Remain – a vote for discrimination

Rob Lyons
Columnist

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A poster unveiled by UKIP leader Nigel Farage last Friday – no more than a couple of hours before the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox – has become the focus of heated argument about the anti-immigrant tone of the Leave campaign. The poster shows a long line of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in 2015 and is emblazoned with the words: ‘BREAKING POINT: The EU has failed us all.’

The poster is open to interpretation. It might simply be pointing out that the EU has failed to win acceptance for welcoming the large numbers of migrants from the Middle East and Africa, while actually treating those migrants dreadfully – which would be true enough. On the other hand, it might be seen as a sea of brown faces representing some kind of existential threat to mainly white Europe. Most people seem to have opted for the latter interpretation.

In the febrile atmosphere created by the death of Jo Cox – and whipped up into a frenzy by many pro-Brexit commentators and campaigners – the UKIP poster has been widely regarded as little more than blatant racism, as ‘dog-whistle politics’, demanding not just restrictions on immigration but a discriminatory approach to immigrants. On Monday night’s edition of Channel 4 News, presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy harangued Farage, demanding that he apologise for the poster.

But another item in the same programme was rather more enlightening. It featured an interview with the chancellor of the exchequer and Remain campaigner George Osborne. The show’s political editor, Gary Gibbon, put to Osborne a point made by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn: that there can be no upper limit on immigration while the UK is a member of the EU, thus calling into question the pledge made by prime minister David Cameron that the government would reduce net immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’.

Osborne claimed Corbyn was wrong. ‘I think we can bring net migration down by: a) dealing with people from outside the EU; b) by making sure people only come here to claim a job, to move to work; and c) by seeing the other European economies grow.’ In reality, the government cannot stop EU citizens from coming here. At best, it can exercise a near-unenforceable power to ask people to leave if they don’t find a job after six months. And keeping collective fingers crossed and hoping the Eurozone economy splutters into life is a shaky basis for any pledge.

All of which leaves Osborne’s first point: slashing non-EU immigration. Of course, that will potentially hurt Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and Americans. But also an awful lot of those potential immigrants will have brown and black faces – just like the people in that ‘outrageous’ UKIP poster. Unlike Nigel Farage, however, Cameron and Osborne are in government and are making it increasingly difficult right now for non-EU migrants to come to this country. Given that pledge to reduce immigration, a vote to Remain in the EU and accept free movement for Europeans means discriminating against non-Europeans. What’s so open-minded and tolerant about that?

Rob Lyons is a spiked columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @robspiked

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