The decision by Amber Rudd last Thursday to commission a study on the economic impact of immigration from the EU seems excessively late to the party bearing in mind that the Hastings MP has spent more than a year as Home Secretary and it is 13 months since the referendum. It also comes four months since Parliaments voted to sign Article 50. However the 2015 Tory manifesto committed the nation to fulfil David Camerons promise made exactly 1650 days ago in January 2013 to hold the referendum, so Amber could have reasonably expected her predecessor to have commissioned such a study any time in the last 4 years. By comparison to Theresa May, Amber Rudd has acted relatively promptly on this issue. There are 606 days till we lose our EU membership and the full report by the Migration Advisory Committee will be published with a full 6 months beforehand. Whatever the results of the study, the terms, stable door and horse bolted seem bound to feature. The MAC is made up of 4 Academics and it is described on the Home Office website as an independent, non-statutory, non-time limited, non-departmental public body that advises the government on migration issues. The Chair of the MAC, Professor Alan Manning swiftly responded to Amber Rudd promising he would engage with stakeholders and that he would endeavor to generate an interim response as the work progresses. In terms of the Stakeholders he ended the letter stating that MAC looked forward to engaging with colleagues in government, business and elsewhere. Let us hope the elsewhere comment is genuinely a catch all word and not simply a way of trying to sound inclusive. Alan Manning also stated that the commission will shortly produce a call for evidence setting out how stakeholders can get involved.
Many people have argued that we should have a second referendum after the terms of the deal, or ‘no-deal’ to leave the EU are made public. The impact on our society will be felt in many ways in the years after April 2019 and whilst the labour market is one of the key issues, there are other ways that our departure will be felt. Clearly Alan Manning and his three colleagues will be kept busy over the next 13 months, but perhaps there are other people who are just as trustworthy who could be called upon to put together a comprehensive assessment of other impacts of our departure. For instance the risk of losing jobs and businesses when we close our borders and end the trade arrangements that have developed over the last 40 years. There will also be impacts felt in terms of culture and there will no doubt be educational changes at both School and University levels. If by September 2018 there was to be a suite of such studies available, perhaps an October 2018 date for a referendum would mean that an informed public could then make a meaningful decision with an alternative to the nonsense of the red Vote Leave bus and lies on both sides of the debate?
While we wait for MAC to produce their report on the EU, the report by HM Inspector of Prisons on Youth Offender Institutions which was published two weeks ago should be raising questions for the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner and her colleagues on the Sussex Criminal Justice Board. The report states that there has been a “staggering” decline in standards and safety at youth jails in England and Wales and “no young offender institution or privately run secure training centre officially inspected in early 2017 was safe to hold children and young people.” This annual report disclosed that assaults and self-harm rates were running at double the level of six years ago and, while the reasons for the drop in standards were likely to be complex: “The current state of affairs is dangerous, counterproductive and will inevitably end in tragedy unless urgent corrective action is taken.” It must be tempting for the SCJB to wait for the Government to respond to Peter Clarke’s report. However I believe they need to act, not sit and consider. There is a huge amount of evidence that holding prisoners a long distance from their home community reduces the prospect of them being rehabilitated in an effective manner. This means that for women and young people who are convicted and imprisoned, due to the lack of Sussex jails for their age group or gender, that their family and friends have to travel long distances to visit them. If every youth establishment is unsafe, perhaps the SCJB could call on the Government to fund a small secure establishment in Sussex that could reverse both the challenges identified in Peter Clarke’s report and also help reduce the reoffending rates amongst young people.