‘Brexit could even see Britain accept more immigrants, albeit from outside of the EU
due to the country no longer pursuing a ‘racist’ privileging of European citizens’
Why did Britain vote for Brexit? Leave’s 17.4 million voters did not have to give a reason when they cast their votes last week, but many of them will have done so as a way to tackle immigration.
Remainers are pushing the idea that voters have been misled by Leavers, citing Daniel Hannan’s claim that any Leave voters expecting big changes on the immigration front would be “disappointed”. The Tory MEP has suggested that Britain will keep access to the single market once it has left the European Union, thus still allowing the free movement of labour from Europe. So how fair is it to accuse Brexiteers of selling Britain a pup over immigration?
After David Cameron’s painful struggle since taking office to get net migration down below his promised level of 100, 00 a year, a considerable number of voters will have seen voting Leave as a way to finally reduce it.
Lord Ashcroft’s mega-poll of 12,369 voters after the referendum suggested as such, finding that one third of Leave voters chose to back Brexit as they saw it “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.” This was the second biggest motivation for Leave voters, just behind “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.
Voters sympathised more with the Leave side’s stance on immigration throughout the campaign, with polling by YouGov finding that most voters felt Brexit would bring it down. Analysis by MigrationWatch during the campaign concluding that leaving the EU would cut net migration by 100,000 a year showed that they had some basis to think this. By contrast, as few as 2 per cent of those surveyed thought continued EU membership would reduce migration.
So Leave voters certainly believed what they were voting for was very likely to help reduce immigration, but how actively did Brexiteers encourage that idea?
The Vote Leave campaign didn’t say so overtly, preferring to talk of a Leave vote helping Britain “take control” of the rate of immigration rather than how far they could cut it by. Their campaigners cast a vote to Remain as a vote for “uncontrolled immigration”, making hay with the Prime Minister’s struggle to fulfill his net migration pledge and implying that Leave would rein it in. Boris Johnson did as such back in March, warning that Mr Cameron’s failure to get it under control was “deeply corrosive of public trust”.
But, crucially, these Brexiteers avoid getting into specifics on how much it would be fall after Brexit, beyond promising that the nation would have “proper control” over it.
Michael Gove has suggested that “ see Britain accept more immigrants, albeit from outside the EU due to the country no longer pursuing a “racist” privileging of European citizens.
Other Brexiteers have been more explicit, with Leave.EU - the unofficial Brexit campaign that can hardly be accused of beating around the bush in its advocacy for Leave - suggesting that an Out vote would help “curb” migration.
However, Nigel Farage - a chief supporter of Leave. EU - refused to specify how much Brexit could reduce immigration by, telling Andrew Neil in a pre-referendum interview it would be “up to us”.
Britain still has to thrash out its terms of exit, so there are lots of unknowns about what the future holds. Brexiteers have avoided promising directly how far immigration could fall as they know it is up to the government in power to make this happen once Britain has left the EU. Given how hefty an albatross David Cameron placed around his neck by pledging a “no ifs, no buts” target for net migration of 100,000 a year, Brexiteers haven’t rushed to offer their own hostage to fortune.
That hasn’t stopped Remainers trying to build up a narrative that Leavers had directly misled voters in the run-up to the referendum. They made a lot of noise about Nigel Farage’s description of Vote Leave’s suggestion that £350 million a week could be spent on the NHS was a “mistake”, but that isn’t much of a surprise, as the Ukip leader was never part of that campaign. He’s not even in Government. But this nuance has been lost as Remainers portray it as part of a wider rift among Brexiteers about what life will be like for Britain outside of the EU.
Brexiteers never said they would cut migration by a specific amount if Britain voted to leave, although they heavily implied as such. Many Britons have interpreted the offer of “control” over the country’s borders as a “cut”, so any suggestion that nothing will change on this front will be politically awkward.
Once Britain’s Brexiteer-led Government negotiates the country’s exit, it’ll be up to them to show what “proper control” means.