In the last few weeks the campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has become much more focused in order to leverage a specific issue which many voters care deeply about: immigration. However, a statement by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove among others reveals a deep schism on immigration between leading politicians in the Leave campaign and many of the voters they are hoping to seduce to the leave campaign.
A poll conducted by YouGov in April found that 71% of people in the UK thought that immigration into Britain is too high, with many feeling that the freedom of movement policy within the EU is to blame. This is not a view held exclusively by social conservatives with even 65% of Liberal Democrat voters, who tend to be highly Europhilic, thinking that current levels of immigration are too high.
Clearly then this is an issue which could reach across many political groups; and, which we know many people feel deeply about, many of whom will harbour grudges against the establishment politicians who dismiss this issue so frivolously. This could potentially be a winning coalition at the upcoming referendum.
The leave campaign has been appealing to this group by loudly vocalising to the media that immigration has been too high, and that the government cannot control levels of immigration whilst the UK remains in the EU.
Control being the key word here.
The Leave campaign is not actually promising to reduce immigration, but promising the ability to control immigration to a level which is deemed acceptable to the UK.
It could be argued that this is due to the Leave campaign not actually being the government and thus not having the power to reduce immigration themselves. However, if we delve further into the statements of the Leave campaign a picture emerges of a group spinning an issue to mobilise public support only to betray them by delivering instead their own vision of immigration policy; a vision entirely concerned with sovereignty.
In a statement outlining Leave’s official immigration policy upon Brexit the Leave campaign talks about the European Court of Justice interfering with the government’s ability to deport people; to overturn applications for asylum; and to use “the Charter of Fundamental Rights to strike down decisions” on immigration policy.
They say that “Our membership of the EU means we don’t have control.”
The opening sentence of the statement, reads as if it were written by the Remain campaign, betraying the Leave campaign’s true beliefs: “Migration brings many benefits to Britain – culturally, socially and economically.” It continues, emphasis my own: “We want Britain to continue to benefit from migration. But if we are to welcome more people to Britain then the public must be reassured that we have control over who comes here.”
Moreover, in the statement the Leave campaign promise “by the next general election, we will create a genuine Australian-style points based immigration system.” Not only does this contradict the argument used often by the Leave campaign that they can’t propose policies because they are not the government; but, as the Guardian correctly points out net migration into Australia stood at 187,000 at its most recent count, which is more than the UK’s net migration figure of 184,000 used by the Leave campaign.
In addition, the Guardian also points out that the Australian system is designed to encourage immigration into Australia, and that the implementation of the system in the UK would actually double immigration into the UK.
It is clear then that the Leave campaign is misleadingly whipping up public support for its cause; attempting to utilise deeply felt resentments amongst the public about immigration, and promising to control immigration. But whoever is controlling migration may not choose to reduce immigration.
And, when Leave says it wants to welcome more people into Britain, it is obvious that this is just a separate group of elites to the establishment, fighting over their own competing vision of Great Britain as a nation state, willing to go against the wishes of the public.
Because, in reality that is what this referendum is about.
It is not, as portrayed by the leave campaign, a battle between the people and David Cameron’s establishment; but, a battle between two competing elites. Two sets of elites who share the set of assumptions that immigration benefits the economy of the United Kingdom, and that without an increase in the number of people of working age there will be an impending pension crisis, due to a reduction in government revenue from taxes. But, who differ on ideas of sovereignty.
But there is no way to disguise it, the Leave campaign does not represent the Gillian Duffys of this world. It represents a traditional elite of tweed jacketed, welly wearing, old public school boys with romantic ideas of the nation state.
With romantic ideas of the nation state comes a lust for all the established forms of international power, such as economic might. The traditional elites who lead the charge to leave the EU would want to maintain the economic might of the UK and avoid any crises that would affect their handsome pension pots; don’t expect any falls in levels of migration if they get their way.