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The Observer view on immigration: it’s time for Tories to admit that Britain needs foreign workers

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Immigration has long been a fraught area of political discourse. Legitimate discussions about its benefits and disadvantages have always had the potential to be co-opted by ethno-nationalists in service of racism.

For populist politicians looking to distract from or find scapegoats for their domestic failures, immigrants and asylum seekers can be an easy target.From Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech, to Harold Wilson’s racist policy of denying entry to Kenyan Asians with British passports, to New Labour’s targeting of asylum seekers, to the current government’s Rwanda refugee policy: Britain has been far from immune from these tendencies in recent decades.

Government policy has too often been driven by unrealistic promises, such as Theresa May’s pledge to cut net migration to the “tens of thousands”, not by what is in the best interests of the country.This week the latest set of migration statistics will be published.

They will show net migration at record levels, driven by large numbers of people from Ukraine and Hong Kong moving to the UK as a result of humanitarian resettlement schemes, and a post-Brexit liberalisation of the immigration regime for non-EU international students and skilled workers.

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