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.
Steve Peers says
It’s a catch-22 from the Leave side’s point of view. If we stay in the EEA (and we would have to negotiate with the EU to do this), we’d be affected not only by free movement law, but by other EU regulations (ie limits on sovereignty) and by a requirement to make financial contributions. The main impact would be on trade in agriculture, fisheries and trade with third countries. But I think most Leave voters are more concerned about the first category of issues rather than the second. If we don’t stay in the EEA then we have to negotiate an agreement from scratch, which in theory could combine both sets of positives (from a Leave voter’s point of view). That’s why Boris is backing it. The question is whether that’s credible. But actually we could always try to negotiate EEA membership with exceptions on some of these issues, as some on the Leave side argue. This is possible in principle, and takes account of the fact that we would have to apply to negotiate the terms of our stay in the EEA anyway. But it runs against exactly the same problem: is it credible? Ultimately I think it will come down to whether enough voters believe the ‘Leave’ argument that ‘they will surely to give us basically whatever nice new terms we ask for’ – since that argument plays out the same way no matter what the details of the terms of trade are. A key feature in the debate is whether the ‘Remain’ side can convince enough voters that there are still going to be limits to sovereignty no matter what route is chosen – so far it doesn’t look as if the ‘with one bound we’ll be free’ narrative has really been dented.
thomas the dooter says
In the putative negotiations on trade with the EU and the of the world should the UK vote to leave the EU, what cards do we hold and do we have any position of strength which might benefit our negotiating position? I actually don’t see many cards nor much of a strong negotiating stance – apart from letting the Chinese walk all over us as the Government seems to have done.
Good points Nick. Reading your post, I was wondering: who would actually lead the negotiations with the EU if we were to leave?
Surely, David Cameron wouldn’t be well placed as he does not want to leave, and every compromise he makes will be interpreted by the Brexiters as weakness (that is, if they accept him as the lead negotiator in the first place). Boris? Well, I can’t imagine him being welcomed by the EU negotiators, as EU politicians desperately try to minimise Brexit by fear of contagion in their electorate.
I think our no 1 problem if we were to leave, would be to find our lead negotiator, someone accepted by the Brexiters and the EU, and I’m not sure this person exists. Not a great way to start negotiations!
Pamela Abbey says
Reply to Reply: Stay in and take that wasted energy of whether to stake in or out and use it to help the problems of the country.