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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