Be honest. Was anyone surprised that Boris Johnson had to admit to the BBC that the attempts to recruit foreign HGV drivers with temporary three month visas has flopped? So far just 127 have applied, which isn’t going to stop queues at petrol stations or save Christmas.
One reason is the terms aren’t attractive enough. But more fundamentally, the Government is waking up to the fact that immigration is not transactional – you can’t buy and sell workers like any other resource. When people move countries they make a life choice – they feel there will be better life opportunities where they are going. And by life choices this is not just jobs, it is around safety, feeling welcome, finding better opportunities for both the immigrants and their families.
Historically Britain is a country that has thrived through immigration. We still drive on roads that were originally built by the Romans to towns and cities that have Roman derived names – Manchester, Chichester, even London. Much of our language is derived from Anglo Saxon – brought over from Germany. Since the 10th century we have been ruled by Danes, Normans, Dutch and Germans. We shop at immigrant founded businesses such as Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Deliveroo.
It’s close to home for me. Only two of my grandparents, and none of my great-grandparents, was born in the UK. Some of my ancestors came here for economic opportunities, some to avoid oppression and some because of upheavals in their homeland. Am I not British?
So when the Government led by the New York-born Johnson, with a Home Secretary and Chancellor whose parents all came from East Africa, and a Deputy PM (and recent Foreign Secretary) whose father fled the Nazis, decided to take a hard line on immigration as part of their Brexit delivery, then it smacked of a betrayal of British tolerance.
And when the anti-foreigner legislation and rhetoric led to labour shortages in the food industry, in hospitality and then road haulage, the Government found itself in a bind. It went for a quick fix to tempt foreign workers to drive our trucks. Yet the drivers had found that not only was the grass greener on the other side of the Channel, but the lawns in Britain were poorly tended and full of weeds.
What the Government is learning is that people do not go where they don’t feel welcome. And they’ve spent the last half a decade telling people who we don’t consider “British” that they aren’t welcome.
A final aside. A few years ago my younger son’s football team won their league’s cup in a hard fought final. The president of the league gave a speech saying how wonderful it was that they were producing talented young English footballers. It seemed churlish to tell him that the goalkeeper was German, the midfield general was Bulgarian, the centre back Jamaican, the captain Greek – I could go on.