Reducing immigration still
a keystone of Brexit
3 December 2018
Deal or no deal, the Prime Minister has been unequivocal on one aspect of Brexit, and that is immigration. In her letter to the nation last week Theresa May said:
‘We will take back control of our borders, by putting an end to the free movement of people once and for all. Instead of an immigration system based on where a person comes from, we will build one based on the skills and talents a person has to offer.’
Currently free movement allows people from the EU to work and live in the UK, and vice versa. This arrangement will last until the end of 2020, regardless of whether Parliament agrees the withdrawal agreement. However, this seemed to come as something of a surprise to the PM on Friday. Colleagues have revealed that she hasn’t discussed immigration plans with the Cabinet yet.
The PM’s comment that EU nationals who have a legal right to work here were ‘jumping the queue’ did not go down well (she later apologised for the phrase).
But the damage has already been done.
The latest migration statistics show that fewer Europeans than ever see the UK as an attractive place to live.
Alex Morton, a former advisor to David Cameron’s No 10 Policy Unit, believes that despite the public’s supposed ‘relaxed‘ attitude, immigration is still at the heart of the Brexit debate.
Days before the 2016 referendum, a poll found that ‘the number of immigrants coming into Britain’ was the single biggest issue for Leave voters at 52 per cent.
Two years on, 39 per cent are still concerned about it. While the figure has decreased, it is still more important to Leavers than say, securing more funds for the NHS (21 per cent). Only one per cent of those surveyed thought new trading opportunities were a priority.
The problem with a No Deal scenario, warns Morton, is that nobody can predict what the circumstances will be after 2020. In a message to Conservative supporters, he added:
‘Try to picture knocking on doors to say ‘We heard what the public wanted when they voted Leave, so we increased immigration” and you see how frankly stupid this sounds.’