THERESA May’s government has made a dramatic U-turn on its contentious proposal for companies to name their foreign workers after a backlash from business leaders and MPs, who described the move as “deeply abhorrent”.
Over the past week, a series of policy announcements by the new government has dominated the headlines, prompting concerns among some about an “anti-foreigner” sentiment in British politics.
Home secretary Amber Rudd told the Conservative party conference last Wednesday (5) that the government wanted to “flush out” businesses that were not doing enough to hire British workers before recruiting foreign staff.
She argued that firms were “getting away” with not training enough British workers.
Meanwhile, her cabinet colleague, the health secretary Jeremy Hunt, said England was to train more doctors so it could end its reliance on foreign recruits for the NHS after Britain leaves the European Union.
And last Friday (7), it emerged that the government did not want academics from the London School of Economics who are not UK nationals to give Brexit briefings to officials.
Business leaders and employers’ groups slammed Rudd’s announcement, saying such a move would not only heap more bureaucracy on companies facing uncertainty about Brexit, but
also send out a message that Britain was closed to the world. Officials have since scrapped the plan, saying they would not ask companies to list or identify their foreign workers.
Defence minister Michael Fallon said any data that was collected from companies would be used only to get a better picture of the extent to which different parts of the economy relied on
Education secretary Justine Greening said there would be “absolutely no naming and shaming” of companies.
May vowed last week to restore sovereignty and increase controls over migration. The government has said the vote to leave the EU was a clear signal from British voters that immigration
was too high. It has led to a growing view that Britain is on course for a “hard” Brexit, where restricting immigration takes priority over retaining access to Europe’s single market.
Rudd’s other proposals last week included examining the need to tighten student immigration rules in order to prevent favourable treatment for foreign students looking for jobs after
they completed their studies in Britain.
Labour peer and economist Lord Meghnad Desai told Eastern Eye that the home secretary’s plans were “unworkable and unnecessary”.
“Business and education are global in nature. We need foreigners and some British people also work abroad. The recent British-born Nobel Prize-winning scientists are all working abroad.
“Rudd is new to the job, she will learn the proposal is not feasible.”
Liberal Democrats peer Lord Navnit Dholakia said Rudd’s speech had the same emotional tone as that of UKIP politicians and added that it played on the prejudices of the public. Labour accused the Tory proposal of listing foreign workers as “fanning the flames of xenophobia and hatred in our communities”.
Brent North MP Barry Gardiner, who is also the shadow secretary for international trade, claimed it was ironic that the Conservatives urged members of the Asian community to vote for Brexit so
we could “allow more people from the Commonwealth to come to the UK”. Now they are talking about compiling lists of foreign workers. The idea that we turn employers into immigration police and segregate our workforce by nationality is deeply abhorrent. More than that, it is economically stupid.
“In the meantime, our NHS would collapse, our farmers would be unable to harvest their crops and our food industry would be starved of the labour it needs, unless we continue [to employ] the
brightest and best from wherever they come.”
Labour MP for Feltham and Heston, Seema Malhotra, said: “At a time when we see rising hate crime and intolerance, this divisive rhetoric coming from the Conservative party is unnecessary
and dangerous. It undermines work being done to try to bring diverse communities working in all parts of our economy closer together.”
Lord Karan Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer and a cross-bench peer, launched a scathing attack on the Tories. He said he was appalled that the “wretched referendum” was undoing all of
the social progress the UK had made over the past three and-a-half decades.
Entrepeneur Raj Dhonota, who was a contestant on the first season of the BBC show The Apprentice, told Eastern Eye that Rudd’s views were backwards and she did not understand what was
needed to make a business work.
“She has jumped on the bandwagon of looking inwards. It’s incredibly frustrating when these politicians who have probably never had their own companies are making populist decisions without consulting anyone in business.
“Businesses have enough to deal with, given Brexit, and this is just another stake in the heart of British business,” he added.
Hunt also angered opponents after saying that from September 2018, England will train up to 1,500 more doctors every year, increasing the number of medical school places by up to a quarter.
The cap on the number of medical students currently stands at 6,000.
Dr Kailash Chand, a GP and former deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) council, said training an extra 1,500 doctors would only scratch the surface of the number of professionals
that were needed to staff the NHS.
“This country owes a huge debt to international medics and nurses in every sector of the NHS. Shame on any leader who wishes them away – or even if unknowingly, makes them feel so.”
However, there was some support for Hunt’s plans. Tory peer Lord Dolar Popat told Eastern Eye the health secretary’s announcement was good news for the British-Indian community.
“For many of our children, it [medicine] is their number one choice at university, but because of the current lack of adequate places, many study dentistry or pharmacy instead. I wouldn’t be surprised if a third of these new places are taken up by British Indian students. I believe it is very good news for our community which places such a strong emphasis on getting a good education and profession,” he said.
Dr Rami Ranger CBE, founder of award-winning food and drinks distributor Sun Mark, believes Rudd is right to focus on the UK work force in the wake of Brexit. He said: “In the wake of Brexit, it makes sense for British companies to depend on their own work force in case the European workers decide to leave Britain.”
Last week, the government also came under fire for barring leading academics who do not have British passports from acting as advisers on Brexit. The London School of Economics (LSE) said that it had been told by the foreign office that non-British nationals were not allowed to work on projects about leaving the EU.
“Some of our experts who were contributing will not be able to because they are not UK nationals,” a spokesman for the LSE said after a complaint by Danish assistant professor Sara Hagemann. The foreign office did not deny the report, saying in a statement: “It has always been the case that anyone working in the FCO may require security clearance depending on the nature and duration of their work.”
But it added: “Britain is an outward-looking nation and we will continue to take advice from the best and brightest minds, regardless of nationality.”