‘The Brexit vote is history. A closed or open Britain is the defining battle now’, read a Guardian headline in the wake of the Brexit vote. This has been the elite narrative ever since. The question of whether Britain will now turn in on itself or extend outwards, shun migrants or welcome newcomers, has preoccupied both sides of the post-Brexit debate. Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech was dedicated to dispelling the idea that Brexit was a victory for Little Englanders, and arguing that instead it was an opportunity for a truly global, internationalist Britain. Among staunch Remainers, the spectre of post-vote xenophobia has fuelled their campaign to soften or better yet scupper Brexit.
Leading Remainers continue to push this line even as they contradict themselves. Tory MP Anna Soubry has consistently smeared Leavers as visceral, idiotic bigots. ‘Some of these people are the ones who say: “I don’t like all that foreign muck, what are we having for tea tonight? Chicken tikka masala.”’ And yet, as Remainers never tire of telling us, non-EU migration has precious little to do with Brexit. And as the unelected Lords plots to force the Article 50 bill back to the Commons, over the government’s refusal to secure the status of EU migrants, it’s worth remembering that poll after poll has shown that a vast majority of the public supports EU nationals having the right to remain.
But the greater paradox here is that Europhile MPs, those who wax lyrical about an open Britain post-Brexit, are the supporters of an institution whose immigration policy is firmly closed to those beyond its borders. ‘The people that complain about the freedom of movement will not be satisfied because what they really want is to see less foreign-looking people on their streets’, said Labour MP Diane Abbott last year. And yet, the European Union’s migration policy, for its entire existence, has locked ‘foreign-looking people’ out of the continent. The policing of Fortress Europe, which led to thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean years before the migrant crisis hit, is not only racist in its undertones – it’s brutal, too.
‘It’s our identity: we celebrate when walls are brought down and bridges are built’, tweeted EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, in January. But, as the EU Observer points out, that tweet ‘appeared the same day a young man from Pakistan suffocated to death in a tent at the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos… It was the third death at the camp in a week.’ The EU’s barbarous handling of the migrant crisis is an open secret. Day after day news of the plight of those detained in Greece and Italy, or worse, makes headlines. And yet even as the stories and the bodies pile up, these ‘compassionate’, ‘open’ Remainers keep their ire trained on their own supposedly backward electorates.
The EU’s €6 billion deal with Turkey, whereby ‘irregular migrants’ are deported from Europe back across the Aegean in exchange for resettling Syrian refugees, has led international human-rights and migrant groups to cease their operations in Greece and Italy’s migrant camps. ‘Under the new provisions, these so-called hotspots have now become detention centres’, said the UNHCR’s Melissa Fleming. According to a report by the Overseas Development Institute, the EU spent €17 billion on border control in 2014-16; 15.3 billion of that was spent outside Europe to ‘discourage’ migration. The Turkey deal isn’t even the worst of it. The EU has tabled multi-billion-euro deals with Libya, Sudan and Eritrea to keep brown-skinned people out of Europe.