CALL me paranoid, but when I’m sitting in a TV studio with a microphone clipped to my lapel, I tend not to engage in much chit-chat. Best to keep focused on the task ahead and haud my wheesht.

On a recent visit to Sky News in London to review the weekend newspapers, my co-reviewer had no such qualms.

In between segments she was keen to natter with the presenter about the stories we had just covered and the ones we were planning to look at next. Given she’s a former tabloid editor and GB News regular, when the chat turned to immigration my ears pricked up.

The presenter was herself an immigrant, and as they discussed the latest figures showing net migration into the UK of 745,000 in 2022 – considerably higher than previous estimates – I feared things might go pear-shaped. I chimed in to observe that, having read the breakdown of the figures, there appeared to be a gulf between the facts and the political rhetoric.

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When the UK Government declares that immigration is “far too high”, it doesn’t follow up by saying there are too many international students at UK universities. When Labour chime in to call the level of immigration “shockingly high”, they don’t rail against foreigners coming to the UK to fill vacancies in the NHS. They are happy for the message to simply be that there are “too many immigrants”.

To read many tabloid newspapers – indeed, many broadsheets too – you could be forgiven for believing that in 2022, 745,000 people must have come to the UK via small boats. The Tories don’t want immigration to be discussed in a measured way.

They want to ramp up concerns about “illegals” and then, once emotions are running high, lump a few other groups of people into the category of “undesirables”. It doesn’t really matter what the long-term consequences might be for the economy or society. In fact, with a General Election looming it might serve the Tories’ interests if even the medium-term consequences are dire.

Last month, Home Secretary James Cleverly described foreign students as “valuable people” who were among “our most successful exports”, but in the summer his government tightened the rules to stop them bringing family members with them to the UK.

Does he imagine postgraduate students with dependant relatives will simply ditch them and come regardless, or does he expect a different cohort to take their place? If universities fail to attract the same numbers, is that a price worth paying for the chance to trumpet a fall in immigration?

Back at Sky, behind-the-scenes scrutiny of the day’s papers resumed. The front page of The Times quoted Cleverly declaring that his government’s Rwanda policy was “not the be all and end all” when it came to stopping small-boat crossings and asserting that the UK leaving the European Convention on Human Rights – as desired by his predecessor Suella Braverman (below) – was the wrong approach and indeed would be counter-productive.

The National:

I was lulled into a false sense of security. Were we perhaps entering a new era of rational discussion of UK immigration, in which the Tories would tone down the dehumanising language and perhaps even start highlighting some positives?

Writing in The Guardian in May, economist Jonathan Portes observed that the end of free movement had reduced the flow of lower-skilled workers in some UK sectors while substantially increasing those coming to work in the NHS. The provisional immigration figures for 2022 reflected, he said, “a successful policy implemented efficiently and effectively and, even rarer, the crystallisation of a genuine ‘Brexit opportunity’.”

This could actually have been a good news story. Alas, the Tories prefer a scare story.

Back in the studio, our on-air discussion of immigration began. Despite the measured earlier exchanges, my co-reviewer caught me off guard by declaring the revised 2022 figures “terrifying”. I spluttered that I was not terrified of overseas students, or indeed health and care workers, but she had made her point by lobbing that word into the mix with no words of justification.

Would viewers have been engaged by a more prolonged follow-up discussion about the dependants of foreign postgraduate students or care workers? What power have boring facts in the face of extreme feelings such as “terror”?

Cleverly wants us to believe that foreign workers will keep coming to the UK to plug the huge gaps in our care sector regardless of what barriers we put in their place.

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Indeed, the suggestion is that we are generous to allow them to assist us in this way, and right to view with suspicion anyone who wants to pull a fast one by bringing any undesirables (i.e., their own children) along with them. Unison’s Christina McAnea says banning them from doing so will be an “utter disaster” and it’s hard to disagree.

Of course, I came up with my zinger of a retort too late: a truly terrifying impact of immigration policy would be people being abandoned without care because of staff shortages deliberately created by politicians who are more concerned about scary numbers than scary realities.