit immigration from the EU to the UK. Mrs May had claimed that EU migrants travel to the UK to claim benefits such as housing benefit, jobseekers' allowance and free medical treatment on the UK's National Health Service.

Recommendations

A draft of the report was leaked to The Times in December 2013. The Times reported that the report made several recommendations including
  • Limiting immigration from within the EU by the introduction of a visa system which would only admit skilled workers with job offers.
  • Only admitting low-skilled workers with an offer of employment in a position listed on a 'Shortage Occupations List'.
  • Introducing a 'national preference' for UK-settled workers which would give UK nationals and UK permanent residents first preference before the job could be offered to a non-resident EU national.
  • Limiting the movement of workers from poorer EU countries until their GDP per capita is 75% of that of the UK

However, the Financial Times reports that the report has been condemned by civil servants within the Home Office as 'overtly political'. The unnamed civil servants also complain that the report's conclusions are entirely unsupported by evidence.

EU migrants benefit the economy

Indeed, the evidence that was gathered indicated that, far from being a drain on the UK, EU migrants were beneficial to the economy. The FT says 'officials close to the process say Ms May was inundated with evidence from academics and business leaders supporting the EU's single market for labour, arguing that it helped to make Britain competitive and was good for the economy'.

The FT reports that one Home Office official said 'They can't bring themselves to publish the report before the European elections because they would have to admit that freedom of movement is a good thing'.

This would be particularly embarrassing for the Conservative Party (the senior party in the UK's Coalition government) because it has recently taken steps to reduce EU immigration as a way of winning votes at the European elections.

Damage to Conservatives' reputation

The report might call into question the Conservatives' reputation for economic competence if its policies on immigration were seen to be damaging to the economy.

On Tuesday 14th January 2014, the head of the UK's Office of Budget Responsibility, Robert Chote, appeared before a committee of MPs and delivered a similar message. Mr Chote told the Treasury Select Committee that the UK's situation would be 'somewhat worse' without EU immigration.

In cold, economic terms, Mr Chote said that immigrants are beneficial because they come to the UK 'after some other country has picked up the expense of educating them, and in some cases (not all cases) they will then leave the country before they get to the point at which they're most expensive, in terms of pension and healthcare'.

Government at odds with budgetary advisor

Mr Chote's words will also be embarrassing for the government because it has introduced legislation to limit EU immigration and has announced that it will take further steps to limit it further in future. This puts them at odds with Mr Chote who was appointed by the UK's Coalition government to advise on fiscal prudence.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) was established in 2010 by the then new Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Mr Osborne introduced the OBR as a way of highlighting his economic prudence which he sought to contrast with the profligacy of the previous Labour government.

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