Those who know me know that I am partial to a joke and one of my favourites was about Mrs Skunk and her two children In and Out. I will not bear upon your patience by telling it again but thinking of it brings me to a topic which is the issue confronting us today. First, let me say that I have great faith in the common sense of the British people who consistently manage to outperform their politicians in that regard. But, we are in a mess and that, I have no doubt, will not induce a wave of sympathy across the world.
In 2010, one of our major political parties manage to squeeze back into power but only in coalition with our third placed party the Liberal Democrats (or the DimLebs as they are affectionately known). After five years in power they, the Tories, were able to form a majority government in 2015 offering a referendum on EU membership as part of their manifesto. They did this because of a threat from a trivially minor party to their right called UKIP who were attracting a tiny number of political skinheads who declared where UKIP I KIP. So we became committed to a referendum on UK membership of the EU and with it the Single Market from which this country has been a primary beneficiary. So much so that even given being outside the single currency area we still sell 45% of our exports to the EU. That percentage has declined gently over the last 15 years primarily because of the currency barrier but it has still increased in both volume and value. I think the economic argument has been absorbed by the population if we are to believe the opinion polls and on that basis, the Remain side appear to be winning the argument.
The problem is that we have become hung up on the 330k or so people who (net) migrated into the UK last year. Of these just over half were students from both the EU and elsewhere. If we take them out of count about half the EU migrants were those looking for jobs and half coming here to study. The 60k coming here to work have flooded our job market driving down wages - or so the story goes. You see, we have, in Britain, a great ability to spin a few facts into great myths - indeed, this year, we celebrate the 400th anniversary of our greatest myth-maker - William Shakespeare. The big reason why Britain attracts immigrants is that we have a glaring shortage of skills. The indigenous, working population is contracting because our fertility rate and has long fallen below the replacement rate of 2.1 to 1.89. Our retired population, not in work, is expanding and as a result we need more workers just to stand still as an economy. We need more strawberry pickers, plumbers, engineers, and doctors. If we don't get them my pension might not be paid so could I have that wave of sympathy please? If not for the country, for me?