The hostility towards freedom of movement expressed by the People’s Vote campaign is exactly the divisive politics we hoped to eradicate. Brexit is a moral and political crime. This makes it worse.
There’s no question that the People’s Vote campaign has gained significant traction in politics and the media. Compared to earlier this year, the campaign was born into an environment where Brexit was a certainty.
Hearing political commentators and analysts upgrade their predictive words used to describe how likely a referendum is of being a reality, is pretty amusing and ironic considering the staunch opposition earlier this year.
The success of People’s Vote has been through its grassroots organisations and effective campaigning. It’s amazing that in an era when scandals of data sharing are now more common, local groups opted for little stickers on a chart to poll opinions. There’s something intrinsically ‘British’ about the Brexitometers; a poky and simple display which has a clear impact.
Regrettably, I was appalled by reading commissioned reports on the Norway option, which were published on Friday by People’s Vote and Best for Britain. The focus of both reports was to prove that Norway as a potential compromise option would not be in Britain’s favour.
Largely the pitfalls and drawbacks of economics and trade were the primary argument. But in both reports, there was a shocking use of rhetoric demonising freedom of movement and the UK’s control over immigration.
The People’s Vote report blatantly panders to populist concerns about immigration. The executive summary bullet-points how the UK would “give less control, not more, over free movement rules”. It goes onto suggest that Norway would be “sacrificing our ability to shape and reform the rules”.
It’s explicitly ignoring the vast weight of argument in support of immigration and freedom of movement. I’d even go further and indicate that from this line of argument, People’s Vote are openly supporting reform of immigration/freedom of movement should the UK remain.
That bullet point really struck me as alarmist, which from a supposedly progressive umbrella campaign, is hugely disappointing. I read on with trepidation over what I would find.
Phrases such a “remedial measure” and “migration management” are enough to make your heart skip a beat from shock. The section on page 12 is positing freedom of movement and migration as a problem needing to be fixed.
Yes, it’s a fact that the Norway option would fail to provide any measures. But allowing this belief that migration is a popular concern, has left me disillusioned and incredibly sad. A sentence in the conclusion burnt deep into my strong support for freedom of movement and migration for all: “It would leave the UK... blindly following the EU’s policies on immigration.”
The Best for Britain report follows a similarly damning approach to the question of migration. However, I will say that their approach is perhaps more objective than the People’s Vote report, and it provides a short sparkle of support for immigration on page 13. However, the overall submission of both reports is that freedom of movement and migration are issues to be solved not celebrated.
Now, this viewpoint is not necessarily a brand new take on the benefits of a referendum, as many activists have pointed out and suffered for approaching. In particular, the comparative and elitist narrative over migration has often pitted EU citizens against non-EU citizens. This is certainly a line of thought from the likes of Theresa May, but you’d condemn its usage from the progressive People’s Vote campaign.
In some cases, this has spilt over into genuine prejudice, with some prominent campaigners wrongly politicking in support of freedom of movement but against wider international migration changes.
But arguing that freedom of movement and migration are wounds needing a bandage, is offensive and derogatory. As the Best for Britain report hints, the UK largely supports freedom of movement. A YouGov poll from this summer suggests that 70% are happy for EU citizens to be free to move to the UK. One in six wants restrictions on EU migration, with 58% of Leave voters supporting freedom of movement.
For the Remain campaign to openly parrot a negative opinion on migration, is self-immolating.
After eight years of Conservative government, the ‘official’ response to migration of any kind is one of bias and derision. Certainly, a Hostile Environment exists and has been nursed by the Conservatives, with Theresa May at the helm in all cases.
Brexit itself was built on the back of bigotry, though many would disagree. And at a recent debate in Parliament, the new Brexit Minister Steve Barclay cheerfully described ending free movement as a ‘big win’. Followed by some meaningless slogan about nationality not restricting migration. Bollocks.
After this long, I wouldn’t trust the Conservative Party with a shopping list, let alone politics. They wouldn’t be able to buy all the shopping either, as it’s locked up in some warehouse due to border traffic.
And what of the millions living in the UK who are already distressed about their futures? I’ve regularly supported Brexit being an ‘existential threat’ to nationality. It’s unimaginable how many people must be feeling, knowing the establishment is officially prejudiced.
Really, that’s all this debate is about: people. Human beings travelling and settling for whatever their reasons, be they minor or major. What is so abhorrent to people, that some choose to migrate?
Being British is a concept that is never universally accepted as a list of attributes. But in 2018 on the eve of the largest socio-political crime of the past century, I feel ashamed by that heritage. Brexit’s demise must come through a lens of positive and diverse energy. Otherwise, the damage will only be bigger.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)