Worrying Times

The purpose of foreign policy is not to provide an outlet for our own sentiments of hope or indignation; it is to shape real events in a real world.

Excuse my French, but my first thought on reading the headline in The Times today was “WTF?”

My second was that I had somehow slipped through a break in the space-time continuum (I don’t get nearly enough opportunity to use that phrase in daily life) and ended up in 1930s Germany.

Hyperbole aside, there is much behind that headline “Firms must list foreign workers” to approve of, but also, equally, to be concerned about. It refers to the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference yesterday and a second by David Daviss, the man responsible for managing our exit from the EU.

OK, this is Party Conference season and stuff which is proclaimed from the political pulpit at Blackpool to the party faithful is always going to be what the audience wants to hear. It doesn’t always get to be political fact.

Still, it’s the rhetoric which has me worried. Some of the key phrases reported include: Amber Rudd: – “prevent migrants taking jobs British people can do”, this Government will not waver in its commitment to put the interests of the British people first, David Davis: “British workers should be given priority over their foreign counterparts”.

Now I’m not saying that the idea to give recruitment priority to someone who is effectively on your doorstep rather than actively recruit from overseas to isn’t a sound one. What bothers me is how this will be taken to include all “foreigners” – including those who have been happily going about their business here for years. Such as those working in this this industry.

Rob Perrins, chief executive of Berkeley Group,  pointed out some weeks ago that a huge proportion of the builders working on sites to build UK homes – the ones we are so shot of – are European nationals. “So if we get migration wrong, costs will go up and we’ll probably deliver half as many homes.” 

Off the top of my head I can think of a dozen or so of my friends whose country of birth wasn’t this one, but who have been working here for years, contributing to the economy, marrying and bringing up children, but who haven’t got around to becoming British citizens yet and whose appearance or accent marks them out as ‘foreign’.

A slight tangent but related, in the week after the referendum vote, a friend had to rescue a young Muslim woman who was being verbally abused on the Tube by a bunch of guys who were yelling at her to “go home” because “we voted to get rid of you and your lot”. My friend said he was shocked and bit shaken at the extent of the venom being exhibited.

Haters are always going to hate and I’m in no doubt that most of the people who voted for us to Leave the EU (and some of my best friends are Leavers!) did so because they believed that we as a nation and an economy would be better off apart from the rest of Europe. But when I read headlines like today’s it worries me that politician’s words are going to be used to legitimise some very scary ideologies. You only have to look at some of the online comments on the Mail and Express stories to see that happening already.

So, a question for the  53.4% from the 46.6%% – do you really know what you have done?

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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