Protesters say refugees and migrants are welcome on UN anti-racism day (picture: Guy Smallman)

Tory and Labour leaders might argue over migration, but they are united in making racist arguments for keeping Britain’s borders closed.  Official figures for net migration last year—set to be released this week—were expected to reach an all-time high. 

That’s not a problem. Migrants don’t raise prices or cut jobs. They don’t wreck the NHS. In fact the health service depends on migrants. But the Tories will use the figures to ramp up racism.

Under pressure from business, the Tories are split over whether they should further shut the borders or give out more visas. We couldn’t know whether the Tories would band together or continue to rip themselves apart.

But given the convenient timing of the revelations about home secretary Suella Braverman’s speeding offences, she might be the one to take the hit. The Labour Party is also spinning in circles while trying to work out its line on immigration. More overseas workers but less migration seems to be its bizarre goal.

Leader Keir Starmer said that his “direction of travel” would be for migration to come down. He explained he “would expect” net migration to drop below 500,000—the figure for last July.

“But I’m not going to put a number on it,” he said. “I would like and want to see the number coming down”. For Starmer that reduction “would be more” than a few thousand people. Starmer did add that migration figures “will depend” on getting a skills agenda sorted and building up the NHS workforce. 

That’s despite previous comments about building the health service with non-foreign workers. Meanwhile shadow equalities minister Anneliese Dodds said Labour could push immigration even higher in the short term to bring workers in with the “right” skills.

But shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said Labour “wouldn’t turn to immigration as the easy answer” for shortages.

In an eerily similar stance to Braverman, Reeves wants to see “people who are already in Britain being trained up” to fill the gaps. “There are many people who are not in work with the right support, could get into work,” she thinks. The Tories took power under Boris Johnson’s manifesto pledge to reduce net migration. 

At the time, that figure was 271,000. With net migration at 500,000 by July last year, and the expectation of it being more than 700,000 by December, Starmer will jeer at the Tories.

But even within his own party, how to fill workforce shortages, whether to reduce migration and the best plan of action for Britain’s borders is contested. Either way, socialists must resist the racism rooted in these debates, which plays a role for our rulers. We say open the borders—let in every migrant and refugee.

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