There will be no dramatic fall in immigration as soon as Britain leaves the EU, the home secretary has suggested, as she announced the government would consult businesses over plans for an immigration system over the summer.
In comments that appeared to back the Brexit secretary, David Davis, when he said the door would not “suddenly shut”, Amber Rudd said the government was “against cliff edges” when it came to reducing immigration.
I thought cutting immigration and “taking back control” were the two key Brexit objectives.
The front page of the Daily Express of 8 August 1939 contains one of the finest blusters in British history. Lord Beaverbrook, the proprietor, had so supported appeasing Hitler he dropped Winston Churchill from his pages for warning of the Nazi threat.
Beaverbrook and his journalists were desperate to prove that they had not betrayed their country. Under the headline “No War This Year”, the Express assured its readers that no less an authority than “Mr Selkirk Panton”, its Berlin correspondent, believed that “Herr Hitler, despite all his mysticism, is a hard-headed, hard-boiled politician… He will not risk everything over some hasty action”.
On 1 September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. On 3 September, Britain and France declared war on Germany. As luck would have it, on 3 September 2016 – 77 years to the day after its “no war this year” prediction failed so spectacularly – the print edition of the Express led with the headline that Britain was in a “Brexit boom”. Along with the rest of the rightwing press and the politicians who have led us to this pass, the Express is loud in its insistence that the “doom mongers” had been proved wrong.
Now, as then, we see the same desperation to believe that the Conservatives have not betrayed their country and the same refusal to face reality. We are not in recession because the Bank of England has pumped cheap money into the economy with Weimaresque abandon and reduced interest rates to their lowest level ever.
The right says the EU will want to give us a better deal out than we had in because the EU nations will still want their exporters to sell to us. They don’t look at how politically impossible it would be for Europe’s leaders to tear up EU rules when they are having to face down their own xenophobes and Europhobes.
They don’t have a shred of evidence that the EU will appease us. Just a forlorn hope and an echo of voices from the time of the British appeasers. They were as convinced that they were dealing with “hard-headed, hard-boiled politicians”, who would do whatever Britain wanted and not “risk everything over some hasty action”. They were as befuddled.
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Davis made his vow about not returning to the past in terms of armed checkpoints and border checks. He wrote: “We had a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the European Union. “We are clear we do not want a hard border – no return to the past – and no unnecessary barriers to trade.
Hmm. A border is made up of two sides. Through the UK’s actions, the EU may insist on border controls – as they do with every other land border they have. But in Davis’s world that will be the EU’s fault.
Simon Wren-Lewis, Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University:
The two clear explanatory variables for those who voted that the UK should leave the EU were education and age. Much has also been made of the fact that, other things equal, those from areas of the country that suffered from deindustrialisation over the last 30 years tended to vote Leave, but there was no correlation with levels or rates of change of income. Nor is there any clear correlation between Brexit support and levels of immigration, again matching this study’s findings for Trump support.
One of the most striking findings from the post-Brexit Ashcroft poll was the answer to the following question: “Overall, life in Britain today is better/worse than it was 30 years ago’. While Remain voters overwhelming chose better, a clear majority of Leave voters chose worse. If you take that question to be only about individual living standards, then there is no way half the population have had declining living standards over the last 30 years. But why should a question about ‘life in Britain today’ be interpreted in narrow economic terms?
In the case of Brexit we had a coalition between two groups who had reason to feel aggrieved at trends over the last 30 years: social conservatives within an increasingly liberal society and those living in areas that had not shared in metropolitan economic success. You could say that both groups, in different ways, had been left behind and therefore become alienated by the dominant sectors of society. (See this study by Jennings and Stoker, for example.)
The BBC has a handy list of where each MP stood on brexit.
The whole Brexit thing is such a weird exercise in magical thinking that there is simply too much to keep track of as it falls apart. Rather than post individual articles, here’s a round-up.
From the FT, Brexit and the challenges of reality:
No one in government has a clue. Pro-Brexit supporters demand a sudden Brexit without any regard to these problems: see this Bernard Jenkin piece in the FT, and the comments beneath are perhaps the most brutal you will see on this website.
The fatuous Jenkins article is referred to by John Naughton who highlights one reader’s comment in particular:
I have many, many questions for Mr Jenkin, but I will focus only on one. You suggest that repatriating the 17,000+ laws and regulations provided under the 1972 European Communities Act will be a straightforward exercise, a stroke of the Parliamentary pen. Bravo. But as I’m sure the learned gentlemen is aware, law consists not just of written law, but also of the case law developed by the courts over many years to clarify what has been written. This is a crucial element of the legal system, and these judgements are relied upon by all legal advisors and practitioners.
So might I simply enquire as to what case law will apply when the court that made these judgements – the European Court of Justice – is no longer a part of our legal system? Anyone operating under these laws or regulations will need to know. Will English courts continue to rely on decisions made by the ECJ? Until what point? And how will anyone trying to operate a business be sure whether they are protected by those decisions or not? Which court will hear any challenges to those decisions, and under what authority?
Sorry, that’s turned into five questions. Funny how these simple questions have a tendency to do that.
Referencing David Brent, Flip Chart Fairy Tales summarises the complexity of the task:
With no clear objectives, an incalculable number of dependencies, unfathomable sequencing, timescales impossible even to guesstimate and depleted resources, any project planner might be forgiven for throwing in the towel. Some sort of plan will emerge eventually but, at the moment, just making one for the project’s first phase, defining what the hell it is we want, is going to be difficult enough.
So spare me the pseudo psychology and the David Brent-isms. Trite phrases like ‘move on’, ‘be positive’, ‘just do it’ and ‘we are where we are’ reflect a failure to understand the magnitude of the Brexit task. There’s no ‘just’ about any of this. It is a colossal and eye-wateringly complex task. It will take years and will dominate UK politics for the rest of the decade.
On a lighter note, InFacts rounds up Leave’s ludicrous promises in What Brexit do we want? The one Leavers promised. Notable how often Johnson’s name appears.
Simon Wren-Lewis, Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University:
However there are other aspects of the Ashcroft poll that I think are revealing. First, economic arguments were important for Remain voters. The economic message did get through to many voters. Second, the NHS was important to Leave voters, so the point economists also made that ending free movement would harm the NHS was either not believed or did not get through to this group. Indeed “more than two thirds (69%) of leavers, by contrast, thought the decision “might make us a bit better or worse off as a country, but there probably isn’t much in it either way””. Whether they did not know about the overwhelming consensus among economists who thought otherwise, or chose to ignore it, we cannot tell.
Third, Leave voters are far more pessimistic about the future, and also tend to believe that life today is much worse than life 30 years ago. Finally, those who thought the following were a source of ill rather than good – multiculturalism, social liberalism, feminism, globalisation, the internet, the green movement and immigration – tended by large majorities to vote Leave. Only in the case of capitalism did as many Remain and Leave voters cite it as a source of ill. These results suggest that Leave voters were those left behind in modern society in either an economic or social way (or perhaps both).
Taking all this evidence into account it seems that the Brexit vote was a protest vote against both the impact of globalisation and social liberalism. The two are connected by immigration, and of course the one certainty of the Brexit debate was that free movement prevented controls on EU migration. But that does not mean defeat was inevitable, as Chris makes clear. Kevin O’Rourke points out that the state can play an active role in compensating the losers from globalisation, and of course in recent years there has been an attempt to roll back the state. Furthermore, as Johnston et al suggest, the connection between economic decline and immigration is more manufactured than real.
There are multiple reasons for the Brexit vote, but by far the most important one can be summarised in a single word: immigration. In the last few weeks before the vote, the Leave campaign was ruthless in focusing on our fears of foreigners. Sadly, with the exception of London, this has been shown time and time again to be a great vote winner all over the world.
The British people have suffered tremendously since the financial crisis. The real wages of the average person fell by about 10 per cent between 2007 and 2015. This is not about inequality – poor, middle and rich have all lost out. It has been the longest sustained fall in average pay since the Great Depression and it has made people very angry with the establishment – and rightly so. As LSE’s Professor Stephen Machin, the new Director of the Centre for Economic Performance has shown, the areas with the biggest falls in average wages were the places most likely to vote for Brexit.
These wage falls and poor job prospects have nothing to do with immigration and everything to do with the financial crisis and slow recovery. But because immigration tripled since 2004, lots of people know of a friend or family member going for a job and a European migrant getting it. So it is easy to point a finger at foreigners as the cause of labour market problems. This is the ‘lump of labour fallacy’ in action – the false idea that there is only a fixed number of jobs to go around.
We have also been living through a period of sustained austerity with public services under severe pressure. People often find it hard to get a place in a good school for their kids or a doctor’s appointment. Since immigrants are also using public services, it is tempting to blame them for being ahead in the queue. Again, this is completely wrong as immigrants pay more in taxes than they take out in welfare, so they are on net subsidising public services for the UK-born. The fact that the government has chosen to use the fiscal benefits from immigration to pay down the budget deficit is hardly the fault of immigrants. But it is difficult for people to see this benefit. What is visible is competition for constrained public services, just like competition for jobs.
The stigmatisation of foreigners as a cause of our economic problems plays to deeply-based cultural fears. This is not simply bigotry, although some of it is. The anti-immigrant feeling would be there even if wages hadn’t fallen and public spending hadn’t been suffering years of austerity. But these real pressures helped lend credibility to the complaints. After all, what else is immigration but globalisation made flesh?