By Adam George
The government has retreated from plans to force companies to reveal how many foreign workers it employs. The policy was first outlined by the home secretary, Amber Rudd, at the Conservative party conference last week. Rudd announced that companies would have to “be clear” about the proportion of their workforce that was international, as part of a drive to encourage them to hire locally.
It was not just foreign workers targeted in Amber Rudd’s speech, worryingly the home secretary also discussed more controls over foreign students. She announced that the government are looking at ways to reduce the number of people coming from abroad to study at British universities. Rudd stated that the government will “look for the first time at whether our student immigration rules should be tailored to the quality of the course and the quality of the educational institution”.
However, these ideas were met by widespread criticism and after several days of pressure senior government officials made it clear that they would not be implementing the policy on listing foreign workers. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon and Education Secretary Justine Greening insisted the information was aimed at improving Government investment in skills training, and said it would never be made public or used for “naming and shaming”.
Criticism came not just from the opposition, but from fellow Conservatives. David Cameron’s former senior advisor, Steve Hilton, labelled the plans as “divisive, repugnant and insanely bureaucratic”. This view was shared by former education secretary Nicky Morgan who was asked on Sky News if she would endorse Mr Hilton’s view of the policy as repugnant, Ms Morgan said: “Yes, I probably would, actually. I think it’s a really inadvisable way to proceed”.
Several opposition leaders were quick to denounce the policy, with three of Britain’s left-wing opposition parties breaking usual convention by uniting to condemn the anti-immigration rhetoric. In a joint statement, the leaders of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens demanded all progressive parties unite to battle the Tory agenda on immigration and leaving the single market. It is not typical for parties to draw attention to themselves during other party’s conferences and certainly for them to come together to offer a joint statement, but it appears the leaders decided the severity of the rhetoric coming from the Birmingham conference centre merited the statement.
The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, came under fire on social media for not immediately speaking out against Amber Rudd’s speech. However, the recently re-elected Labour leader did finally break his silence and release a statement. He accused Theresa May and the Conservatives of “fanning the flames xenophobia and hatred” and added that the Tory party will foster “division” and “discrimination” in communities across Britain.
However, Jeremy Corbyn’s best response to the Conservatives’ xenophobic proposals, comes through actions rather than words. Emboldened by a leadership challenge that only improved his record-breaking mandate, the Labour leader has made history by appointing five parliamentarians from the Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) community to his new Shadow Cabinet.
It is unclear whether or not Theresa May’s Conservative government will actually go forward and implement these policies. However, it does show that the new Prime Minister is willing to appease the right-wing nationalist faction of the Conservative party and also happy to follow through with “hard-Brexit”.