August 13, 2009 | Commentary on Anglo-American Special Relationship

Brown's Red Tape is Separating Britain From its Friends

Yale University is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the United States, and is among its most Anglophile. Its Yale Centre for British Art holds the finest such collection outside Britain's borders. Its Political Union is modelled on those of Oxford and Cambridge. And "Bulldogs in Britain", which brings Yale students to Britain for a summer internship, is among its most popular programmes.

Or rather, it was among Yale's most popular programmes. This spring, Yale was forced to suspend "Bulldogs in Britain". The reason?

Britain's new visa regulations, which came into force in 2008, made it impossible for citizens of most nations outside the EU to take entry-level jobs or internships in Britain.

It's not just Yale's programme that's at risk: thousands of American colleges and universities participate in similar programmes. If you set out to devise a system to discourage American students from caring about Britain, you couldn't do any better.

But it gets worse. The Hansard Society can no longer educate foreign interns in the British parliamentary tradition. Eton can no longer fill positions created for the express purpose of employing American teachers. And the American School in London, thanks to the new rules, is now hiring teachers from France. The Franco-American School?

That's not what it says on the tin.

The argument, of course, is that foreigners are taking jobs that should be reserved for Britons. It's Gordon Brown's "British jobs for British workers" campaign made real. Of course, Brown was responding to public anger at the perception that Labour was deliberately importing foreigners to steal British jobs.

That explanation lends more coherence to Labour's failures than they merit. But from its over-generous benefits policies, to its spending mania, to its minimum wage, to its dumbing down of education, Labour never took job creation seriously. Its argument that British jobs should be reserved for Britons rests on the belief that there are only so many jobs to go around. That's ridiculous, but Labour's tried hard to make it a reality.

Brown's views on "British jobs" are of a piece with the rest of his policies. He eagerly accepts how limited and little Britain's possibilities supposedly are, and implies that the best the Government can do is to use the taxpayers' money to fossilise what already exists.

The British system is a bad one. I'm no apologist for the US visasystem, which makes the same mistakes. The US gives out too few H-1B visas to well-educated foreigners, which hurts our hi-tech industries. The application process for a J-1 visa, required for interns, is cumbersome and expensive. By making it difficult to intern in the US, we are inflicting a public diplomacy defeat upon ourselves.

My embarrassment at the US system is particularly acute because I work at the Margaret Thatcher Centre which is dedicated to promoting Anglo-American relations. Visa policies on both sides of the Atlantic are frustrating that aim and giving students and young professionals in both countries a reason to stay home.

Not all is bleak in the US. The Visa Waiver Programme, which covers tourist and business travel from 35 countries, is a valuable Bush-era reform that combines sensible liberalisation of visa policy with increased co-operation on security issues. Earlier this year, a bipartisan coalition of Senators proposed, amazingly, to promote
tourism to the US by taxing tourists. The Administration would do better to expand the Visa Waiver Programme.

The US has much to lose by restrictive policies. But Britain stands to suffer even more because of its own folly. Britain has worldwide financial and trading interests. It therefore has an enduring interest in the advance of liberal democracy, the only form of government that reliably respects the right to own property, and all other human rights.

The US shares these interests. But while shared interests are a necessary foundation for a close alliance, they are not sufficient.

The roots of the Special Relationship lie in the Anglo-American reconciliation at the end of the 19th century. That reconciliation owed a lot to social connections, like those now under threat, between students (such as the Rhodes Scholars) or even couples (such as Winston Churchill's parents).

Together, our visa policies are breaking civil ties that have been forged between these countries over the past hundred years. It's not just today's friendship that is at risk: it's tomorrow's. If we go on this way, Britain will be pulled even deeper into Europe.

For now, Labour bestrides the Commons like a colossus. But the giant's vision is fearful. Like Labour's embrace of the Lisbon Treaty, or its underfunding of the British Armed Forces, Brown's policies on visas are shrinking Britain's horizons to Europe.

He is separating Britain from its friends and its interests around the world, to the detriment of all.

Ted Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Theodore R. Bromund, Ph.D. Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in the Yorkshire Post (UK)