Playing the immigration card

26 May

So the Brexit campaigners have decided to concentrate on the issue of immigration, having been thoroughly trounced on the economic arguments.

I can only assume that they are hoping to raise even more fears about immigration, to elicit responses that range from Little Englander distaste for anything foreign to full-on racism.

This is an area where they are on very sticky ground. When asked what we would do about trade with the EU, our biggest trade partner and the largest trading area in the world, the usual answer is that we would adopt the same sort of arrangement as Norway or Switzerland. That is, be part of the European Free Trade Area but not a full member of the EU.

If we were to be allowed to do this, we would be required to confirm to free movement of EU citizens within our country. Which means that we would still have EU workers coming here. In other words it would mean no difference to the numbers of EU citizens over here. And we would still be contributing to the EU, about half of what we now pay, and have to conform to most EU directives.

As for protecting our borders from refugees and economic migrants, we have never joined the Schengen Area. That is the agreement made by 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their mutual borders.  This means that we have strict border controls for non-EU visitors. Just because a non-EU visitor can enter one Schengen Area country it does not mean that they can come here.

The numbers of Syrian refugees we have accepted here would fit in a single Tube train with space to spare. Many are carefully watched by the security agencies. So, if anyone is banging on about thousands of refugees tell them that they are misinformed, stupid or vicious racist liars trying to raise racial tensions.

As for numbers of EU migrants, there are many more British in Spain than Polish in the UK. Moreover the vast majority of EU citizens here are in work and paying taxes. They are also mostly young and healthy. The British in Spain are mostly over pensionable age, pay no tax and have a heavy requirement for medical care. If all the Brits were forced to come back here the effect on the NHS would be very significant.

Of course, we could always completely dissociate ourselves from mainland Europe. It takes on average 28 months to negotiate trade agreements with other countries, and the terms of these agreements would certainly be worse than we can get as part of a block of over 500 million people. The result would be a catastrophic economic meltdown. That is not raising fears, that is certain.

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