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Brown, on the outside

Brown’s decision to reduce the influx of immigrants may win him a round of applause in the boroughs, but it will shut Britain’s doors to much needed-skills in a competitive world.

india Updated: Nov 01, 2007 22:37 IST
Hindustan Times

The normally reticent British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has set a cat among the pigeons with his declaration that he would raise the walls of Fortress Britannia to reduce the influx of immigrants. This comes after it has been discovered that more than half the newly-created jobs over the last decade has gone to immigrants. In fact, migrant workers apparently earn more than British workers, something that is causing heartburn. Now Mr Brown’s rhetoric may win him a round of applause in the boroughs, but does it really make sense to shut Britain’s doors to much needed-skills in a competitive world? He has every right to weigh in on the side of British nationals when it comes to jobs. But his slogan ‘British jobs for British workers’ could well be an example of shooting himself in the foot.

Let’s be clear, employers, British or otherwise, are not in business for charity. They will hire the best man for the job. So, it is significant that they are willing to pay more for the foreigner than the British worker. This is because it helps the bottomline. Mr Brown’s predecessor Tony Blair made a big show of welcoming foreigners and went to the extent of saying this was good for the British economy. Yet today, when there is an economic slowdown, Mr Brown can come up with no better solution than to shut out immigrant workers. Another thing that this sort of misplaced nationalism obscures is that at the upper end, immigrants, many of them Indian, are better qualified than British workers. Since the immigrants tend to be younger, they are not a burden on State pension and welfare funds. If the West can argue for the free movement of goods, surely they cannot ignore that with this goes the free movement of labour. Studies show that the world’s GDP would go up three times if there were free immigration. In ageing populations like Britain, immigrant workers provide labour-intensive services that otherwise would cost the exchequer dearly.

If Britain wants to tailor its immigration policy to suit its internal needs, no one can have a quarrel with that. But to impose indiscriminate cuts would harm Britain’s economy as well, that is already lagging behind many in the European Union behemoth. So we can only hope that Mr Brown was playing to the gallery and that his famed Presbyterian values of fair play will prevail.

First Published: Nov 01, 2007 22:35 IST