If politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose, what are they doing when they don’t say anything? This is the central mystery behind one of the untold stories of the pandemic in the UK: the precipitous decline in migration since the lockdown began last year. What does it mean for the economy as it reopens this week and what does the government think about it?
For 20 years the Conservatives have campaigned for stricter controls on migration in order to reduce the total number of people coming to live in the UK, whether for work, study or family reasons. Even Boris Johnson, a supposed liberal on these matters, made it a manifesto promise that “overall numbers will come down”. This was much to the dismay of businesses which benefited from relatively cheap supplies of labour, and which thought ministers were bluffing about wanting to cut net migration even as they pursued ending free movement through Brexit.