European Covid-19 Management: “French patients are now being treated in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg. High-speed TGV trains have been converted into mobile hospitals, with a single patient in each carriage.

Military planes have moved some people, as well as the continent’s ambulances. “

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The scale of the coronavirus crisis exposes how pointless the Brexit cause is
Rafael Behr
(Copyright Rafael Behr / The Guardian – 1st April 2020).

“Suppose for a moment that Britain had not already committed to quitting the single market. Then imagine the government choosing the peak of a pandemic to plan new obstructions for goods flowing between the UK and Europe. Picture Rishi Sunak, wunderkind chancellor, explaining why supply chains must be disrupted and friction added at Channel ports. Ponder ministers selling the idea of a customs border between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland – sand in the wheels of recovery, plus salt in the wounds of history. Pitched that way, as a post-viral convalescence strategy, the UK’s Brexit trajectory is absurd. Johnson’s best-case scenario – a “Canada-style” deal – promises only shock to a debilitated system.”

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A letter from the Chair of Oxford for Europe to the MP for Henley, John Howell

24 February 2020​

Dear John, 

First of all would like to congratulate you for your reappointment to the Council of Europe, and to the various roles with which you have been entrusted within that august body. I’m sure that you will carry them out with your usual skill and enthusiasm. 

As a member of the Council of Europe, and as an MP on the more moderate wing of your party, you must, I imagine, in common with many of your constituents including myself, be concerned to read the details of this Government’s new points-based immigration system. I fully accept that it had been signalled by previous announcements and in the party manifesto – however I have to say that the more optimistic among us had hoped that we would see something more fit for purpose than has now emerged.

As I understand it, the motive behind the new proposals is to limit migration while leaving the door open for those who are deemed to be essential workers. In this it appears to have signally failed, and that is not just my opinion but a view which is shared by both the CBI and the TUC. I think you will agree that when a government succeeds in uniting these two organisations in opposition to it, it really has cause to reflect on the reasons why . 

Firstly, the choice of designated occupations is almost arbitrary. While it includes healthcare it excludes social care, a sector in which there is a shortfall of something approaching 100,000 people, so almost certainly many vulnerable patients would be left uncared for. 

Equally striking is that there is no provision for workers in the hospitality industry, which has traditionally relied upon heavy heavily upon European migrants, whose language skills are often indispensable, and when incomes are frequently low. Many employers in this domain are already wondering whether their businesses will be viable if the proposals go ahead unamended. 

The government may argue that the list of chosen occupations can be adjusted at a later stage, but if due consideration had been given at this point that would not have been necessary, and as you will be aware, the clock is ticking. 

Migrants will in effect need to speak English and this plus the 10,000 threshold will severely hit seasonal agriculture (where English is not needed) – we are informed that the actual requirement is 70,000, so fruit and vegetables will rot in the fields. 

Even the fishing industry, much vaunted by the Government, will be fatally hit as there is no point in catching (more?) fish if the processing industry, heavily dependent on EU migrants, cannot function. 

A further problem is of course the income threshold. Although this is lower, at (normally) £26,000, than the figure originally implemented in regard to non-European migrants, it still excludes many in the care sector and other essential services. People in those sectors are understandably deeply offended by the implication that because they are low earning they do not matter. To equate skill with earning power is naïve at best – many people choose to take a drop in income in favour of more useful and rewarding work. Furthermore an income threshold creates difficulties for many young people whose starting salary will be low but was long-term potential is higher. 

On top of that of course, the EU 27 will respond in kind making it more difficult for British people to work abroad. And if that were not enough, the end of freedom of movement will complicate trade negotiations enormously, given that the EU 27 have said the four freedoms are sacrosanct. It is appalling that the Government can bring in such changes, knowing the harm they will do, justifying it solely by saying it is “the will of the people“. What happened to leadership? And what about the 50% of the UK population who never wanted this in the first place? 

We frequently hear it argued from government circles that it would be possible to train up British workers to fill the shot shortfall, and that there are over 8 million adults in the country who are economically inactive. This fails to take account of the fact that the vast majority of this number are inactive for a reason, e.g. as a result of illness, childcare responsibility, care of dependent relatives et cetera. The belief that they can in some way be forced back to work is misguided at best and uncaring at worst. The true number available for work may be 1-2 million, and even these are, as you well know, not geographically  distributed to solve the already existing workforce shortage. You own constituency, for example, currently has near-full employment. 

One of the arguments put forward in defence of the points based system is that it works in Australia. I find it difficult to believe that Australia can be put forward as a model of how to restrict migration. Net migration into Australia is far higher than in the UK, about 9  compared with about 5 per thousand. This reflects an understanding in Australia that overall migration is in fact good for the economy and that efforts to keep down numbers merely for the sake of keeping down numbers are unwise.        

I do realise the new policy will be defended on the basis that it is not really a matter of pulling up the drawbridge, more of equalising opportunities for non-European vis-a-vis EU citizens. However, if this is the case, then one of the unforeseen effects will be to deprive the populations of developing countries of many of their trained professionals. Is it right that the government of, for example, the Philippines, spends vast sums of money educating healthcare professionals to migrate to the UK? Particularly at a time when their European colleagues are making the decision not to come because of the hurdles that have been erected in their way. Surely this is totally against the spirit of helping those less fortunate than ourselves? 

You will be as aware as I that many of this Government’s proposals, including those on migration, are causing major friction with senior civil servants, not least in the Home Office. Though loyal to the government, these officials, with huge experience of policy implementation, are making clear the problems which they foresee, and ministers, rather than listening to their very sensible advice, are threatening instead to replace them. Surely this fact alone should give rise to deep concern. 

As a moderate Conservative you must sometimes reflect what previous leaders of your party would think, in particular Churchill, the joint founder of the European movement, Heath, who led us into the EU, Thatcher, who helped to establish the European Single Market. I submit that they would be turning in their graves over this continuing act of national self-harm. Yes, Brexit is now a reality, a fact which I’m sure both of us deeply regret. However, it remains within our grasp to work to mitigate the damage, and to see to it that better counsel prevails, and that steps are not taken which go way beyond anything mandated in the referendum. I therefore very much hope that you will feel able to speak out in Parliament on behalf of the many of your constituents who will suffer if these proposals go ahead. 

Best wishes, 


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