Daily Telegraph editorial, 2 June 2016
Leave now has a rallying issue in immigration reform
The Leave campaign is finally talking in specifics, giving the public a clearer idea of what life post-Brexit might be like. Posing almost as a government-in-waiting, they now promise the introduction of an Australian-style points-based immigration system. And focusing on immigration is certainly clever politics. It turns the slightly existential issue of sovereignty into something more tangible.
Last year, Britain experienced a net immigration rate of 333,000 – though the real figure may be far higher than our unreliable statistics suggest. Many voters perceive a squeeze on public services and fear a loss of control over security. Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, has claimed that freedom of movement rules have prevented him from denying entry to people with a criminal record, or even those who have suspected links to terrorism.
Australia is not necessarily perceived as being anti-immigration so much as a country that demands and gets precisely what it wants.
A points system would not necessarily achieve the results that every Eurosceptic is looking for. The Prime Minister has countered that Australia actually “has more migration per head than we do here in the UK”. But Australia is not necessarily perceived as being anti-immigration so much as a country that demands and gets precisely what it wants. As a member of the EU, Britain essentially has to take as many people as wish to come. Outside the EU, the argument goes, it would only have to take the numbers that employers actually need.
Above: the authentic face of ‘Leave’
The attractiveness of this argument will surely cause Remain a little panic. The referendum is increasingly being cast not just as a vote on the EU but on David Cameron’s record in office – and his many promises on reducing migration remain embarrassingly unfulfilled. That criticism is only intensifying from members of his own party gives the impression that this referendum is in fact a choice between two varieties of conservatism. Thanks to Labour’s near silence on Europe, there is a case for saying that this is what it has become.
If Leave can use issues such as immigration to reconstruct the Thatcherite coalition of the Eighties – an alliance between the patriotic Right and the usually Left-wing working class – they could reshape politics for years to come. What it will hopefully bring in the next few weeks is a new energy to the discussion. After so much negativity and hysteria from Remain, Leave has offered a positive agenda – an agenda that could rally their troops and give Britain the debate it deserves.