This week, Home Secretary Amber Rudd executed a U-turn on her widely criticised policy requiring British firms to declare the foreign workers on their books. This was following on from a huge amount of condemnation from the press, businesses, and members of her own party.
Rudd initially announced her plans to cut immigration at the Conservative Party Conference two weeks ago. Her speech focused on short-term plans to limit the entry routes availabe to students and workers by curbing international student numbers and by ‘shaming’ bosses who fail to employ enough British workers.
The announcement was met with strong critism from across the political spectrum, with her own brother denouncing the government’s stance, stating in the Evening Standard that those of us “who find the denigration of non-British workers appalling have a duty to speak out.”
Though this particular idea has been scrapped, it is symptomatic of the current Conservative government, and represents the extreme shift to the right we have taken in the short months since the EU referendum.
James O’Brien on LBC Radio went so far as to compare Amber Rudd’s speech to a section of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Although this seems at first like sensationalist click-bait, he highlights a particular section of similarity which distinguishes between those who are ‘members’ of a nation and those who are just “domiciled in the state simply as earners of their livelihood here”, claiming this is interchangeable with Rudd’s sentiment.
It is not unusual to use the party conference as an opportunity to lay out your most contentious plans. It is one of the most hotly reported political events of the year and a good time to test the public reaction before the legislative session gets into full swing. Rudd’s proposal was so unpopular in this case that it was repealed before even going out to the public consultation stage. Some have claimed this as a win for so-called ‘slactivism’. Within hours of Rudd’s speech, there were numerous petitions, such as Change.org’s ‘Amber Rudd: Don’t force companies to publish how many foreigners work for them’, which has over 80,000 signatures. It is difficult to measure the impact of petitions like this, and personally I believe on this occasion it is more likely that the Conservatives paid attention to the negative response from the corporate world rather than the battle cries from thousands of keyboard warriors.
Labour have accused ministers of “whipping up anti-foreigner sentiment” as a distraction from the lack of plans over Brexit. The reality is that whether we opt for a hard or soft Brexit, we will be doing it under the leadership of Theresa May, who, despite voting to remain in the European Union, has always taken a particularly intolerant line on immigration. Amber Rudd’s plans to reduce international student numbers and save ‘British’ jobs are exactly the sort of plans that May had when she was Home Secretary not long ago.
The fight for foreign workers to remain in the UK will be a long one, and even if every citizen in the country signed a petition, I am not sure it would be enough to stop this xenophobic rampage.
Image credit: Department for Energy and Climate Change