Richard North, 21/02/2020  

When the 24-hour global news cycle combines with the torrent of output from social media, there is one certain effect. No longer do we have a small number of issues – or even single issues - dominating the headlines for days on end.

In fact, the "nine-day wonder" – which used to be the measure of transient events - is a thing of the past. Rarely can one topic hold the popular attention for more than a couple of days and, with the tendency of the media to preview planned events, even an important issue may often be dispensed with within a day of its occurrence.

Thus, when David Frost delivered his speech on Monday evening, it was hardly surprising that it registered so briefly in the popular media, although the Commission's response has seen the issues revisited several times. Even now, they still have some coverage, not least from "Snake Oil" Singham in the fanboy gazette.

Perhaps coverage might have been more intense had Priti Patel not decided to launch the Johnson administration's immigration policy the day after Frost's speech.

One wonders if that was intentional, aimed deliberately at overshadowing the trade talks issue. Drowning out one issue with another is a classic news management technique, frequently deployed by government when it wants to give the impression of openness, yet wishes to curtail the debate.

Predictably – and entirely understandably – the immigration policy has dominated media coverage. And, equally predictably, Guardian readers hate it, as does the left in general, which is railing about the exclusion of low-skilled workers – and even the assumption that certain classes of workers (such as carers) are low-skilled.

Not all the comment is without merit, though, as one Guardian reader writes to the paper in these terms:
This immigration policy gives the appearance of one concocted by a keyboard warrior in a back room in Islington. A policy drafted without consultation with those sectors of the economy dependent on a number of unskilled workers appears foolish. Headline-catching it may be, and it will certainly appeal those core Tory voters who are opposed to immigration. But is it practical?
This is Derrick Joad from Leeds, but he may be a little premature in assuming that the policy will appeal to Tory (and other) voters "who are opposed to immigration". After all, a points-based system (which is already in force in the UK) is not a control policy as such. It does not limit the numbers – simply it shapes the skill-sets of those who migrate to these shores.

As such, to call it an Australian-style points-based system is rather misleading as the key component of that system – the annual quota – is missing from the UK version. The government actually refuses to put numbers on its policy.

It merely says that "around 70 percent of resident EEA citizens arriving in the UK since 2004 would be found ineligible for either a skilled-work, family or Tier 4 visa given their current (2016-18) characteristics".

However, we see sections of the Indian press, as in the Hindustan Times applauding the new policy, stating that it is "likely to enable more Indians to access employment opportunities in the post-Brexit UK".  And when the Lagos-based Daily Sun is reporting the British High Commissioner saying that the policy "is to the advantage of Nigerians", one wonders whether we are simply curtailing EEA migrants in order to open the doors to the rest of the world.

Looking askance at the situation in India – where the British High Commissioner has also been touting for business - Pete suggests that we might be looking at a backroom deal. To me, it looks suspiciously like the Conservatives are offering visas in exchange for the support of the Indian community in the UK.

Around the time of the general election, I observed that the two main parties were playing the race card, with South Asian support polarising. Moslems from Pakistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh tend to support Labour while the Tories are actively pitching for the Indians.

Certainly, Johnson's policy is far more likely to favour Indians than South Asian Moslems, giving the Tories a potential electoral advantage – but also intensifying stresses in the UK as we import political conflict over Kashmir and, in India, the unsavoury march of Hindu supremacy.

Here, though, the two policy strands of immigration and trade begin to merge. If the UK is not going to sign up for a comprehensive trade deal with the EU, then it must look urgently to the rest of the world to make up for our losses.

Yet, when it comes to India, this is not a good country to do business with. Apart from a staggeringly inefficient (and corrupt) bureaucracy, enforcement of standards is honoured more in the breach than the observance.

As Pete points out, food adulteration is acute, where the quality of food is lowered either by the addition of inferior quality material to bulk out the weight, or by extraction of valuable ingredients. It includes intentional addition or substitution of the substances, but also biological and chemical contamination during growth, storage, processing, transport and distribution of food products. In India it is an epidemic.

Far worse is fake and adulterated medicines, often lethal, which again is a serious concern. As much as procedures are not followed and standards auditing is poor, local officials are very often easily bribed and paperwork is often forged.

Indian officials very often have fake qualifications bought off the black market so there is little possibility of recognising Indian safety systems and inspections as equal - and the lack of security at ports often means goods are substituted or simply stolen.

And for all that we're complaining about the EU's demands for a level playing field, when it comes to India, any idea that we can rely on the government to enforce labour conditions, animal welfare or environmental standards, is a hollow joke.

Thus, the imports we would be prepared (or able) to accept from India, in exchange for access for our goods, would be so small in volume that we would have little leverage.

Services are not much better. To open up our market further, the UK would be risking wholesale theft of intellectual property. India is also unlikely to honour commitments on data protection. Pete informs us that, in 2017 data theft increased by 783 percent in India.

If you speak to anyone who has ever outsourced UK software development to India, he says, their advice is "don't". They're dishonest actors and there is no saving to be had. There is no polite way of saying it but India is a corrupt country from top to bottom. It is a caveat emptor society ever keen to exploit the unwary customer.

Thus, basically, the only tradable commodity we have is access for people – a flow of visas which will allow the sub-continent much freer immigration rules than at present apply.

Inasmuch as immigration was an issue in the referendum campaign, the main concern was about the numbers admitted to the UK, and the enforced multiculturalism that was the inevitable result. For Brexit simply to limit EEA migration in exchange for increasing it elsewhere – as a price we pay for trade – does not seem to be the outcome most leavers were expecting.

In all respects, therefore, it seems the Tory version of Brexit leaves something to be desired. More and more, we are finding that it is the people who are being "done" rather than Brexit.

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