One particular “fear” could decide the result of the EU Referendum

BMW writes to its UK employees highlighting the dangers of Brexit. A French minister threatens to wave through migrants at Calais en route to Dover and to roll out the red carpet to welcome financial services to his country if we leave. Boris and others say none of this will happen. Great Britain still is great. From his residence across the Channel Lord Nigel Lawson tells us not to worry. The EU needs us more than we need them. Confused? I bet many people are.

Like Lord William Hague, I’m an EU pragmatist. Better inside the tent etc. Unlike our former leader I don’t think that the EU will be ‘about the same’ in ten years’ time. The remarks from Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, following last week’s summit were very apposite. The ‘negotiations’ undertaken by David Cameron, while casually dismissed as ‘thin gruel’ by Eurosceptics like Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, have whetted the appetite of many recent, and not so recent arrivals in the EU for a fundamental change of direction for a project that started life in the aftermath of WW2 when many parts of the world were on their uppers and the numbers of nations actually making things was a shadow of what exists today.

So, we trudge towards 23 June with claim and counterclaim, with dire economic warnings if we leave which are brushed aside, rather like the SNP did in the Scottish Referendum, as scaremongering without really answering the question. However, what could tip the scales is migration, not necessarily from within the EU but from outside.

If the flow of migrants, particularly from the Middle East, continues and indeed increases as the warmer weather returns, the EU referendum will not be decided on rational arguments such as on economics, on our true place in the world or on peace versus war but on how the world in general, but the EU in particular, deals with a crisis which is not going to go away easily, especially while combatants continue to bomb the hell out of each other in Syria and neighbouring states. And then there’s the Palestinian question and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan to consider as well. Let’s not forget Africa.

We can spend our time arguing the economic pros and cons of ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’, as some contributors to LDV appear to wish to do but unless we can get a handle of immigration, it will be ‘fear’ of this phenomenon, whether rational or not, that will decide the result. It’s already set to play an important role in upcoming German ‘Länder’ elections and some experts reckon that Angela Merkel’s Grand Coalition could be in trouble too. And some of us Cold War ‘warriors’ foolishly thought back in 1989 that, when the Berlin Wall miraculously came down, all our troubles would be over. How wrong we were.

* John Marriott is a former Liberal Democrat councillor from Lincolnshire.

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  • Richard Underhill 4th Mar '16 - 11:47am

    The issue of migration has been placed in logical boxes in an effort to try to focus on some boxes and ignore others. If someone claims asylum in the UK, is refused and loses the appeal s/he can probably be flown back to the country of claimed nationality. It has been reported that France did not, or does not, have enough flights to the countries of origin on airlines willing to take removals.
    A politically inconvenient reality, well understood in the Home Office, is that tightening modes of legal access contributes to increasing attempts at illegal access.
    At a fringe meeting at Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton attended by then Business Secretary Vince Cable a spokesman for the City of London said that reducing immigration to tens of thousands. can only be achieved if the UK has a recession. He did not need to say that UK citizens resident in the UK would suffer increased unemployment and other negative financial outcomes.

  • “get a handle of immigration”
    Here is the handle.
    Immigration from outside the EU is heavily restricted.
    ( If someone is very very rich, they are welcome especially if they buy a football club or newspaper. Filipinos and others from poor third world countries are not having their work permits extended)
    Britain being an island makes it is difficult to get here by irregular means i.e. swim, hitch a ride on a cargo boat, etc. Those that are illegal are subject to arrest and deportation.
    ( If it was that easy then there would be thousands of Karens in the UK instead of being stuck on the Thai-Burma border.)
    Free Movement in the EU. Lots of British people live and work in other EU countries and with a British exit would lose the right to do so. Any trade deals with European countries would almost certainly contain a provision allowing citizens of the various countries to contiuue to live and work in each others country.

  • Fully agree with the author.

  • John Marriot,
    If people are not going to listen to reason then what hope is there anyway?

  • Alice Caswell 4th Mar '16 - 4:03pm

    I’m not sure ‘fear’ is a good word to use because for many ‘left behind’ voters immigration is a very real and tangible threat to their lives and not something emotionally abstract. Immigration it seems to me occurs one way or another because of the balance between population and resources. In the early days of America and Australia resources were abundant and people few so migration was welcomed. But that equation between population and resources can and does shift in dramatic and destabilising ways. In fact the very notion of resources can even take on broader definitions. So for a young boy trying to sell vegetables in a crowded and socially tense Tunisia a ‘resource’ might be defined as a ‘Permit to Sell’ in a local marketplace. As recent history shows us if that ‘permit to sell – resource’ is denied trouble can be triggered in a socially tense tinder box.
    I think this population to resource equation is the starting point for immigration reluctance. For many ‘left behind’ in Britain, immigration is not the issue. It is the subsequent thinning ‘resource to population’ equation that is the issue. For the poor and ‘left behind’ a definition of a resource might be access to a decent paying job or a house to live in, or a school place for your child, or a reasonably timed appointment with your GP or hospital. For many middle class and the well to do, these resource issues are often not issues at all. They can use their wealth and often their social connections to circumvent these issues with private education, health care and suchlike. Is this not why the middle class don’t ‘fear’ immigration because they can literally afford to skirt around any thinning of resources brought about by excessive immigration. On the other side of the street the poor and ‘left behind’ see immigration not as an irrational ‘fear’, but as a very real thinning out of previously available resources and dwindling out of reach public services. I wonder then that if the starting point is to mistakenly assume that immigration is an irrational ‘fear’ there will be no real understanding gained into the problems for the ‘left behind’ and those of lesser personal resources. The obvious first task I see is to desist from calling people irrationally fearful, simply because they don’t see the world through privileged middle class eyes.

  • Alice Caswell: Well said. In places like South and East Yorkshire and large parts of Lincolnshire it’s certainly not irrational fear. Most people see too few jobs for local people and many 1000’s of unskilled immigrants from eastern europe arriving every year. Unfortunately, their very real concerns for the future are dismissed by most political parties and UKIP and the “out” campaign are thriving in these areas. Many of these people care little about freedom of movement, they won’t be retiring in the sunshine or have holiday homes in France. They are stuck where they are and just want the best for their families, at the moment jobs and houses are hard to find without more people arriving.

  • Immigration from outside the EU is heavily restricted.

    It might be, but it does account for approximately 50% of the ONS total figures in recent years. (Interactive summary barchart here ) Interestingly the summary data indicates that the bulk of the non-EU migrants are from: Indian, China and Pakistan…

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Mar '16 - 5:31am

    @ Malc,
    I have watched television reports where farmers and other would- be employers in the areas that you mention have addressed the question of why they are employing EU workers rather than the local ‘indigenous’ population. The answer has been that the local indigenous population do not want the jobs on offer, or in some cases turn up for work for a few days etc., and then no more.

    @ Alice Caswell,
    I wonder how ‘left behind’, some of the so called left behind are. I remember an interesting piece of research commissioned by Channel 4, relating to the type of people supporting the BNP. They were considerably more financially secure than many members of my family.

    I question whether this fear is a bottom up- phenomenon. Those who have control of the press and the terms of the current debate are in no way the ‘left behind’. Nor are they the sort who have formerly seemed troubled by the issues of the ‘left behind’. If there is fear, maybe we should first determine what is causing that fear and address it properly rather than accept what may be a manufactured perception. In my experience, this perception seems to be that ‘immigrants’ are coming here to take our jobs, whilst simultaneously bleeding us of our resources rather than contributing to them. The massive flow of humanity from the middle east has added the concern that there will be an inevitable challenge to our dominant cultural values.

    Whilst people are focussed on blaming immigrants for every ill that affects their life, they are not asking the important questions. Who is really responsible for the scarcity of homes? Why is our NHS on its knees? Why am I not able to compete against better qualified immigrants in the job market? Why am I not prepared to defend cultural values that I hold dear, and that are shared by many , perhaps most, ‘immigrants ‘? etc.

    Young people who ought to be most concerned about these things, appear to be the demographic who are least likely to vote for Brexit, so I shall be giving a proxy vote on behalf of my thoughtful sixteen year old grandson, who would vote to remain.

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Mar '16 - 8:26pm

    @ John Marriott,
    If EU leaders cannot put aside national political interests in the interests of a unified , humane response to the current crisis, what is the point of belonging to the ‘union’ ?

    I receive communications from friends who have worked with MSF and remain in contact. They keep me updated on what life is like for those who are massing on the borders of the EU, and I do have a suggestion. It is not too late to challenge ignorant assertions about the motives of people trying to reach somewhere where they can feel safe. There is an article in today’s Independent. The author of the piece is a MSF worker and confirms the sorts of things that that I have been told. ‘Medicins Sans Frontiere worker recounts bitter struggles faced by refugees in Greece.’

    Mrs Merkel’s welcome was admirable. There is no plan B because there is no humane way of stopping the mass movement of people fleeing from war zones. They are desperate people. Politicians, including our own, must rise to the challenge and accept responsibility for their share of refugees. They are pretty poor politicians if they can’t argue against the extreme right wing opportunists who were fermenting anti-immigrant sentiment before this crisis began.

    In my experience, most people are sympathetic to the plight of asylum seekers and refugees, and it is for politicians to reassure the electorate that those who are not entitled to asylum or refugee status will be returned to their country of origin.

    Sadly, the evidence from Human Rights workers is that people are being returned to areas that are not safe, e.g. parts of Eritrea, so one could start by pointing out that the notion of ‘soft touch’ Britain is more myth than reality.

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