I fully support OpenBritain in fighting for our place in the EU, if that is what they are fighting for. We need strong voices to push back against the simplistic and damaging rhetoric of the hard right. However these voices should not help perpetuate the most damaging false choice of all, that we can choose single market membership AND controls on Free movement. We can’t. And we shouldn’t.
So, OpenBritain launched recently, as the rebirth of the “Stronger In” campaign. And frankly, a lot of Remainers are worried. Before I go into why, I’ll just cover some obvious and not so obvious facts.
The Referendum didn’t solve anything
We voted to leave the EU. OK, but how? Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit? Something in between? Vote Leave didn’t have a plan for this and clearly several months later the government doesn’t either. A simple answer contained a multitude of consequences and assumptions that even now we don’t fully understand. This alone should give any Leaver pause. It’s fine to blame Cameron etc for not planning for one of several possible outcomes, but if it was so straightforward surely at least an outline plan would have appeared at this point?
The most we can say is that the referendum gave an overall direction by a small majority.
The UK is not against immigration
As pointed out here, 52% of the population did not vote for reduced immigration. At best a significant majority of a small majority did, and actually, according to polling it wasn’t even the priority amongst leave voters.
The fact that this minority is very vocal and passionate doesn’t change the facts, at least as far as we know them.
Immigration is good for the UK
It just is. Various studies have been done however the reality is immigration is a huge cultural and economic benefit to the UK. There may be temporary conditions that cause inwards migration to be higher than the norm but these will pass in time. Restricting immigration, for a host of reasons covered elsewhere, would be bad for the UK.
That isn’t to say that we don’t manage the impacts. Clearly we need to invest in areas which are undergoing higher levels of immigration and we also need additional protections to prevent employers undercutting wages. But these are completely within the control of the UK government.
The EU countries likely won’t cut a bespoke deal
Nothing is certain of course, however all the signals from the EU countries are that its Freedom of Movement as part of Single market or no deal. Even if you ignore the messaging, it’s just common sense:
- The EU is far more important to itself than the UK export market
- It’s not “mass uncontrolled immigration” to the EU countries, its free movement of people and is fundamental to the way of life for the Europeans, just as it is to those living in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
We have very little leverage in reality, despite what Vote Leave may have said.
Poll: Economy or Immigration? Pick one
So far, the following question has not been explicitly asked of the public, namely should the government:
- Favour reducing immigration at the expense of the economy and other EU benefits or
- Favour the economy and other EU benefits rather than reducing immigration
In reality this will be the stark choice, and although many will pick (1), and many would like to pick (1), when put in those terms a clear majority will pick (2). I would suggest even a majority of the 52% would pick (2). We can “plan” all we want, in the end it will likely reduce down to this, because the UK is one player against 31.
So, on to the various discussions apparently happening in Government, and the latest incarnation of Stronger in, Open Britain. On their website they say:
For an Open Britain to be a fairer Britain we must reject false choices, whether between being open to the world and remaining in the EU’s single market; whether between a competitive economy and protections for workers and consumers; between being open to talent and having greater control over immigration; or between embracing change and valuing tradition
Later they also say however:
Free movement of people cannot continue as it has done. It has to be reformed.
So, given what I’ve covered so far, I would suggest the following. Immigration has not been bad for this country, nor is a majority against it. The single market is incredibly important for the UK and unless and until a clear majority state that reducing immigration is more important than a strong economy we should not act as though that reduction is our overriding priority. Losing free movement even by itself would be a bad move for the country, to lose the single market as well over it would be a double tragedy.
We need positive voices for the EU, they were sadly lacking in the debate. However these voices should not pander to the fake narratives spread by Vote Leave around Freedom of Movement, especially when many leaders of that group also supported Freedom of Movement until it was politically difficult to do so. OpenBritain and other groups need to set the agenda, for all our sakes, and not be dragged down a false trail.