Tuesday, 7 June 2016

This is not a referendum on immigration

Well, it rather looks like the public are starting to focus on the referendum. There is much public confusion, a serious lack of informed commentary and politicians and journalists are not in a better place to add any clarity to matters. 

Thanks to Mr Farage there are those who are voting as though this were a referendum on immigration. It isn't that. We don't have open borders. We are not in the Schengen Agreement and so we do have border checks. What we have through the EU is freedom of movement, which is nothing to do with refugees, does not afford refugees any rights and has nothing to do with asylum either. Freedom of Movement is not the problem and to blame it for any of our present difficulties is a misdiagnosis.

On the whole Freedom of Movement has been a successful policy and one that we have benefited from. We could manage it better, but ending it would be bad news and would simply result in more illegal immigration with more workers not paying taxes. Ending Freedom of Movement will not significantly impact immigration either. It should also be noted that though we may well leave the EU it is a near certainty that we will not leave the single market and so Freedom of Movement will still apply.

The reason for this is that EU integration is far deeper than anybody on either side fully realises. We have only two years to negotiate an exit. It is impossible that we could renegotiate and reverse forty years of integration. Note I do not say difficult. The word is impossible. It covers everything from food safety surveillance through to air traffic control. Some of it we urgently want back, other parts we may as well leave in tact. And so we need a comprehensive negotiated settlement.

There is no magic wand in this. There is no walking away and pinning our hopes on WTO rules. It simply doesn't work that way. And being that the EU takes several years to come up with something like TTIP you can only guess at how long a deal for Brexit would take. And so the only options are a choice between no deal at all (economic suicide) or the single market option. (AKA The Norway Option/EEA).

And though Ukippers and Breitbart/Daily Mail readers will piss and whine about it because they think ending Freedom of Movement solves anything, we are not going to see any substantial reductions in immigration. They will insist the EU is at fault for all our woes but they are wrong. They will insist we can just whip up a free trade deal and be done with it all. They're living in a fantasy world. People would prefer things to be simple and consequently demand that they are simple. The world does not work this way.

At best we can say that leaving the EU means there will be some extra tools at our disposal from curbing immigration but it will be a long road to travel before we see any real impact. If you are voting with immigration as your primary concern then you have been mislead as to what Brexit will achieve. Leaving the EU will give us a unilateral emergency brake on Freedom of Movement, but those who want the government to use it will have to win the argument to show that it is necessary. Good luck with that.

The only real way to get the government to change tack is to properly identify where the greatest impact can be made and propose a real world workable solution. Bleating about an Australian points based system, having plucked it out of the air is in no way a convincing argument.

As many of my fellow bloggers have suggested, if you have any doubts about what your vote will achieve, read the question on the ballot paper. A leave vote does not instruct the government to end Freedom of Movement. It does not instruct the government to sever all ties with the single market. It is an instruction to leave the EU. It is an instruction to end political integration and repatriate powers over key policy areas.

That would primarily concern agriculture, fisheries, environment, trade, aid and energy. I believe an exit vote to that end makes the EEA an adequate starting point. It has little impact on the majority of business and does not present challenges for expats and those who work in Europe. If your only concern is immigration over and above all else then you have largely missed the point of this referendum.

The watchword of this referendum, the issue at the very heart of it, is power. It's all about power. Who has it, the direction in which it is flowing, and whether we can influence those who hold it. Every other consideration is a decoy. The peripheral issues can be addressed later once we are out.

This is about returning the powers to the people and reforming the decision making process. Whether that is then good or bad for the economy is really rather up to us and how we wield that power. As much as it means we are making the decisions again it also means we are responsible for them. It means we will no longer have the luxury of being an infantilised nation shrinking from the civic obligations we have. In finding our own way we will rediscover that which makes more than just a rainy little island in the north Atlantic.

For this reason I implore you to vote to leave. This is the moment in which we can turn things around. It will be a turning point in history. I want you to be part of that and I know things can be better than they are. If you're voting for that then you have a friend in me. If, however, it's just to keep out foreigners, I just don't want to know.

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