Scotland shut out of UK immigration policy talks: Macpherson

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Ben Macpherson - Europe, Migration & International Development Minister 27 June 2018

Scottish Government

Comments by Sanwar Ali:

There is bound to be friction as the SNP would like greater autonomy on immigration and would like to see the UK remain in the EU.  These are things that the Boris Johnson Government are against.  Regional variations in immigration policy can make sense and already happens in other countries.  Canada, for example, has a different immigration system for Quebec.

With increasing levels of unemployment following the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps the Boris Johnson Conservative Government may be less willing to consider a more liberal immigration policy for Scotland.  It does seem to be unfair that immigration ministers are not even willing to talk to the Scottish finance and migration minister, Ben Macpherson.

It is not just the Scottish Government that faces problems in dealing with the UK Government in Westminster and public officials.  There are numerous injustices relating to immigration cases that can only be resolved it seems by publicly shaming the UK Government and UK visas at the Home Office, in particular, in the media.  Otherwise, it seems no one will listen.   Governmental officials stick together to deny and cover up discrimination and other types of bad behaviour.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has blasted the UK government for its disrespect toward Scotland, amid claims that Westminster has ignored calls for emergency talks over UK immigration policy. The Scottish government’s finance and migration minister, Ben Macpherson, claims that he has urged Westminster politicians to meet at least seven times.

Macpherson alleges that Westminster has ‘failed to respond positively’ and he is yet to meet with any UK immigration ministers since Boris Johnson took office. “I’ve not met an immigration minister since the last government – the May government,” Macpherson said.

However, the Conservative government hit back, saying that attempts by Scotland to appear constructive were ‘disingenuous and another attempt to further the cause of independence.’

Post-Brexit immigration system

Upon completion of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, a new points-based immigration system is set to come into force on 1 January 2021, which the UK government says: ‘will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally.’

However, the Scottish government has reportedly put forward several constructive solutions, which Macpherson argues ‘better cater for Scotland’s needs.’

It’s understood that suggestions from Scotland include:

  • The decentralization of migration within a UK framework
  • A rural migration pilot
  • UK-wide changes to the immigration system
  • Greater influence from the Scottish government over the Tier 2 shortage occupation list

Macpherson said: “Unfortunately, the last time I met with a UK government minister was in July 2019 – that was with Caroline Nokes who, to her credit, despite policy differences, had established a fairly regular engagement with myself and the other devolved administrations.”

“However, the breakdown in that since the Johnson government came into power has been unfortunate, to put it mildly, and very disappointing, given the importance of these issues,” Macpherson added.

Several letters sent to immigration ministers

Macpherson claims that he has written to various different UK immigration ministers, including Brandon Lewis (twice), Seema Kennedy, Kevin Foster three times – once as recently as August and Priti Patel. On each occasion he has asked for a meeting dating back to his first letter sent in July 2019, but has had ‘no positive responses.’

The Scottish finance and migration minister said: “I’ve had some responses in writing but no positive responses to a meeting, no phone calls, nothing.

“I think it’s astonishing and deeply disrespectful to the devolution process that an issue as important as immigration has not been engaged with by the UK government – who in other areas of government policy do have at least some regularity of inter-governmental exchange.

I would encourage them and urge them to engage with myself and my Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts on these very important issues.”

Ideological and not logical about post-Brexit visa system

Macpherson accused Westminster politicians of being ‘ideological and not logical’ in regard to the post-Brexit, points-based immigration system. He warned that ‘tailored solutions will be increasingly required in Scotland when free movement for EU workers ends.’

Mr Macpherson claims that there will be a much more restrictive environment under the new system, making it more difficult for UK employers to hire the people they need to ‘prosper and succeed.’

However, Macpherson’s comments have sparked a backlash from the MSP. Scottish Conservative MSP, Oliver Mundell, blasted Macpherson’s assertion and backed Westminster’s new look immigration system.

Mundell said: “No-one is disputing the need for solutions and creative thinking across immigration.

“However, to try and pretend that this is a constructive approach when it’s yet another example of the Scottish government refusing to recognise the constitutional settlement in the United Kingdom and another attempt to further the cause of independence, I think is disingenuous.”

Mundell added: “I think it shows exactly why the UK government is right to continue to pursue a points-based system that works well in other countries. Why are organisations like the CBI still in favour of finding a UK-wide solution to prevent disruption for businesses?”

Reach a compromise on UK immigration system

Macpherson has insisted that he has attempted to ‘reach a compromise’ for the wider benefit of Scotland and to improve the UK immigration system as a whole.

However, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, waded into the debate warning that the SNP and Westminster have very different objectives. He said: “Even with the best will in the world, if both governments wanted to co-operate and meet together and discuss properly, they appear to have fundamentally different objectives.”

“The UK government wants to significantly reduce immigration, operates a hostile environment and is ending free movement in order to achieve that objective whereas the Scottish Government welcomes immigration, values it and doesn’t want to turn off the taps in that way,” Harvie added.

Harvie argued that there is clearly a ‘dysfunctional, inter-governmental relationship on a number of fronts.’ On the side of the UK government, there is a ‘resistance to resolving that dysfunction,’ Harvie said.

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