Labour Should Reform UK Labour Market to Help Brits, not fantasize

Once again as at every moment since the 2016 Brexit plebiscite, Labour is getting mixed and messed up over European citizens working in Britain.

While the Tories burble about an Australian points system, while not mentioning that 29 per cent of Australia’s population are immigrants - a figure that would send Lord Green of Immigrant Watch purple with apoplexy - the number of Europeans in the UK is shooting downwards.

For the first time since the end of communism, more Poles are returning to Poland than leaving the country. The Brexit devaluation of the pound and the non-stop chippy hostility to Europeans in the media is having a much stronger impact in reducing the number of Europeans working here than any cockamamie points system.

Since we do not have ID cards, it is hard to see how Tory ideas of making non-Brits (does this include Irish citizens?) pay anytime they go to hospital work. 

Reciprocal measures against 1.3 million - mainly retired elderly Brits living in Spain and other warm climates in Europe - would force many to return to be dependent on the NHS and local care services.

Meanwhile, Labour repeats its mantra of some unicorn type of free movement policy as if this would be acceptable to other EU member states whose citizens would face new discrimination imposed by the Home Office bureaucracy with its reputation for insensitivity and slowness in handling immigration cases.

Put simply: the UK cannot win or even keep inward investment based on Single Market membership - the most dynamic source of working class job creation - if we start discriminating against fellow Europeans. 

Britain could exercise control by making apprenticeships compulsory for UK firms, as they are in Germany, Switzerland, Nordic nations and other countries where local workers do not feel as under threat as some British workers do from European colleagues.

It is perfectly legal to require European citizens to return home if they have not found work after three months.

But that means we have to know who is here and who is at work - British, European or from overseas. In Britain, the government hasn’t the faintest idea. We could copy continental practice so that all adults have to be registered to access health care, national insurance benefits and education. Strict enforcement of the EU Agency Workers and Posted Workers Directives would slow down the mass hiring by unscrupulous low-pay bosses of workers from Europe.

This is a way of controlling immigration by internal means, rather than quotas or crude blockages at frontiers.

The challenge is to reform and modernize the UK labour market.  Labour should look in the mirror and solve the problem within Britain as other EU member states have been able to do.

By Denis MacShane - former Labour Minister of Europe. His latest book is “Brexiternty. The Uncertain Fate of Britain” (IB Tauris-Bloomsbury)