Environment secretary George Eustice has been rolled out to defend Priti Patel’s immigration proposals over the weekend, but a year ago he took a very different view on the points-based system.
Back in 2019, the newly-promoted minister was a fierce critic of the Home Office proposals when he claimed that it does not think about the waitresses serving coffee, the cleaners working late, the care worker helping grandparents, or the farm worker putting fresh vegetables on the table.
“It envisages a post-Brexit immigration policy where so-called ‘low-skilled’ people, who have fewer formal qualifications and are on lower incomes, will not be allowed into our country,” wrote Eustice in the Evening Standard. “Instead the Home Office types only want the ‘brightest and the best’, people like them who went to university and are on a big salary.”
He claimed that the “home secretary has been badly advised by the Migration Advisory Committee” before adding that they are a “panel of narrow-minded economists”.
“They believe, in essence, that if we get rid of poor people and the jobs they do, we will become wealthier,” he explained.
“As an idea, it’s up there with those in the Seventies who believed you could control inflation through a prices-and-incomes policy. In the real world, real businesses are delaying investment and expansion decisions because they fear they won’t be able to get the staff they need.”
Calling for the Home Office to “get serious”, he wrote that people “didn’t vote to pull up the drawbridge — and they certainly did not vote to give preferential access to the wealthy or those on big salaries.”
It is a difference of opinion to those expressed in recent days when he was left to defend Patel’s proposals.
Appearing on Question Time, asked to explain who will fill the gaps in social care workers, he dismissed concerns from the audience.
“Rather than simply having free movement with European countries, we have got a chance to say we are going to have a skills based system and not decide on them because they are European but that they’ve got to have people with the right skills from around the world.
“And in terms of the sectors that have been mentioned, it’s important to recognise those citizens here now working can stay. We need to try wean off the constant pipe stream of people coming from other countries.
“And there are industries that could automated more to replace some of those jobs, but admittedly not the care sector”.