While the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has no formal role in devising the bloc’s immigration policy, his words this week have turned much of the Brexit debate on its head. In an interview on French television, he said that France should suspend non-EU immigration for three to five years — with the exception of students and refugees — and that the EU needed to toughen external borders that have become a ‘sieve’.
Had those words come from the mouth of Nigel Farage, he would have been excoriated, not least by Barnier himself. How can any country (let alone a continent) manage in the modern world while shutting itself off to people from, say, India, Australia and America? But Britain found itself in a similar situation before Brexit, deporting American violinists because they did not earn enough — while accepting anyone from any EU member state without exception. This systematic discrimination against non-European immigrants was indefensible.
Brexit was not a drawbridge-up moment. It was a means of better managing globalisation, in a way that carries more democratic consent. Most of the world’s countries have control over their borders; when voters chose to retrieve this control by leaving the EU it was hardly an extreme act. Britain is now fast-tracking the immigration of highly skilled workers from around the world as part of a new, fairer, points-based immigration system that better fits our strong links with the Indian subcontinent and Australasia. David Cameron’s plan to limit net migration to 100,000 a year has thankfully been abandoned.
For obvious reasons, this new points-based system has not yet had a chance to be tested. It has been introduced into a world of travel bans and quarantine, in which it is hard enough to plan a holiday, let alone an international move.