The Tories assumed that people from less wealthy countries were desperate to come to the UK for work – that wasn’t the case
The Conservatives are trying to draw a new dividing line in British politics: wages versus immigration. Boris Johnson used his speech at last week’s conference to position the Tories as the party of higher wages, promising a departure from the UK’s old economic model, which he claimed used “uncontrolled” immigration as “an excuse for failure to invest in people, in skills and in the equipment or machinery they need to do their jobs”.
The logic is brutal but simple. Johnson is attempting to recast a supply chain crisis caused partly by shortages of HGV drivers and agricultural workers as temporary pain in the service of long-term gain. In this new telling, the shortages will wean the UK off low-skilled immigrant labour that once came via EU freedom of movement, thus fulfilling one of the key promises of Brexit.
Daniel Trilling is the author of Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe and Bloody Nasty People: the Rise of Britain’s Far Right