Email therese Tony Blair DATELINE – Look around

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Last updated: September 19, 2019

EmailthereseTonyBlair  DATELINE – Look around the most advancedliberal democracies today and you won’t find one untouched by political debate overimmigration. It has destroyed governments, produced new parties and newalliances of political affiliation and bitterly divides communities andgenerations. In the United Kingdom, it was arguably the single biggest factor behind Britain’s vote to leave theEuropean Union in 2016.

 This issue is not going away. Technologicaland economic change mean more people are crossing borders than ever before.Across the developed world, countries are working out how to cope with recordincreases in the number of international migrants — about 5million people migrated permanently to OECD countries in 2016, many morethan the previous peak in 2007.

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Businesses competing in a global marketplaceare hungry for the best international talent. Countries with ageing populationsdepend on younger dynamic workers from abroad. Climate change and poverty areleading millions to seek a better life elsewhere. And the ongoing instabilitycaused by the civil wars in Syria and Libya is at the heart of a refugee crisiswhere millions have been forced to flee their homes to seek refuge. Those of us in favor of open, liberal, tolerantsocieties need to recognize that movement on this scale is creating realchallenges for policymakers in established democracies. There can be pressureon services within communities from an influx of migrants or refugees, downwardpressure on wages in certain sectors of the economy, questions of culturalintegration — especially when immigrants are from more conservative Muslimbackgrounds — and there is anxiety that governments do not properly control whois allowed in to the country and who has a right to stay. I sometimes hear it argued, particularly onthe left, that the very act of engaging seriously with those concerns amounts toa form of political surrender; instead of pandering to people’s anxieties, thepriority for centrist politicians should be to make the case more clearly andexplicitly for the benefits of immigration.

This is not just misguided. It isdangerous. Of course, politicians of all persuasions havean obligation to call out prejudice and fight attempts to use immigration as ameans of exploiting fears to sow division. However, I do not believe that themajority of public concern about immigration is driven by irrational fear. Whenone looks at attitudinal data across Europe, for example, it is clear that most people are not actually anti-immigrant.

They understand that their country needs some categories of migrant worker, particularlythe highly skilled. And they’re not indifferent to the plight of genuinerefugees. But they believe — not unreasonably — that countries should have theright to control their own borders and that the system is fundamentally notwell managed.  In other words, these are legitimate concerns —and progressive politicians have a duty to try to respond to them. Thealternative is a vacuum whereby the most prominent voices on immigration areextreme ones and/or right-wing politicians making populist promises that damagetrust even further. The U.K.

is a case in point. The Conservativegovernment has, since 2010, based their entire immigration policy around asingle numerical target: to reduce net migration. It is hard to think of a moredamaging policy failure in recent years. The government’s consistent inabilityto meet its own target has damaged the public’s faith in the ability ofpoliticians to manage migration and ended up skewing public policy priorities. Forexample, the government is in the absurd position of celebrating a rise inemigration and/or attempting to clamp down on foreign students, simply becausethey are the easiest category of migration to restrict. Meanwhile, deliveringBrexit has become the mechanism for achieving “control” over the U.K.

‘sborders, even though migration fromoutside the EU has been higher than EU migration over the last decade.  There is no future for liberal democracy inpulling up the drawbridge to immigrants. Immigration is vital for the future ofour economies and societies.

But it needs to be controlled and managed so thesystem is fair and can command public support. The Tony Blair Institute will shortly bepublishing a new paper setting out a principled, comprehensive and pragmaticagenda for immigration policy in the 21st century — one which maximizeseconomic benefits while securing the widest possible public consent. This isneeded to reduce the space for populists to use immigration as a tool toexploit people’s legitimate fears, sow division and de-legitimize liberaldemocratic institutions.          

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