I WANT TO MAKE a final appeal to you to vote for Britain to stay in the European Union in tomorrow’s referendum. And I want to do it by addressing the issue of migration head on.
Let’s not pretend leaving the EU won’t give us more control over migration. It will. We may not want to do it, we may not need to do it, but we would have the power to limit migration from other EU countries. Of course, It won’t do anything about migration from outside the EU, which accounts for more than half of net migration into the UK.
It’s also unlikely we would even want to reduce EU migration to zero – are we really going to stop employers from bringing over French chefs, German engineers or Italian designers if they really need them? And, of course, we will still depend on the 600,000 workers from EU countries who work in vital public services like schools, hospitals and social care. How many of those will stick around once we make it much more difficult for them to live and work here remains to be seen.
But, yes Brexiteers, you will be able to bring in your beloved points system and we may see fewer people from the continent living and working over here.
And what a price we will pay for that.
Let’s nail down one thing straightaway. We will be leaving the single market. Brexiteers claim we can stop freedom of movement and still remain in that fabled free trade zone “stretching from Iceland to the Russian and Turkish borders” (they admit it excludes Belarus, but it actually excludes Serbia, Bosnia and Ukraine as well, while Switzerland and Albania have only limited access). That is a lie, perhaps the biggest whopper of the whole campaign.
Every single one of the countries in that free trade zone has to accept the same free movement of people from EU countries that we do now (it’s not complete freedom of movement, we can keep out criminals and benefit tourists, for example). There are no exceptions, it’s a condition of joining the single market. The idea that, once outside the EU, we will get some special deal which isn’t on offer to any other country in the world, is risible. Even more ridiculous is the idea that the likes of Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage could bring it about. Their names are mud on the continent.
So, unless we accept freedom of movement for EU citizens with Britain, we will be locked out of a community where we can trade and work freely with more than 500 million people, with all that implies for jobs, trade, investment, political influence and the spirit of openness which had become a hallmark of Britain before this wretched campaign. Brexiteers know this full well, which is why they lie about it. Boris may be “pro having cake and pro eating it” but that doesn’t mean he can make it happen.
And let’s not forget our own freedom of movement. Once you start imposing restrictions on people from other countries, they have a habit of repaying you in kind. We’ll be back to worrying about visas, health insurance, residence permits, work permits, income checks, moving money around, and all the other things that made freedom of association between European people so unnecessarily difficult.
Our young people will no longer have the right to study at any of the many fantastic and historic universities across our great continent. You will no longer be free take a job or set up a business anywhere in the EU, or to retire to the Dordogne or the Costa del Sol without having to worry about whether you will get treated when you’re sick or whether your pension will get paid.
These are things which are getting more valuable all the time – in this globalised world, we should be opening out, spreading our wings, not putting up barriers which will keep our people in just so we can say we’re keeping foreigners out. If you want to be open to the world, you don’t start by slamming the door on your neighbours.
And Brexit will put an end to perhaps the most important free movement of all: it will close the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. We cannot “control” our own borders if we have an open one with an EU country whose borders are, in turn, open to the other 26 member states. So back will come the checkpoints and the barbed wire, the border police and passport checks, with all that implies for the peace process. If pro-EU Scotland chooses to leave the UK, the same logic applies. We will have a closed border on the British mainland for the first time in centuries.
You will have to decide whether it’s worth all that for a little bit of extra “control”, which we may not need or even want. Every other Brexit argument has been demolished, but on migration they do have a point: we could have more control. But it’s such a paltry gain to set against everything we stand to lose.
We are Europeans, whether we like it or not. Let’s embrace who we really are and stop blaming foreigners who are very much like us for our own problems. Outside Schengen and the eurozone, and with our global links to the US and the Commonwealth, we have an enviable position within the EU. Let’s play our full part, reap the full benefits and accept the responsibilities that come with it like grown ups.
Please vote to REMAIN tomorrow.