Immigration:- putting the cart before the horse?

Last week, the Guardian published a leaked draft of a Home Office document entitled  ‘Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System After the UK Leaves the EU’

It contained the welcome news that the Government is determined to bring immigration down and intends to use the opportunities presented by Brexit to honour – albeit rather belatedly – its pledge to bring net migration down below 100,000.

Given the high profile of the immigration issue during last year’s referendum campaign, it is the least the government can do. In summary, free movement will come to an end on Brexit day. A scheme for seasonal workers will allow our fruit to be picked, but work permits will be time-limited, with those for low-skilled workers lasting only two years, with no right to settle. For all new EU workers, the right to bring family members will be significantly curtailed. UK companies will be encouraged to take on UK workers where possible.  Though it does not give precise details, the document says the UK is minded to introduce an income threshold for some EU citizens before they will be allowed to reside here.

It all sounds good in theory. There are good,sound reasons for slashing immigration. The pressure exerted by migrants is making it harder for native Brits to get onto the housing ladder or, in some places, to see a GP or find a place for their children in a local school. The use of short-term work permits will give the government  – and indeed, business – greater flexibility, especially as advances in robotics will drastically shrink the numbers of low-skilled workers required. Some experts suggest that we will have problems finding work for all the current UK working age population within 30 years. We certainly don’t want to saddle ourselves with lots of migrants whose jobs have been taken by machines but who have a right to stay here.

Of course, a Tory party which has found itself on the back foot since the General Election will be keen to do all it can to rebuild its support and there are plenty of voted to be garnered by being tough on immigration.

Yet the welcome given to this document must be tempered with a feeling that the Government is rather putting the cart before the horse. We know what it wants to do about immigration but very little about its proposed relationship with the EU. We would probably be able to implement most these restrictions as a member of EFTA and accessing the Single Market via the EEA agreement and applying restrictions in the same way as Liechtenstein, in spite of claims by one EU official that  “Limits on numbers of people or categories of migrant worker are incompatible with single market access.” They seem to have forgotten this small Alpine country which invalidates their argument.  Likewise, we would certainly be able to restrict migration if we stormed out of the current negotiations and left the EU in March 2019 with no agreement and some commentators are suggesting that this is seriously being considered.

The EFTA route has thus far not been in favour while walking out would be foolish and lead to the “cliff edge” which we are repeatedly being told the Government wishes to avoid. So what, then, is the Brexit framework into which these immigration proposals will fit?

Furthermore, if the Government is serious about reducing net migration below 100,000, what about immigration from outside the EU? The most recent statistics did record a drop in arrivals from EU-27, but arrivals from the rest of the world stood at 266,000 during the same period. The government could act here and now to stem the flow if it so desired. Then what about illegal immigrants? Will the Government finally get serious and deport them?

So while this document is a step in the right direction, a lot of questions remain unanswered.

 

Some reflections from a bewildered Brexiteer

To my dying day, I will always look back with a sense of real satisfaction and pride in having played a part, albeit a pretty minor one, in securing that crucial vote on June 23rd last year. This time last year, like many leave campaigners, I was in the thick of one of the most hectic, demanding periods of my entire life. The late nights travelling back from debates, the numerous phone calls and e-mails to answer, the leaflets to put through doors in my neighbourhood. It just didn’t stop. When it was finally over, it took a month, even for a fit and healthy person like myself, to recover.

But it was worth it! That sense of exhilaration on the morning of June 24th when the leave votes hit that magic total 16,775,992 was something I shall never forget. We leavers had started as the underdogs. We had Cameron’s government using all the levers at its disposal to persuade us to stay in. We had a very limited timespan to get our message across. We were not united on exit strategy and there was no love lost between several leading leave campaigners, but yet we won.

I can understand some remainers’ motives. Some people, albeit a dwindling number, believe the government and therefore fell for “Project Fear”. Others decided to “hold on to Nurse for fear of something worse”, which was understandable given the lack of a clear post-Brexit vision. “There’s a lot wrong with the EU, but it’s the least bad option to stay in.” Some people reached polling day still with little idea of what the EU actually was and therefore decided to stick to the status quo. The EU has historically been a peripheral issue in UK politics – just ask anyone who has stood as a UKIP candidate in a previous general election!

However, what bewilders me – and no doubt many other leave campaigners – is just why anyone who actually understands what the EU is all about can actually want their country to be a member state and even now would love to stop the Brexit process – neither out of fear nor of concern about economic problems, but because they really believe in the EU project.

This applies not just to the hard-core remainiacs over here but the members of EU-27. As the final preparations for the Brexit negotiations get under way, the BBC took some soundings from a number of European countries. The comment which shows the least understanding of the sentiment of the UK electorate came, rather surprisingly from the Netherlands. “A self-inflicted wound” was one Dutch columnist’s description of Brexit. Perhaps the best response to this is that Brexit is like a cancer operation. There may well be some pain at first, especially if the negotiations end badly, but for us, EU membership is like a malignant tumour which had to be cut out if we were to survive. Yes, the surgery may leave us with a wound, but the alternative would have been far worse. The columnist in question has clearly not moved on from the drama of last June when a number of continental leaders, including the former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, called the Brexit vote “beyond comprehension.” Bryan Macdonald, an Irish journalist who is based in Moscow, used exactly the same phrase five months later. “It’s beyond comprehension that the UK would vote itself into irrelevance,” he wrote.

Actually, dear Messrs Bildt and Macdonald, it’s very easy to understand why we voted to leave. There are umpteen reasons. Here’s just a few:-

  • We should never have been part of the EU in the first place. Last June’s Brexit vote righted a great wrong perpetrated on us by Edward Heath over 40 years ago. When he realised that honesty about the real objective of the European project would have resulted in the UK electorate rejecting membership, he deliberately downplayed the loss of sovereignty. Resentment over this deceit has been festering ever since.
  • Back in the 1940s, the idea that a professional class of politicians, aided by an army of bureacrats, may have seemed a good way of stopping another World War, but things have move on since then. There is no threat from Soviet Union to counter any more and the professional politicians and bureaucrats, far from offering any solutions, have become part of the problem.
  • The EU is fundamentally undemocratic. Even as ardent supporter of the European project as the Labour MEP Richard Corbett talked of a “democratic deficit” as far back as 1977. And nothing has changed in the subsequent 40 years. The Dutch and the Irish were made to vote again when they rejected the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties respectively, while Cecilia Malmström, the former Trade Commissioner, responded to a petition signed by three million people against TTIP, the EU-US Free trade deal, by saying contemptuously, “I do not take my mandate from the European people.”
  • As far as trade is concerned, we are much better off with one of our own representatives on global bodies like the World Trade Organisation speaking for us rather than having someone from the EU trying to represent 28 nations which sometimes have very conflicting trade objectives. Likewise, we are much better off seeking our own trading arrangements with other countries, free from the protectionism that is still endemic in some EU member states.
  • We desperately need to cut the numbers of immigrants coming to the UK, Our poor little island is badly overcrowded and advances in robotics will soon knock on the head the argument that we need mass immigration to keep the economy ticking over. Thanks to the principle of freedom of movement of people, however, unless we leave the EU, we can do little to staunch the flow.
  • The waters surrounding the UK are some of the best fishing grounds in the world, but the EU Common Fisheries Policy has devastated our once-flourishing fishing industry. Only Brexit can allow us to regain control and to determine who catches how many fish in our own waters.
  • The nation state is far from dead and buried. Only in Europe has this lack of confidence in the ability of a nation’s institutions to manage its own affairs taken such deep roots. The Brexit vote was an expression of a desire to re-join the ranks of sovereign, independent nations. What is hard to understand about that?

To any convinced Brexiteer, these arguments are so overwhelming that unless anyone either has their snouts in the EU very substantial trough or else is stark raving bonkers, what is so bewildering is not so much why anyone should want to derail Brexit either in this country of in Brussels, but why we are not at the head of a queue of nations scrambling for the exit door and freedom.

A monopoly on virtue?

It was the “right” result in Austria but the “wrong” result in Italy. Who says so? Well, a number of German politicians for a start.  The victory of the Green candidate Alexander van der Bellen over the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer in yesterday’s re-run Presidential Election was, in Martin Schulz’s words,  a defeat for “anti-European, backward-looking populism.” Quite a few other European worthies agree with him. His German compatriot, Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said that, “a load has been taken off the mind of all of Europe.” He called the result “a clear victory for good sense.”

By contrast, the reaction to the defeat of Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in a referendum over a revision to the Italian constitution was very different. The German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that the result was  “not a positive development in the case of the general crisis in Europe.” Another German, Manfred Weber, the head of the main conservative group in the European Parliament, told ZDF television that the result was a “setback”.

No one is suggesting that Renzi’s resignation followng his defeat spells the end of the EU and furthermore, pro-EU sources insist that there will be no crisis in the Eurozone in consequence, although yesterday’s vote will not do anything to address the plight of some Italian banks. What these two referendums have underlined, however, is the extent to which the prevalent attitude in the EU is – to paraphrase George Orwell – “Pro-federalist good, pro-nation state bad.”

Those of us who debated with remainers during the referendum found ourselves crossing swords with a mixture of opponents. Some, one has to say, misled, spun and were thoroughly unpleasant people. Others were genuine believers in a project with whom we would beg to differ. No reasonable person would disagree with the objective  of preventing a third world war, which was one reason why the EU project gained such traction in the years after 1945. Some remainers still genuinely believe that a federal superstate is still the best war of preserving peace, but at least they will be civil with you if you think their reasoning is faulty.

Furthermore, such people do not claim a monopoly of virtue or common sense. It is this arrogant attitude, epitomised by people like Schulz and Gabriel, which is so sickening. It would be naive to deny that there are some decidely nasty people who are vehement opponents of federalism. Take the Golden Dawn party in Greece, for example, which is claimed to include overt Nazi supporters among its membership. Even in this country, it has to be admitted that not everyone who voted for Brexit was an angel.

Nonetheless, there were many people who supported Brexit on June 23rd and many people in EU-27 who are uncomfortable with the federalist vision and who are not in any way violent, racist or stupid.  There are many rational, sensible reasons for believing that nation states with robust democratic processes offer a better hope of peace than a federal monster which concentrates so much power in the hands of a remote, unelected élite. There are good reason for believing that in the long term, there will be economic benefits from leaving the EU and regaining the freedom to control our international trading arrangements.

Even touching that knotty subject of immigration, there are good reasons for wanting a greater degree of control over who enters this country. Even the claim that we need immigrants to fill jobs is actually very short-termist. Advances in robotics are likely to see 10 million low-skilled jobs  – the type largely undertaken by immigrants – replaced by machines in the next 20 years in this country.

None of this matters to the self-righteous europhile élite. They are the good guys, the forward-looking people and we are dinosaurs. In this country,  the Brexit vote has so traumatised academics at the University of Nottingham that they are being offered “wellbeing workshops” to cope with “stress and anxiety” caused by the Brexit vote.

We can be thankful that, whatever the machinations of some hard-core remainers in this country who still refuse to accept the people’s voice, the EU at least seems happy – indeed keen – to see us go. If, however, its leading advocates continue, with no real justification, to claim the moral high ground while treating everyone without exception in EU-27 who shares our reservations about the EU project as backward-looking and malign, such behaviour will only ensure that sooner or later, another country will follow us through the exit door.

 

Photo by KMo Foto