Dear UKIP Supporter,
There’s no easy way to put this, so I’ll just come right out and say it. If you truly want Britain to vote for Brexit and independence from the European Union in the coming referendum – if that is your top priority right now, as it is mine – then we need to drop our demand to scrap the free movement of people between Britain and Europe and stop calling for stricter immigration controls on people wanting to live and work here.
Before you dismiss me as some pro-European mole from the Remain campaign sent to deceive you, hear me out. I voted for UKIP in the 2015 general election after much soul-searching, because I share your disillusionment and disgust with the political establishment and three main legacy parties – all of which are pro-EU to their core, and all of which have lied to us for decades about the European project and ever-closer political union. I also have admiration and respect for Nigel Farage, without whom we would not be having this referendum at all.
But this is our last chance to save Britain from being absorbed into a European state, and I am terrified of waking up on the morning after the referendum only to find that by insisting on every single one of our demands – particularly on immigration, which is a controversial topic with strong feelings on both sides – we scare the public, lose the vote and squander our only chance of escaping from ever-closer political union.
By asking people to vote to leave the EU, we are already asking them to place a lot of trust in our shared vision for a stronger, more prosperous independent Britain. Unfortunately, many people are swayed by the Remain campaign’s pro-EU propaganda, which relentlessly tells them that Britain is too small and weak a country to succeed on its own. You and I know that to be nonsense, but we already have an uphill battle on our hands to overcome the establishment’s formidable misinformation machine. And demanding an end to the free movement of people within the European Economic Area on top of everything else is just a step too far. People are naturally risk-averse, and keeping this issue on our list of demands is one thing too many.
I know that having secured the referendum from a reluctant David Cameron, it seems like total victory is within your grasp – that you are on the verge of getting everything that you have wanted for so long. And I know that despite the difficult general election result, there are enough indicators to convince you that the tide is turning in your direction, that the entirety of UKIP’s agenda can one day be achieved.
But I implore you to remember what happened to overconfident Labour supporters at the general election. They imprisoned themselves in an ideological bubble of their own making, used social media to talk to each other rather than convincing undecided voters, were hypnotised by their partisan Twitter feeds and drew the false conclusion that the country was about to make Ed Miliband the next prime minister. Their hearts were broken on May 8. Don’t make the same mistake.
I’ve seen some of the UKIP discussion groups on Facebook and the online newspaper comments sections, and I know you have, too. Yes, there are good points made here and there, and some very honest and decent people. But there is also an obsession with immigration that borders on the fanatical. To win the Brexit referendum, we need 51% of the country to vote with us, and like it or not, too many people simply don’t consider immigration a burning issue. They do, however, think that harping on the subject too much strays very close to xenophobia, and if our movement is portrayed as racist or xenophobic in any way, then it’s game over.
Besides, is immigration itself really the problem, or is it the negative side effects of immigration which need to be tackled – the impact on schools, housing, public services and community cohesion? Because there are ways that we can address these issues other than campaigning on a platform of ending free movement and enforcing strict limits on immigration, thus scuppering any chance we have of winning the referendum.
We can look at making our welfare system work on a much more contributory basis, and we can do more to ensure that local areas feeling the greatest strain of inward migration are given significantly more money and resources to help them cope. We can invest properly in adult education, reskilling our workforce for the jobs of the future so that hardworking British people are never left behind at the mercy of cheap overseas labour. And yes, we can also have that important conversation about British values, so that everyone who lives on these islands respects the unique culture and heritage which make Britain so special. Many of the levers to help mitigate the impact of immigration are not possible under EU law, but they would be if Britain were an independent country again.
But by insisting on ending the free movement of people within the European Economic Area as part of our demands for Brexit, we are letting perfection be the enemy of the good. At the risk of using too many clichés, ending free movement is the straw which will break the camel’s back and end our dream of leaving the European Union. Why? Because there are not enough votes in an anti-immigration stance to win, and because opposing free movement loses us nearly as many votes as it gains.
By insisting on ending the free movement of people as part of Brexit, 25% of the electorate will shun us because no matter how misguided they are, they hear “immigration controls” and think “racism”. And another 25% will be very wary of us because they are young, pro-European professionals or students who like the idea of easily being able to live and work in Rome or Paris if they want to, and understandably don’t want to jeopardise their own life chances. That leaves us with no margin for error – we would have to win every single other vote out there, which is just impossible.
But if we campaign for Brexit while promising to respect the free movement of people for the time being, we take away our opponent’s greatest weapon – the false and ludicrous accusation that we are Little Englanders who want to pull up the drawbridge because we are somehow scared of Johnny Foreigner.
Truth be told, you didn’t begin supporting UKIP just so that you could talk about immigration all the time, important though it is. Like me, you recognised that something fundamental is at stake when it comes to our relationship with the EU. Are we to continue sliding down the greasy slope toward European political union, where so many key decisions are taken in Brussels that the idea of Britain as a sovereign state with unique national interests becomes a laughable absurdity? Or are we finally ready to do what every major non-European country does, and face the world as a fully engaged, globally connected and influential world power? Will we continue to be governed by laws and policies set in Brussels where we have just 1/28th of a voice, or are we mature enough to govern ourselves?
At the end of the day, it comes down to one small word – democracy.
Like me, you supported UKIP because you saw Nigel Farage standing up for democracy when it seemed like nobody else cared. And the country owes you a debt of gratitude for what you did. I know many of you have received insults, abuse and worse for daring to vote differently than your friends and family, but your courage has brought us to a place where the dream of independence from the European Union and the return of democracy to Britain are within our reach.
Having got this far, it is all too tempting to assume that the same strategy which forced David Cameron to offer the referendum in the first place will also help us win it. But this is just not so. Nigel Farage did an amazing job turning UKIP’s 3% at the 2010 general election into 13% in 2015, but that still leaves us a massive 38 percent away from winning the referendum. And you just can’t make up that kind of gap by shouting the same message with a louder voice.
Bearing this in mind, I ask you to consider that no great endeavour is won without great sacrifice, and that something major has to change if we are to win the referendum and secure freedom and democracy for our country. And at this critical juncture, like it or not, the sticking point for the electorate is immigration and the free movement of people. Accept the status quo on the free movement of people for the time being and we have a fighting chance of extricating ourselves from the tentacles of Brussels. But stubbornly insist on getting everything we want, and we will be left with absolutely nothing.
This is a difficult and unwelcome message to hear, I know. But making this one sacrifice, and taking this one leap of faith – on the understanding that as an independent country we will seek to deal robustly with the negative consequences of immigration – will put victory within our grasp.
And just think of what we gain by being more flexible on immigration:
The young first-time voter who has only ever been taught good things about the EU and immigration will no longer be scared away by our campaign, and can then be engaged with our arguments about democracy and persuaded to vote for Brexit.
The young professional couple living in Manchester or London will be forced to pick between one side which wants remote and unaccountable government in Brussels and another side which wants laws made by the people they affect. And when they no longer have to worry that their freedom to live and work in Europe is in jeopardy, they will be much more likely to side with us.
Small and large business owners who are naturally eurosceptic but fear the potential uncertainty of labour supply or harm to the economy will be free to follow their hearts and vote for Brexit, knowing that there is no risk to their livelihoods.
Meanwhile, the sneering europhiles of the Remain camp will be dumbfounded, and their campaign left in utter chaos. Their whole argument is built on lying to voters and insisting that people like us only oppose the European Union because deep down we hate foreigners and want to see a complete halt to immigration. This is a golden opportunity to show them – and the country – that they are wrong, that while we have legitimate concerns about unrestricted immigration, we support Brexit because we are on the side of democracy first and foremost.
And ultimately, it is our faith in democracy – not our policies on immigration or anything else – which is our greatest strength, and the greatest weakness of our opponents. Unlike the europhiles, we can look voters in the eye and tell them that Brexit is about trusting them to make the right decisions for themselves and for our country. The Remain campaign has nothing to say about democracy, because they distrust the British people so much that they simply don’t believe we can run our own affairs.
So there it is.
We can win this referendum and secure Britain’s future for our children and grandchildren. But nobody said that it would be easy, or that this victory would be possible without sacrifice. Therefore we must be adaptable and willing to look at plans which have a chance of winning over undecided voters while simultaneously de-risking Brexit, even if it means that we don’t get everything that we might want.
And remember: democracy is key. If we win the referendum and keep Britain from being irreversibly absorbed into a political union, we preserve our freedom to revisit any and all other agreements with the EU in future, and to stand up for our national interest. But if we allow our greed to lose us the referendum, then Britain will soon be unable leave or change the terms of our membership, even if we want to. Dropping our demands on immigration is the safest thing to do, and it is also the right thing to do.
I hope that you will consider what I have to say, and bear it in mind as we respond to demands to show our plan for Brexit. Thank you for hearing me out.
With best wishes,
British citizen, former UKIP voter, Brexit campaigner
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Mr Sam Hooper having read your letter 4 times I find it rather misleading. You do make a number of valid observations with which I agree with but the main point of your letter seems to be aimed at UKIP supporters which gives me the impression that the aim of your letter is to help clear the disgust that many people hold against Camerons pitiful efforts with his so called negotiations. You also attempt to create fear of leaving. As a person of 73 years I remember the UK before the EEC and could see the advantages of free trade with Europe however this country was independent during those years and prospered. Immigration still existed but though proper channels and our industry was controlled by parliament. Since the creation of the EU ( to which we the voter were not given a vote) the UK has been taken over by unelected Eurocrats making our government impotent. To put a correction to your letter I would point out that UKIP are not a one policy anti immigrant party, UKIP are anti EU party, a point you seem to avoid to mention. The industry of this country has been distroyed by the EU policy makers I could name many that have gone to the wall because of the EU meddlers again nothing mentioned. The impression your letter gives ( but it’s just my opinion ) is that you are from the pro EU camp attempting to give credit to Camerons efforts and instil doubt in UKIP supporters that the UK cannot survive without the EU. Kind regards P Kostenko.
Thanks Peter for the comment. For what it’s worth, I’m not a David Cameron stooge secretly plotting to keep Britain in the EU. A quick look back through 4 years of archived posts here should be enough to convince anyone of my commitment to getting Britain out of the toxic, antidemocratic, elitist political union known as the EU.
The purpose of the letter was not to try to create a “fear of leaving”, but rather to acknowledge that a lot of people are (rightly or wrongly) afraid of leaving, and that consequently the campaign for Brexit must attempt to soothe these voters’ concerns and reassure them that leaving the EU can be done in a smooth and orderly way.
I quite agree with you when you say that the British government is in many ways impotent, its competences having been long since handed to Brussels. I want to get them back.
I’m also aware that UKIP are not merely an anti-immigrant party. I would not have voted for them in the 2015 general election if they were. But they do emphasise the issue of immigration a lot, which has been very successful in raising the profile of the issue and getting us this referendum. Unfortunately, it also alienates a lot of moderate swing voters, and I think it is important to recognise that the tactics which secured us the referendum will not necessarily be the tactics which help us to win it.
Finally, I have to take issue with your assertion that the industry of this country has been destroyed by the EU. A modern, developed economy like Britain’s has no business being involved in heavy manufacturing or low-value-added basic assembly line production type industries, where we have little comparative advantage with the low-wage developing economies. I’ll concede that not enough has always been done to help people made redundant from these declining industries to retrain and equip themselves for the modern labour market, but you can’t blame this on the EU. Globalisation is a good thing. It’s what gives us cheap laptops, mobile phones, travel and all manner of consumer goods. I understand that people get sentimental about old industries like mining and steelmaking, but those industries were always going to go, EU or no EU. And I think it’s important that we avoid blaming the EU for every problem under the sun, because it can make our argument seem unfocused and hysterical. There is enough wrong with the EU as it is without inventing new charges against it.
That being said, thanks for taking the time to share your comments and I hope that you will reconsider some of the points I made in my letter. My first priority is getting us outside the EU and its antidemocratic political union. Once we have done that smoothly and without disruption, then we can turn to other issues like immigration and debate the policy which works best for us. But to over-emphasise the immigration issue in the Brexit debate has the potential to hurt us, and I strongly urge caution against this course of action.
“I’m also aware that UKIP are not merely an anti-immigrant party.”
UKIP are not an anti-immigrant party full-stop. They are pro-controlled immigration and pro-immigrant.
Furthermore, they do not wish to end immigration (at least not for the medium-, long-term) but to control it.
I am sure that you know this and the above quote was just a slip of the keyboard, but these distinctions are important – not only because they are true and important distinctions but because so few people (even supporters) make them clear enough. If these distinctions were clear, your fears as outlined in your article (the fear of racism and loss of the benefits of immigration leading people to support remaining the EU) would be much less likely to materialise.
fixed type error.
i am not a racist. and if we could live together in peace then am all for that. but i fear this is a set up angela merkel is attached to this kalergi plan, and i fear there is alot more to this than meets the eye. i think immigrants are being used by the corrupt politicians to start chaos on the streets. people are not stupid. sometimes it is so easy to read between the lines. especially when you see something like rape being ignored by police and government and media. then you know there is something very fishy going on. people got awarded for this kalergi plan. A plan to mix races to lets say manufacture an end to whiter people. people are not stupid. mostly people can feel deep down something is very wrong. why would anyone want to do such a thing. i dont understand. but i am not super wealthy and sit around in a mansion board wondering what trouble i can cause. but there are ones out there that are very capable of causing these atrocities and when the people are being ignored and things are being covered up the times comes to ask just what is going on. could this be kalergi plan in action. and how could government politicians allow such an atrocity after the days of hitler.
Just to point out most racists say ‘I’m not rascist but …. ‘ and then proceeds to say something rascist, glad you didnt alter my perception
i am not a racist. and if we could live together in peace then am all for that. but i fear this is a set up angela merkel is attached to this kalergi plan, and i fear there is alot more to this than meets the eye. i think immigrants are being used by the corrupt politicians to start chaos on the streets. people are not stupid. sometimes it is so easy to read between the lines. especially when you see something like rape being ignored by police and government and media. then you know there is something very fishy going on. people got awarded for this kalergi plan. i plan to mix races to lets say manufacture an end to whiter people. people are not stupid. mostly people can feel deep down something is very wrong. why would anyone want to do such a thing. i dont understand. but i am not super wealthy and sit around in a mansion board wondering what trouble i can cause. but there are ones out there that are very capable of causing these atrocities and when the people are being ignored and things are being covered up the times comes to ask just what is going on. could this be kalergi plan in action. and how could government politicians allow such an atrocity after the days of hitler.
How will UKIP be able to drop their flagship policy.( That’s what it’s become, like it or not.) , without an embarrassing, and possibly fatal, climb-down?
The europhiles will be able to fudge pertinent issue by continuously referring to UKIP’s U-turn. Or any other catchy Head-line.
I follow your theory, but the practicality eludes me.
Thank you for some superb posts which I have read through, and there are points on all to be held. I myself am a card holding member of Ukip, which isn’t much as I cannot get out to help so the only way is by donations. I agree that Immigration is a must but only at a decent level to keep this country where it should be as a country to be respected by peoples of every race which cannot be attained at this time or maybe never.
I have a little story. I once got a taxi to go out with the wife and grandchildren, and when I was getting in the taxi the asian driver spotted the UKip poster in my window, and said www UKip, to which I replied what is wrong with UKip ? Then I carried on telling him that if he thinks we are racist then it is far from the truth he then said but what about people who wish to come to this country to which I replied. WE are trying to get the Australian way and explained what it was to which he said what about family members and I said well if they don’t have never had a serious Prison sentence, they should get in but if they have a prison sentence then they don’t stand much chance. Anyway to summarise. We were in the taxi for around 20 minutes and after that time he thanked me for a decent chat and that he would have to really think about UKip. The next time I met him he and others in his family had logged on to the UKip site and then voted UKip at the election.
Can we really ignore the thousands of rape victims. can we really close our eyes to these criminal and disgusting acts against our women. we must never turn a blind eye on these things if we want to live in a fair society. just like the world wars they said they never wanted to see such suffering ever again. yet women are open to rape and the facts are out there. what kind of world do we live in to tell women who live in there own country that they must change the way they dress. and stay away from dangerous immigrants if they want to be safe. how can we leave them in such great danger everyday. is this xenophobia. or simply concern for so many european women. is my concern out of place. ?
Until we have power over our own borders, I think we should not be fudging the issue by discussing how many immigrants and under what criteria we should accept them but focus on getting us out of the stifling EU. Then we can work out what is best and the right thing for us to do whether helping refugees or accepting immigrants into our society as a whole.
I agree. Step one has to be freeing ourselves from the political union and re-establishing sovereignty. And after a smooth and orderly Brexit we can then determine the best immigration policy that works for us.
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!
absolutely no, the end of free movement into England is the main reason most of us want out. Give it a couple of years and millions of muslims will have EU passports and able to swamp our small island, so the answer is NO TO FREE MOVEMENT, and whoever that letter writer is, he needs to get his head out of his ass quickly
if the UK were not yet a member of the EU, then I’m fairly sure that no sane person would vote to join. On that basis I will simply be voting LEAVE irrespective of what crumbs Cameron brings back from the EU table.
I absolutely agree with that – if we were not currently a member (and had the “status quo” argument working against us) Britain would almost certainly not vote to join such a dysfunctional, antidemocratic, explicitly political union. And I share your contempt for David Cameron’s cosmetic, meaningless non-renegotiation.
Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.
Reblogged this on The World How I See It.
For me, I’m afraid, the idea of Brexit without ending the ‘free movement of peoples’ is a contradiction in terms. Such a ‘win’ would be an utter failure. This country has been overrun and transformed for the worse, possibly forever, by mass immigration. I feel like a complete foreigner when I walk down the street, when I sit in my doctor’s waiting surgery, and when I go to get books for my son from the library. Everywhere there are foreign voices and faces. For me, getting out of the EU and then getting Britain back to being British is what it’s all about. Racist? For me, the only racists in Britain today are those who are ethnically cleansing the indigenous British by forcing us to flee abroad to our former colonies in order to live amongst people we do share a culture, identity and language with.
So are you saying that with Freedom of Movement you would vote to remain or abstain?
What if (as it’s true) that more than 50% of immigration last year was from outside of the EU and dropping FoM won’t have any effect on that.
What if (because it’s also true) that those EU nationals already here won’t leave if we leave the EU as their ‘rights’ would remain under the principle of acquired rights. It would only impact on those people yet to come.
If I was to say that under ‘the plan’ the aim is to Leave the EU and then to tackle FoM from several directions and that FoM as currently established cannot continue, but priority is to produce a Leave proposition that people of all opinions can support. If we don’t have the support from vaious opinions then we won’t vote Leave and not only will FoM remain but we’ll also get further integration regardless of Cameron’s wiles.
I’d also say the refugee issue is nothing to do with FoM but is related to the UN’s 1952 Convention on Refugees which we’re saying should be reopened. And FoM is also nothing to do with Schengen.
The priority is getting enough votes to win the referendum, and UKIP opinion will not do that on it’s own we should know that by now. Having won the referendum we leave using the EEA as a stepping stone and then tackle FoM.
I’d hope this reasoning convinces you somewhat, if not then best wishes anyway and gl.
An excellent letter Sam. I too fear we’ll lose because Leaves are labeled xenophobic. There is a very small contingency that is, and cow-towing to them for their vote enables the label to stick. We will lose far more votes of the undecideds. Yes, there are very severe problems due to uncontrolled mass immigration and we should be able to pick and choose between Europeans and the rest of the world as we think best. I particularly abhor that we can’t favour our own kith and kin and those from the Commonwealth who share our British culture and sacrificed so much when they came to our rescue in the World Wars.
The lowest risk Brexit option is to remain in the single market by joining the EEA but this requires us to retain freedom of movement in the interim. Putting immigration on the back burner would remove the xenophobic label and derisk the transition path. If we don’t, we are highly likely to lose and this would be taken as a green flag to the EU to suck us in so deep that we will permanently lose the option to Brexit ever again. So let us at least downplay the immigration issue. It could be our death nell.
The problem with the EEA is that it’s still signing up to a set of rules created and maintained by the EU. Switzerland is part of EFTA, but not EEA (it’s all a bit confusing, but I just checked with Wikipedia). They have bilateral agreements with the EU, which means you get to negotiate for what you want, rather than take on a predetermined rule book. Since we’d be negotiating trade deals with many countries, why not treat the EU the same way?
True about Switzerland, but the way I look at it is that it took us 40 years to be sucked as deep as we are into the European Union, and that therefore it is only reasonable to expect it to take some time for us to extricate ourselves fully. If staying in EEA and accepting free movement for now means that we win the referendum and guarantee our future sovereignty, we have all the time in the world to revisit, renegotiate and better pursue our national interest in future. But if we lose the election because Brexit seems too disruptive/traumatic for a risk-averse population, then we lose everything. There will never be another chance, we will be dissolved into the common EU state, either in the fast lane or the slow lane.
So while I agree with your sentiment, I do think that rejecting a Brexit plan that embraces EEA/free movement *for the time being* is – as someone else beautifully put it – a bit like criticising the holiday resort based on a cursory glance at the airport departure lounge.
Also, it can’t be emphasised enough that so many of the rules and regulations we are subject to are set at a global level, and not by the EU. The EU currently takes our seat at these international forums, speaking with one voice which may or may not represent British interests. If we achieve Brexit but keep EEA for the time being, yes we are still subject to EU regulations passed down from the global standards bodies, but crucially we get first crack at influencing them in our own favour, like Norway, Australia etc.
Since living in a globalised world means that we have to be subject to global standards (and thus accept some “loss” of sovereignty) anyway, is it not preferable to sit at the top table determining the rules? I know you would agree, and although we would remain subject to EU regulation for as long as we remained in the EEA staging post on our way to independence, to me this is preferable than trying to achieve everything I may want in one go, at the heightened risk of losing it all.
There are a few linked reasons.
1. Many and an increasing amount of the EU rules aren’t originated at EU level. They come from standards bodies above the EU, the UNECE. So regs. relating to food, motor vehicles, shipping and more are passed down to the EU who passes them to us. We can’t influence these standards because we have no vote on those bodies because we’re in the EU we’re but countries like Norway can do.
As time passes more and more will be removed from and passed upwards to the UNECE, already as much as 80-90% of topic areas are decided there already.
2. Without the EEA, we’d need a Free Trade Agreement but we’d need more than that we’d also need Mutual Recognition of Standards for exported products, ie for practical purposes we’d use the same product standards that the UNECE designate as will the EU.
3. In leaving the EU we’d invoke art. 50 of the treaty (Lisbon), this gives 2 years to negotiate an exit and it will act like a guillotine. The time period can be extended but that would be difficult so we cannot depend on it.
This is important with regard to Free Trade Agreements. Typically these take years to conclude. Going this route means we’d risk running over the 2 year negotiating period without a treaty being in place. The answer is to pick up an off the shelf treaty which would be the EEA and we’re members of that already.
Leaving will be complicated enough already but using EEA route as a temporary resting place simplifies this somewhat.
Many thanks Dr. Heath for reading and commenting – I am in total agreement with what you say. Concerns about uncontrolled immigration are entirely legitimate and have undeniably been ignored and dismissed for too long by the British political class, but if we are to achieve our primary goal of Brexit then we must separate the issues for now, win back our sovereignty while seeking to mitigate the negative side-effects of immigration in other ways, and then revisit the issue once we are on a stable footing outside of the EU.
“I am terrified of waking up on the morning after the referendum only to find that by insisting on every single one of our demands – particularly on immigration, which is a controversial topic with strong feelings on both sides – we scare the public, lose the vote and squander our only chance of escaping from ever-closer political union.”
I really don’t see what the problem is. Our “demands” are being made to the EU while we still remain a member of it (as we currently are). Once we vote to leave, whatever demands we were making as members become irrelevant. We will leave, and negotiate a completely new deal.
I also don’t agree that this is our only chance of escaping. We can always have another referendum in a few years time.
Also, regardless of whether Britain votes to stay or leave, I very much suspect that the EU is going to disintegrate anyway, because it’s becoming more and more dysfunctional by the year, if not by the month.
I’ll be voting to leave. I liked the EEC’s trading sovereign states arrangement, but the EU superstate has become an expensive, oppressive, and undemocratic monster. But I fully expect that Brits will vote to stay in, once unlimited EU money is used to put the frighteners on them.
Sadly, I think this referendum is our very last chance. The bus is on its journey to political union. Either we get off the bus, or we make that journey with all the other passengers. (And Cameron’s nonsense about two-tier membership is ridiculous, since even people at the back of the bus end up arriving at the same destination.) If we vote to remain, the EU will treat this as a mandate to accelerate the process.
I quite agree that any form of “associate membership” that Cameron comes back with is dangerous, toxic nonsense. As you say, the end destination will be the same. But by extricating ourself from the EU and re-establishing sovereignty, we are free to keep or discard EEA membership at a later date as we please. Crucially, it is our choice. We are not at the front of the bus nor at the back but rather in a different vehicle, travelling in parallel with the rest for now, but free to change course any time we please.
Would it be better to get everything we want at once? Maybe so. But it adds risk and uncertainty both to Brexit and to our chance of winning the referendum. I care about sovereignty first and foremost. If I can win sovereignty and an EU exit for Britain, I buy myself time to go back and secure everything else I want. But first I have to maximise our chance of winning the referendum.
I agree with you, Sam. Sovereignty is the prize. At the risk of being too abstract, what is sovereignty without control of your borders? And if you don’t control your borders, then what is defence? The logical result is an EU army. Do you see the problem?
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I totally agree with you. What is a sovereign state if anyone can come and leave at their will? No argument from me there.
However, I don’t think of Brexit with EEA/free movement as the end goal, but rather as the first step on the road to separation, and I would urge you to give it fair consideration too. Right now, securing Britain’s freedom from the EU’s deepening political union is absolutely key, the top priority, without which nothing else matters:
Once this is done, I would absolutely want to go back and revisit free movement, re-establishing some kind of border control so that we are insulated from the inexorable slide toward a single European state. We can and should then also look at all other aspects of our co-operation with the EU, with a narrow-minded focus on Britain’s national interest, and not the sickeningly corrosive “common interest” of the EU.
But right now I’m looking at polls which show a plurality of voters preferring to vote “Remain”, and that’s before the government / EU / media scaremongering machine has even started cranking up. If accepting that a staged process of independence from the EU increases the chance of Brexit by even 1%, I have to take that seriously and give it my support. If we lose the referendum 49-51 and we didn’t offer what are effectively temporary concessions on EEA/free movement, I couldn’t forgive myself.
After all, while remaining subject to EU regulation and unlimited EU migration are offensive propositions to anyone who values national democracy and sovereignty, this state of affairs would only be temporary. But if we lose the referendum, then it is forever.
I’m fairly persuaded that remaining in the EEA initially is a sensible concession in the interests of greater buy-in.
There is also a reasonable argument that EFTA is not ambitious, since we are after all the 5th largest economy, or so I keep reading, so we’d be in a good bargaining position.
I’m not sold on the idea of dropping the free movement of people from the EU debate or pretending that it’s not an issue for people. Polling shows that it is. The free movement of people comes as a condition of EEA, so there’s the conundrum.
In addition to my original comments that immigration is a valid concern for the electorate, at this stage, it would be too much of a ‘volta face’ for Eurosceptics to stop talking about controlling immigration. They would be ridiculed by Europhiles. Immigration is already on the discussion table, and we can’t start over.
So I guess we’ll see what happens. Let people float the idea of the EEA soft landing, as you are doing, and see what the reaction is.
Okay, I think this is important common ground we have found here – and it would be great if other eurosceptics could do the same, i.e. accepting the wisdom of a phased withdrawal (of the kind proposed in Flexcit) for political and logistical reasons. This would still give individual campaigners the freedom to highlight whatever key focus areas they choose, including immigration, with the understanding that we tackle Brexit first, and then once this is achieved and sovereignty established we will loop back and look at precisely which areas of European integration / co-operation we want to roll back. Like you, I would firmly include proper immigration controls at the top of the list, as the sovereignty we won at the referendum would be meaningless without it.
I believe that this is the internal debate which we will look back on as having won or lost us the referendum. I hope that the soft landing approach prevails.
Many thanks Frank for reading and for the comment.
The danger of leaving without either a plan or strategy for Brexit is the increased economic and political uncertainty, which scares voters off and makes the chance of a “Leave” vote less likely in the first place. Given that having a plan is better, it is best to go into the referendum with a plan which is relatively simple to deliver and palatable to other EU member states who will have to sign off on any future deal. In my mind, the best option is to begin by leaving the political union, but to make it as smooth and hassle free as possible. By keeping EEA membership and free movement at the start, we minimise any economic shocks, prevent the need for urgent negotiation of multiple trade agreements, and kill most of the Remain campaign’s scaremongering arguments in the crib. Win, win, win!
And I do fear that this is our last chance of escape. Remember, the EU is not going to remain as it is for long. The federalists are on the march, and the coming treaty (which will be presented as a response to the Eurozone and immigration crises among other things) will give the European Union legal personhood for the first time, thereby establishing it as the equivalent of a nation state. From then all bets are off – or “checkmate”, as one blogger puts it:
As you say, the sovereign states co-operation of the EEC would have been acceptable, were it ever intended as the end destination. But it wasn’t, it was only ever intended as one of several stages on the road to full political integration. And if we vote to stay now, I really don’t see another opportunity presenting itself for us to leave.
” The federalists are on the march, and the coming treaty (which will be presented as a response to the Eurozone and immigration crises among other things) will give the European Union legal personhood for the first time, thereby establishing it as the equivalent of a nation state.”
You seem to think that will be the end of the matter. But it’ll just be an unwieldy new Austro-Hungarian empire, minus emperor Franz Joseph, held together with pieces of paper, and likely to suffer the same fate as its predecessor. It’s already suffering from imperial overreach in Ukraine. There are growing centrifugal forces pulling it apart, even as it grows. The euro doesn’t work. The EU leadership is terminally indecisive. Brussels is a huge oppressive bureaucracy. Europe is being invaded by Muslims. There’s growing voter disenchantment with the whole ‘project’ and with the European political class. And it’s only going to get worse.
I notice you’ve started following my blog. It’s not actually about Europe. It’s about smoking bans, which is the matter that’s closest to my heart, and the reason why I vote for UKIP (they’re about the only party that speaks up for us). You may be interested to know that I was quite pro-EU until in 2009 the EU parliament voted for a European smoking ban, complete with exemplary punishments for high profile law-breakers. At that point my enthusiasm for the EU went into free fall, and I’ve wanted to get out of it. The same applies to most other smokers. Why would any smoker want to be a member of a political entity in which he or she is extremely unwelcome? You may also be interested to know that I was for many years a regular Lib Dem voter (It said ‘liberal’ and ‘democratic’ on the tin, didn’t it?) until 95% of Lib Dem MPs voted for the illiberal and undemocratic smoking ban in 2006. Anyway, I’m primarily anti-EU because it’s anti-smoking. The defects I’ve just listed are just the nasty icing on a nasty cake.
I wish I shared your optimism about the death of the EU. I acknowledge all of the forces which you mention, but I think that such is the power of denial in Brussels and the chancellories of Europe that a *lot* of irreparable harm will be done by the time this comes to pass.
I followed your blog after reading your excellent piece about David Bowie being killed by mashed cauliflower. It was brilliant. I’m very pro-liberty and against the nanny state – the journalist Christopher Snowdon is something of a hero of mine – so I’m always pleased to read and connect with other people who stand for the individual’s right to live their lives unconstrained and unlectured to by government. I shall enjoy going through some of your old archives! All the best.
Just followed you, Frank.
I agree with David Taylor and I could not have put it better.
Oh no, he’s got to you!
Ben Kelly’s emotional rant about Leave.EU vs Vote Leave is a party political war between UKIP and the Conservatives as to who should lead the Leave campaign, and you are continuing his work here. It’s like the two of you went out to dinner last night, had a few glasses of wine, got all back-slappingly euphoric about Brexit and Flexit, and then you wrote this up before the wine wore off.
Party politics is like marketing. You pigeonhole your opponents and then position yourselves as meaningfully different to give yourself an advantage so as to gain market share. Vote Leave (Conservative in origin) is trying to pigeonhole Leave.EU (UKIP in origin), saying that they are all about immigration and nothing else.
Nigel is always “banging on about immigration”, they say. “He’s toxic”, they say. Well if he were Conservative instead of UKIP, they wouldn’t be saying that (but then, of course, we would not be having this referendum at all). They worry that if people agree with Nigel and with UKIP, then the Conservative party will lose voters. It’s partisan. So rather than seeing Leave.EU as an ally, Vote Leave sees them as the enemy.
Immigration is a very important topic to many people. When there is not enough money to cover government spending on housing, or welfare, or schools, or hospitals, or policing, or defense, or whatever it is, and cuts are being made, it makes no sense to add to the population and increase these costs. Sure, in the long term, additional people might well increase tax revenue, but there is a delay of up to a generation for that to occur, and that argument only makes real sense if we can choose who comes to live in the UK based on their likely contribution.
People get this. It’s not about xenophobia or racism. For many liberal people, it’s not even about cultural dilution. For many people, to remove immigration from the debate is to remove a strong argument to leave. An undecided voter, for whom immigration is one consideration, might well conclude: we might as well stay in then.
For the record, Nigel does not “bang on about immigration”. He talks about it, for sure, but he mostly talks passionately about our economy, about democracy, and about Britain’s place in the world.
I hope you saw last night’s debate between Carwyn Jones and Nigel Farage. It was like Farage vs Clegg two years ago, only Carwyn Jones did a better job than Nick Clegg. But more to the point, Nigel Farage also did a better job. He was knowledgeable, fluent, collected, and persuasive on all topics, not just immigration. The topic of immigration even didn’t come up until about an hour into the debate. I defy you to watch the whole of that debate and not conclude that he is the best person to lead the out campaign.
The argument for leaving has many angles, and they should all be made, otherwise you don’t have the complete picture. The conclusion to reach is not that controlled immigration should be removed from the menu, but that all aspects of leaving the EU should be given equal airing. But like I said, the idea that immigration is being singled out is something that’s being put about by Nigel’s detractors, and especially by Vote Leave.
It’s a shame that Leave.EU and Vote Leave are so fixated on doing battle with each other when they are on the same side. Both camps should keep their eye on the prize.
First off, thanks David as always for a long and eloquent comment. You’re one of my longest term readers, so I always respect what you have to say. And your imagined wine-fuelled dinner between Ben Kelly and myself was very witty. He is my editor over at Conservatives for Liberty, but sadly we have not yet had the chance to meet (or crush a cup of wine) in person.
All of that being said, I have to stand by my open letter and refute a few of your points. Is there a turf war going on between Leave.EU and Vote Leave? Absolutely. And thus far I have had little respect for either group (though notably, Vote Leave seems stuffed to the rafters with people who want the British people to vote “leave”, but ultimately remain in the EU).
You’re right, Nigel Farage does not talk exclusively about immigration, and at his best he can deliver a soaring and robust speech in praise of the nation state, democracy and self determination. But he is a politician, and he know that he needed to latch on to a hot-button issue to transform UKIP from a party that gets 3% at general elections to one which achieved a hugely impressive (for an insurgent party) 13% in May 2015. But the cost of firing up his base and occupying this territory, which he achieved partly through eye-rolling statements about traffic jams caused by immigrants, HIV etc. – statements where any truth in them was eclipsed by the “shock factor” – means that he has made himself a very polarising figure, and one with a very fixed ceiling of support.
You know that UKIP is not in any way a racist political party. I know it too, and have said so loudly and often on this blog. When Nigel Farage talks about a civic idea of Britishness which is not dependent on race or background but on fidelity to shared national values and culture, that resonates strongly with me. But the perception of xenophobia is out there, and it is not helped by the statements of some senior kippers, their online fanbase and a media ever willing to misinterpret and selectively report.
None of this is fair. True, at times UKIP have not helped themselves, and on too many occasions I have been chatting with Ukippers online only to recoil when out of the blue comes a blatantly racist or Islamophobic comment. But I don’t believe for a second that Nigel Farage or most Ukippers are racist or xenophobic. But. But…
I have spent weeks racking my brains, trying to think how UKIP grow a 13% vote share in the general election into 51% when the referendum comes. What are their strengths, their weaknesses, the likely attacks which will come their way during the campaign, and the kind of people we need to vote for Brexit who have never shown an interest in voting for UKIP: Young people (who we need to fire up with SNP levels of fervour). Professionals with increasingly international careers. The economically secure upper middle class who rely far less on public services and see only the positive signs of immigration.
I just don’t see a way that we can win any of those groups over in sizeable numbers when we make the ending of free movement of people a core demand, particularly because we already know we will have opportunistic Remainers and their media cheerleaders accusing us of “ray-cism!” to the detriment of all else.
Note that I’m not saying Britain should commit to keeping free movement of people forever. That is – and should always remain – a decision to be taken by democratically elected British governments based on our national interest.
What I am saying is that including free movement in the Brexit demands loads our campaign with so much baggage that we make an already difficult fight into an impossible one. Is it fair that a huge chunk of voters have been brainwashed by the Polly Toynbees of the world into thinking that any mention of immigration is automatically racist? Of course not. But it’s the reality we live in, and if there was ever a time for hard-headed pragmatism, this is it.
By contrast, think of the havoc we would sow in the Remain campaign if we came out for Brexit, but pledged not to touch free movement of people for now, and hammered home the democracy and localism arguments instead. Suddenly, Remainers wouldn’t be plucky, benevolent do-gooders standing against the Evil Forces of Racism. They would be revealed for what they really are – mindless lemmings, brainwashed to support remote and unaccountable government in Brussels over real democracy at home. It would become evident that want Britain to stay in the EU because they love the idea of European political union, an idea which is repulsive to most British voters.
I take your point about some eurosceptics maybe staying home if immigration was no longer part of the debate, but I think we would gain far more by accepting the status quo for now and making the argument about democracy and sovereignty. And those are the kinds of gut-wrenching choices we now have to make. The policies and rhetoric which got us this far have a natural ceiling, one which (I have come to believe) is too low to allow even the chance of victory. Therefore we need to be ruthless about the policies and leaders who represent us going forward, and ready to jettison everything which will not contribute to getting us across the finishing line.
Which brings us back to Nigel Farage. I still firmly believe he has an important role in this campaign, but it is one of firing up existing UKIP support and taking the fight directly to the European Union. Nobody riles up a eurocrat like Farage does, and while a re-tooled Leave campaign (minus immigration) can act as a powerful pull factor in getting Britain out of the EU, giving Nigel Farage and Britain’s caucus of eurosceptic MEPs carte blanche to harangue, delay, obstruct and enrage the rest of Europe will be an added push factor that could prove decisive.
As I say, it didn’t bring me any great joy to write the piece. I remain very grateful to UKIP and Nigel Farage for bringing us this far, and I respect this historic accomplishment. But Farage and UKIP are like the first stage of the rocket which gets us from the ground up into stable Earth orbit. We still need that second stage to propel us out of the Earth’s (EU’s) gravitational pull and to the moon.
Also, having attended UKIP’s party conference last year, I was struck by the degree to which Farage and the entire leadership (Carswell being the only real exception) are focussed on the referendum above all else, to the extent that they are willing to let everything else drift and even more ideological contradiction to creep into the UKIP message. If UKIP’s leadership can’t be loyal to the people who made the momentous choice to vote for them in May 2015 by clearly articulating what kind of party they intend to be once the referendum is over, they cannot reasonably expect much loyalty in return.
Anyway, that’s my take. I too look forward to the time when the internal bickering can cease so that we turn all of our fire on the EU and the remain camp. And regardless of my own views on immigration (I’m not averse to an Australian points system, so long as it is not too draconian/protectionist), I have come to believe that our best chance of securing Brexit is by decoupling the immigration issue. I see a few of the negatives in this approach, some of which you summarised, but believe that the pros significantly outweigh the cons.
Cheers as always for your contributions, they are always greatly valued.
I’m all for the ‘soft landing’ idea of keeping everything the same the day after Brexit. Fear of drastic change certainly motivates many Europhiles today, including Carwyn Jones, who kept saying “why would you want to throw that away?” last night. But I don’t think you can separate out immigration as if it were somehow orthogonal to the axis of national sovereignty vs European federalism. Freedom of movement is an integral part of that debate.
I’m also in favour of pragmatism over idealism, in the interest of getting results. Yes, at one time UKIP was a political party offering small government, low taxation, and individual responsibility, but they put that to one side when they saw the opportunity to woo Labour voters. Now they stand for EU independence alone, which ironically is what they said on their tin in the first place.
UKIP has a ceiling of appeal for sure. 12.8% in the national elections (voting for a party of government), with recent polls as high as 17%, and of course 27.5% in the European elections (voting for a position on membership of the EU). But the whole point is that if Leave.EU and Vote Leave were to put aside their differences and become a cross-party force, the aversion to UKIP that many people currently have should evaporate.
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Good point on the amusingly cyclical journey of UKIP…
I appreciate everything you say, and maybe it’s my bias talking here (based on my friends, family and colleagues who are all fiercely, loudly and unthinkingly pro-EU, and who look at me like an alien for having voted UKIP) but in my gut I genuinely don’t believe that even if all the Leave campaigns joined hands and spoke with one voice starting now, it would do enough to counter UKIP’s toxicity and the lazy idea that “if UKIP are for it, it must be bad”. I think we need a grand gesture to make people think again about euroscepticism, to make them realise that there is more that drives us than antagonism to immigrants. Because the message isn’t getting through at the moment. Intelligent people I talk to dismiss me out of hand because they are yuppies with international careers who see fair criticism of immigration as Little Englander xenophobia. It’s going to take a game changer to shock people out of their established viewpoints and negative perceptions of euroscepticism.
Unless I’m completely wrong…