I’m Immigration is one of the key planks of the Vote Leave argument. No wonder: in terms of trying to get the British public keyed up about the EU, immigration is the one thing that does it for a large portion of the population. This is oddly one of the reasons the Brexiteers in the Conservative Party better hope we vote to stay in on June 23rd (which, to be fair, some of them often appear to do already, strangely enough).
Imagine we vote to leave in June. What happens next? All sorts of scenarios have been painted by both sides of the argument, but as the vote itself approaches, it seems obvious to me what would take place. The Cameron government, faced with a list of unpalatable choices, will simply go with the easiest, least bad option. That is leaving the EU, but remaining in the EEA. So the much vaunted and then much scorned Norway route. I just don’t see a situation in which the government would do anything other than that. It would be the only soft landing available.
The problem (for many of the folks voting Leave, I mean) with the EEA option is immigration. Namely, the rules around freedom of movement wouldn’t change at all. We wouldn’t be part of a common agricultural policy any longer; or a common fishing policy; we wouldn’t elect MEPs ever again; lots of things would change, even in the Norway option. But one thing would remain exactly the same: the unlimited amount of EU nationals allowed to live and work in the UK. It’s just part of the EEA deal. It’s just part of having access to the single market, in fact.
If we do vote to leave in June, I can guarantee you that immigration will be one of the major factors in causing that to have happened. So what goes down when the British public discovers that in spite of what they may have thought and been told by some (not naming any names…*cough*, Boris, *cough*), leaving the EU hasn’t affected any regulation of immigration whatsoever? I think the Tories could face a mighty backlash.
Of course, with no opposition to speak of, you could say it doesn’t matter. But the seeds of major problems that could run deep into the roots of the party will have been sowed. And the opposition won’t be unelectable forever.
The more this EU referendum campaign goes on the more I wish we really were discussing the actual issues at hand: do we want to stay in the EU where we can shape single market policy, or do we feel like that’s worth trading for having full control over agricultural and other policy areas outside of membership? Because if we stay in the EEA (and I would be one of the ones arguing against that option), the truth is, trade in the UK won’t be affected that much, really. And as I said, immigration won’t be affected in any way whatsoever. Too bad that this decision on the entire future direction of the country will be decided by a phony war then.