|AIWA! NO!|Forgive me, I may have missed something. There has of course been a lot to take in over the last few days. But, despite what the latest former Brexit secretary believes, it seems to me that the Brexit withdrawal agreement delivers almost exactly what the UK voted for in June 2016.SEE
The reasons 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU were multiple, complex and, in part, contradictory. But it is beyond doubt that a desire to control immigration was the most important reason. The evidence in this regard is overwhelming.
There is of course a need to understand why immigration became such an important concern for many voters (I blame austerity, in terms of both its material impact and the conservative ideas it normalised). Nevertheless, for the moment, the Brexit deal delivers on this agenda.
Yet Dominic Raab and Esther McVey’s resignation letters make no specific reference to immigration. They note more vaguely that the Brexit deal betrays “the promises we made to the country”, or “does not honour the result of the referendum”.There is some evidence to suggest that the slippery notion of sovereignty mattered for many voters, after immigration. “Take back control” was, after all, the key mantra of Vote Leave. But few people think in such abstract terms. The control people wanted to take back – the sovereignty that mattered – was over the UK’s borders.
The great irony of Theresa May’s current predicament is that only she, on the government benches, really seems to grasp this basic political reality. May is far closer to the core of public opinion – or at least the 2016 snapshot – than either the hard Brexiteers or the Tory remainers, as the deal she has agreed with the EU clearly demonstrates.
Although May supported Remain, principally because she understood the economic damage that Brexit would inflict, the author of the Home Office’s “hostile environment” agenda has always been an opponent of immigration.
The deal addresses the status of existing EU migrants and contains some specific arrangements in Northern Ireland related to preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland – but there is little to suggest that the UK has been compelled to accept the continued free movement of labour. The seven-page political declaration outlining the future relationship with the EU, published alongside the 585-page deal, includes only 35 words on the mobility of people between the UK and EU. It emphasises that temporary mobility will be allowed “for business purposes in defined areas”, with “visa-free travel for short-term visits”.
In other words, Dutch bankers and French chefs will remain welcome. Bricklayers from eastern European accession countries: not so much.