Remainers were cheering this week after prime minister Theresa May suggested that the UK could continue free movement for EU citizens after Brexit – at least during an ‘implementation’ period. For those who are determined to convince the rest of us that we were hoodwinked into voting to leave the EU, this is great news. Millions voted to cut immigration, say the Europhiles, but it was all a big lie.
A recent article in the New Statesman summarises the build up to this apparent about-turn: ‘May is only the latest to acknowledge that there may be reasons for immigration beyond fuelling angry Daily Mail headlines.’ The Brexit minister, David Davis, has admitted that it will take years for restrictions to come into force, knowing that Brits are unlikely to flood into low-paid jobs in social care and crop harvesting, which are currently done by EU citizens. Agriculture secretary Andrea Leadsom also seems to have twigged that farmers need immigrant workers. And other ministers have admitted that the UK still needs construction workers, financiers for the City, graduate employees, students and healthcare staff.
As a card-carrying member of the When the F*** Do We Actually Leave? Let’s Get On With It Party (accreditation papers to the Electoral Commission still pending), I am delighted that the penny has finally started to drop for cabinet ministers. I don’t want wholesale reductions in immigration. The Tories’ stated goal to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ is bone-headed, illiberal, economically irrational and almost certainly unachievable as long as reasonable numbers of people think the UK is a worthwhile place to live, study and work.
My delight is because this is exactly why I voted for Brexit: so that politicians in Westminster would have to take responsibility for their policies, and justify the consequences of their actions. And the consequences of slashing immigration by diktat would be considerable, both for us as individuals as well as for businesses and universities. No longer will they be able to use the easy get-out clause: ‘Blame Brussels.’
British voters should have the final say on immigration controls – and now that we are leaving the EU, we can start to have a proper debate about the pros and cons of our immigration policies. Bring it on.