Rolling post, begun April 2016
Last updated July 2018
Guardian letters: May 2017, June 2017 and July 2017 (Chris Hughes)
April 2016 | Introduction
May 2016 | Enter the elephant
May 2016 | Labour’s ‘horrible racist’ row
23 June 2016 | Referendum result
October 2016 | Post-result toxicity
December 2016 | By-election blues for Labour
December 2016 | Labour’s priority anxiety
January 2017 | UKIP’s post-Farage farrago of fiascos disadvantages the dispossessed
April 2017 | May calls snap general election
June 2017 | May loses majority
July 2017 | Corbyn sucks it up
July 2017 | Labour: The children are squabbling
August 2017 | Corbyn hasn’t really sucked it up
August 2017 | Tories get it together, sort of
August 2017 | Labour goes soft again
September 2017 | Kofi Annan sticks his oar in
September 2017 | Labour remoaners move in for the kill
September 2017 | Government does U-turn
September 2017 | Labour stays in one piece
October 2017 | Conservatives swerve back to Brexit
October 2017 | Tory minister’s ‘tantrum’ smear
March 2018 | May surrenders to Barnier
March 2018 | Labour’s position: who knows?
May 2018 | Tories plan free movement lite
June 2018 | Tory minister backs free movement
July 2018 | White paper: free movement will end
Disturbing reports about the high number of rough sleepers in London could be seen to make a good case for the UK leaving the EU.
Most of the rough sleepers are from eastern Europe. Some are working but unable to afford accommodation and not yet eligible for government support. Many are not working. The police are having to deal with complaints of antisocial behaviour.
What did the UK think would happen when they gave EU freedom of movement to poor east European member countries? Why didn’t the UK restrict access until those countries’ economies had risen to western levels – like Germany did (and still does)?
East European immigrants who aren’t sleeping rough in London are gathering in ghettos elsewhere, mostly working and paying tax, but seen as lowering wages, and putting stress on services such as schools and hospitals.
This is breeding resentment amongst the indigenous white working class, whose traditional Labour votes are being lost to the anti-EU right-wing populist UKIP party.
The UK’s EU referendum debate in the media is all about trade and jobs, but the elephant in the room is east European immigration.
People might be reluctant to say what they think about it for fear of being thought racist (or – just as bad, in some circles – politically incorrect). Of course, there probably is racism at play here. (See my analysis of racism, Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct)
In any case, the referendum’s a secret vote!
Enter the elephant
With the referendum date in sight, east European immigration was in the news, as figures for EU immigrants were hotly disputed.
Labour’s ‘horrible racist’ row
(The Guardian print newspaper didn’t report this, despite a full report on the Guardian website.)
Labour shadow Europe minister Pat Glass had been pre-referendum door-knocking in Sawley, Derbyshire with a BBC local radio reporter. Thinking that she was off-mic*, she said: ‘The very first person I come to is a horrible racist. I’m never coming back to wherever this is.’
The BBC said the man she was referring to later denied being a racist, but said that in his conversation with the MP he’d spoken about a Polish family in the area who he thought were living on benefits, and whom he’d described as ‘spongers’.
Glass’s lazy, right-on metrocentric view showed how she and her bien-pensant political class have ignored – and belittled – the genuine concerns of the white working class about east European immigration. Labour, with its unconvincing Remain campaign, ignores those concerns at its peril.
Glass later issued a grovelling apology, saying:
‘The comments I made were inappropriate and I regret them. Concerns about immigration are entirely valid and it’s important that politicians engage with them. I apologise to the people living in Sawley for any offence I have caused.’
(Glass was promoted to shadow education minister in June 2016, but resigned two days later. She stood down at the 2017 general election, citing the ‘bruising referendum‘ as a major cause. It’s unfortunate that rising-star Glass tripped over that ‘bruising’ reality. Had she – and her party – been more aware of the genuine concern about EU mass immigration amongst their voters, Glass might still be an MP. )
(* Another off-mic racism-related post-interview comment is described in my blogpost about Aung Sun Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims, ‘Halo Goodbye, Suu – the Rohingya crisis‘. Suu Kyi made a racist off-air comment about BBC Today presenter Mishal Husain after losing her temper during a radio interview when Husain repeatedly asked her to condemn anti-Muslim violence. After the interview, she was heard to say: ‘No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.’)
23 June 2016
Metrocentral London: Remain
Most of the rest of country: Leave
The post-referendum ‘toxic’ debate inflated as metrocentric Remain intellectuals whined stridently about the supposedly stupid people who ignored their advice. The poor whites, they said, were like Trump supporters, incoherently attacking the establishment like, they implied, a zombie mob shuffling out of their northern housing estates towards the ivory towers of metroland.
Those metrocentrics were really the stupid ones. They couldn’t accept the truth: that Leave voters had valid concerns about the impact on the UK of EU freedom of movement; and about loss of sovereignty. Being treated with contempt by the political class didn’t help – but their vote wasn’t an incoherent act of resentment at being overlooked. It was about issues – issues that the metrocentrics, in their lofty arrogance, chose to ignore.
At the post-Brexit conference for the UK Conservative party, new prime minister Theresa May (who had supported the Remain campaign, but had promised to implement Brexit) bravely confronted the sneerers. Pledging to crack down on immigration, she said that some people don’t like to admit that British workers can be out of work or on low wages because of low-skilled immigration.
Predictably, leading metrocentrics lashed back. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that May was fanning the flames of xenophobia and hatred. SNP leader and Scottish assembly first minister Nicola Sturgeon said that May’s speech was the most disgraceful display of reactionary rightwing politics in living memory.
Those influential metrocentrics should get off their high horses, stop defending their moral high ground and get back to thinking about improving society. They should consider that the problems and concerns experienced by the increasingly large precariat underclass can be resolved by paying all adult citizens an unconditional state income. (See my post, Robots could mean leisure.) This would, of course, require effective border control – which we can now have.
By-election blues for Labour
The chickens came home to roost at a by-election in deep-Brexit Lincolnshire. Having previously come second in this safe Conservative seat, Labour trailed fourth – behind UKIP.
On the same day, Welsh assembly first minister Carwyn Jones, the most powerful Labour politician in government, disagreed with the position of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who’d defended freedom of movement.
In a Guardian article, Jones said:
‘The danger is that’s a very London-centric position. That is not the way people see it outside London. London is very different: it is a cosmopolitan city and has high levels of immigration. It has that history. It is not the way many other parts of the UK are.
‘People see it very differently in Labour-supporting areas of the north of England, for example. We have to be very careful that we don’t drive our supporters into the arms of UKIP. When I was on the doorstep in June, a lot of people said: ‘We’re voting out, Mr Jones, but, don’t worry, we’re still Labour.’ What I don’t want is for those people to jump to voting UKIP.’
Exactly. (Except they already are.)
Labour’s priority anxiety
Labour cracks widened on the tricky subject of immigration. Leader Jeremy Corbyn continued to downplay the issue (even as Labour voters continued to drift towards UKIP), but some senior Labour politicians continued to focus on it.
Writing in the Guardian, Burnham said that Labour’s collective failure to tackle concerns over jobs, wages, housing and education linked to migration contributed to the loss of the referendum.
Burnham spoke of a ‘growing class divide‘, with middle-class Labour Remain voters looking down on those who voted Leave as ‘uneducated or xenophobic‘.
(Thats what I said.)
UKIP’s post-Farage farrago of fiascos disadvantages the dispossessed
The only good thing, from Labour’s point of view, was that UKIP, the party most likely to benefit from Labour’s metrocentric stance, was disintegrating following the resignation of leader Nigel Farage (the man the metrocentrics – with some reason – love to hate).
However, this was a bad thing from the point of view of the dispossessed underclass. UKIP, under Farage’s effective leadership, boosted the Conservative Eurosceptic pressure that forced then prime minister David Cameron to promise the referendum. An effective UKIP could have maintained the necessary pressure to ensure that the intentions of Leave voters were honoured.
Prime minister May seemed to mean well, but without the pressure that an effective UKIP could have provided, she might follow Cameron into the Brexit bin, and the metrocentric remoaners would then be free to dilute and delay the process – until only a dog’s dinner is left.
However, May held firm. In January 2017 she announced that Britain would leave the single market (the subject of much anguished hand-wringing amongst remoaners) in order to control and strengthen sovereignty. Good for her.
May calls snap general election
UK prime minister Theresa May was on course for a sensible Brexit, having cruised past various Remoan obstacles, when she unexpectedly called a snap general election.
She said it was needed to ensure a smooth Brexit, but probably the real reason was that she wanted to take advantage of her party’s big polling lead before the economy – heading for higher inflation and depressed wages – tanked.
UKIP, having achieved Brexit, seemed to have vanished up its own arse, so disposessed former Labour voters who wanted control over immigration would have to vote – Conservative!
May loses majority
May unexpectedly lost her parliamentary majority. (Her general election campaign was rubbish, and Labour’s under Jeremy Corbyn was good.)
The Conservatives won the most seats in parliament, and May managed to get the support of the northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to give her a tiny majority. The DUP wanted a ‘soft’ Brexit (including a ‘soft’ land border with EU member the Republic of Ireland). May would also need the parliamentary support of every Tory member, including the many EU remoaners.
With Brexit negotiations due to begin very soon, May’s pre-election ‘hard’ Brexit plan to leave the EU single market and exclude the UK from EU was likely to be abandoned.
White working class concerns about mass EU immigration were once again in danger of being ignored.
Corbyn sucks it up
Jeremy Corbyn, still leader of the Labour Party after his unexpectedly good performance in the general election, showed surprisingly good tactical acumen by announcing that Labour would leave the EU single market.
Metrocentric remoaners who want the UK to stay in the single market, or, rather, simply to derail Brexit, dominate the vocal section of the party. But Corbyn was apparently thinking of the silent traditional Labour voters who voted Leave because of their concerns about recent mass immigration. Good for him.
July 2017: Labour
Labour: The children are squabbling
Labour shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner wrote a Guardian article backing Corbyn and explaining why: people voted Leave because they wanted UK borders controlled. Hallelujah. But Labour metrocentric remoaner MP Heidi Alexander in a Guardian.com article said that her colleague’s position was wrong, depressing and disingenuous. Alexander’s views were then reported by the remoaning Guardian in the print edition as ‘news‘.
Corbyn hasn’t really sucked it up
It seems that Corbyn’s acumen wasn’t that good after all. A Guardian report said that Labour metrocentric remoaner MPs have written an open letter calling for Labour to defend free movement. The report said that although Labour’s official position was that free movement would end at the point of Brexit in March 2019, Corbyn had always supported free movement. Oh dear.
Tories get it together, sort of
After the June general election, weakened prime minister Theresa May couldn’t purge her cabinet as she’d planned. Finance minister and arch-remoaner Philip Hammond escaped the chop – and had been making trouble.
There’d been much discussion about a ‘transitional period’ after Brexit, with some remoaners suggesting a minimum five-year period, during which free movement would continue.
In their joint article, Beavis and Buthead announced a time-limited transition period. They also made it clear that after Brexit in 2019, the UK wouldn’t be in the single market or the customs union.
Needless to say, liberal remoaners objected to this sensible announcement. However, May’s ‘hard’ Brexit – amazingly – seemed to be back on track.
Labour goes soft again
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn swerved dramatically to the metrocentric remoaner ‘soft’ Brexit side when his shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer – a London MP and human rights lawyer – announced that Labour wants a two-to-four-year transition period after Brexit, during which the UK would fully participate in the EU single market and customs union.
This was the same Jeremy Corbyn who one month ago (see above) announced that Labour would leave the single market after Brexit.
Participation in the single market means accepting free movement. In April 2017, Karmer said that Labour would end free movement.
Labour’s new policy would mean up to four years more of free movement after Brexit – possibly until 2023. With UKIP in shreds, many Labour Leave voters who wanted to end free movement would probably now vote Conservative in the next general election, due in 2022.
Presumably, Corbyn – MP since 1983 for Islington North in the trendy north London heartland of metrocentricity – was happy to abandon those traditional Labour voters in the Midlands and the North.
Kofi Annan sticks his oar in
Influential Nobel Peace Prize winner and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (on a flying visit from his Swiss HQ to nothern UK city Hull to give a lecture) said in an interview with UK metrocentric national newspaper the Guardian that the UK should continue EU freedom of movement after Brexit.
Waffling meaninglessly about ‘choice‘, the formerly great man exposed his woefully inadequate understanding of the referendum result.
Annan might want to look at his own recent choice: to head a toothless commission of enquiry into Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. The commission produced a report full of good advice which will probably be shelved by the Myanmar government. It was clearly a cynical attempt to deflect international criticism from formerly saintly fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner and now badly compromised Myanmar government head Aung San Suu Kyi.
(See my rolling blogpost on that subject, Halo Goodby, Suu – the Rohingya crisis.)
Labour remoaners move in for the kill
A Labour Party campaign for free movement planned to reinforce Labour’s recent swerve to a soft Brexit. The campaigners were drafting a resolution for the Labour conference which backed the continuation of free movement, and they were encouraging local parties to support it.
Left-wing website Left Futures (edited by Momentum founder Jon Lansman) ran a piece by teacher and writer David Pavett effectively demolishing the weird logic of Lanning’s article and the free movement campaign.
The ring of campaign remoaners comprised:
- Close Corbyn ally and shadow minister Clive Lewis, (whose constituency in Norwich was an island of Remain in Norfolk’s sea of Leave)
- London MP Tulip Siddiq
- London MP David Lammy (who in 2016 urged Parliament – the UK legislative body – to overrule the referendum)
- London-based union leader Manuel Cortes.
They all have a personal stake in free movement. Lewis’s father emigrated to the UK from Grenada. Lammy’s parents emigrated from Guyana. Siddiq spent most of her childhood in Bangladesh. (Controversial Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed is Siddiq’s aunt.) Cortes moved to the UK from British overseas territory Gibraltar to undertake further and higher education and forge his career.
Fair enough. However, they apparently have no understanding of the concerns of poor working class traditional Labour voters about the unrestricted immigration of even poorer east Europeans.
As Lewis has mixed heritage, Siddiq is South Asian and Lammy is black, they’ll have experienced personal and institutional racism, and will be sensitive to the element of racism in white Labour voters’ opposition to free movement.
However, they should respect those people’s very real non-racist concerns and anxieties about free movement – concerns which made them vote Leave.
In 2016 Lewis said:
‘…free movement of labour hasn’t worked for a lot of people. It hasn’t worked for many of the people in this country, where they’ve been undercut, who feel insecure’.
Lewis’s solution was for employers who bring in EU workers to be obliged to negotiate with a trade union to ensure that wages of local workers aren’t undercut. But he’d apparently abandoned his support for the insecure precariat in favour of blanket metrocentric remoaner obstructionism.
The Labour Party, having survived the Corbyn crisis, may well fall apart over this issue, as both sides of the free movement divide dig in.
Government does U-turn
In July 2017, UK Conservative prime minister Theresa May said that free movement would end in March 2019, the scheduled date for Brexit.
However, in a speech in Florence, Italy, this month she said that free movement will continue for two years after March 2019 (albeit subject to a Belgian-style registration process).
Clearly, May – weakened by her disastrous snap election – has had to pander to the Conservative remoaners led by finance minister Philip Hammond.
Labour stays in one piece
The Labour party avoided tearing itself apart over free movement at its annual conference (see above) – by avoiding the subject!
Conservatives swerve back to Brexit
Tory minister’s ‘tantrum’ smear
Conservative Europe minister and prominent remoaner Alan Duncan insulted Leave voters in a speech in Chicago by saying that the Leave result was caused by campaigners inciting prejudice about immigration. Duncan said that Leave voters ‘were stirred up by an image of immigration, which made them angry and throw a bit of a tantrum‘.
Multi-millionaire Duncan (who was reprimanded by the House of Commons fees office for claiming more than £4,000 over three years in expenses for gardening, including £600 to maintain his ride-on lawnmower) is MP for Leave-voting Rutland and Melton. He might have some explaining to do to his constituents.
Some Leave campaigners may have tried to stir up anti-immigrant prejudice. But most Leave voters weren’t prejudiced and weren’t so stupid that they could be manipulated by bigots.
They had real concerns about unrestricted migration from poor east European countries.
Before unexpectedly switching to the Remain side in March 2016, Duncan tried to join the Vote Leave campaign after saying he’d ‘spent 40 years wishing we had never joined the EU’ since voting against membership in the last referendum in 1975.
Before switching, Duncan had said that the question of immigration was ‘far more complicated than many have admitted’. Now that he’s a remoaner, things are much simpler.
May surrenders to Barnier
In her September 2017 speech in Florence, UK premier Theresa May said that free movement would continue for at least two years during the transition period after Brexit in March 2019. (See above.) Then in October, immigration minister Brandon Lewis said that freedom of movement would end in March 2019. (See above.)
In her Mansion House speech on 2 March 2018, May confirmed this, saying:
‘We are clear that as we leave the EU, free movement of people will come to an end and we will control the number of people who come to live in our country.’
Then, on 19 March 2018, a draft withdrawal agreement negotiated with unelected EU panjandrum Michel Barnier (and due to be rubber-stamped by the sheep-like 27 member states) said that free movement would continue during the transition period until December 2020.
So once again, Precariat leave voters have been overlooked and ignored.
Apparently, the continuation of EU rules including free movement was a quid pro quo for allowing us to negotiate trade agreements during transition. That’s kind of them.
(In any case, do we need trade ‘agreements’? Why don’t we just trade? Did the Phoenicians need trade agreements?)
Labour’s position: who knows?
Meanwhile, does anyone know what the view is of the UK opposition Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn on free movement?
Corbyn said in September 2017:
‘When we leave the EU, the current free movement rules will end. Labour wants to see fair rules and management of migration…’
Then in December 2018 shadow Brexit minister Kier Starmer, Labour’s chief remoaner, said that Labour would accept the ‘easy movement‘ of workers in order to secure the benefits of the single market and customs union, and that Labour was seeking a ‘Norway style agreement for the 21st century’.
How modern! However, Norway’s agreement with the EU involves acceptance of free movement.
Having a customs union implies acceptance of free movement of labour.
As a blog writer, I asked Labour’s press office to clarify Labour’s position on free movement. I mentioned this post. They said my query had been forwarded to the office of Dianne Abbott – the stubbornly metrocentric shadow home secretary. I haven’t had a reply.
Tories plan free movement lite
It was reported that the UK Conservative government planned to offer the EU a post-Brexit immigration plan very similar to current free movement rules. The plan would see a high level of access to the UK for EU citizens in the future, but would leave the UK government power to halt it in certain circumstances.
A government insider said that civil servants had been looking at how to give the UK/EU talks some momentum, and dealing with this issue was a way to do it.
However, a government spokesperson said news of the offer wasn’t true, and went on to say: ‘People voted in the referendum to retake control of our borders, and that is the basis we are negotiating on. After we leave the EU, freedom of movement will end and we will be creating an immigration system that delivers control over who comes to the UK, but that welcomes the brightest and best who want to work hard and contribute.’
Hmmm. This is a clash between Brexit minister David Davis and Olly Robbins, Brexit advisor to prime minister Theresa May. Leaver Davis resents being undermined by a remoaner civil servant. May has form for relying on dodgy advice – as in her disastrous 2017 snap election.
In any case, a leaked report on the Brexit negotiations concluded that keeping the Irish border open would mean that backdoor access for EU immigrants would be inevitable.
Perhaps Northern Ireland could be given back to the Irish. The ‘Unionists’ would object for a while, but they’d be fine.
Tory minister backs free movement
UK Conservative business minister Greg Clark has warned prime minister Theresa May that restricting the access of EU workers into the UK after Brexit could be as damaging as a hard trade border. He said firms’ fears that a tougher approach to immigration from Europe would affect their operations were being heard ‘loud and clear’ by his department.
In order to get those UK service workers into Europe, Clark seems willing to accept continuation of EU freedom of movement as a quid pro quo. No doubt that would please other industries that have come to rely on cheap imported labour.
Northener Clark, son of a milkman, can’t be accused of ingrained metrocentric elitism. Clark added that not enough time had been spent talking about the movement of people compared to that of goods, following Britain’s exit. That’s true. However, in calling for continued free movement of labour, like Labour’s Starmer he’s arrogantly disregarding the genuine concerns about mass EU immigration that underpinned the referendum result.
May has said that free movement will end. (See above.) Clark should get back in his box.
White paper: free movement will end
The Chequers white paper, under the heading of ‘Immigration’, welcomes the contribution that migrants bring to our economy and society, and goes on to say:
5.3 However, in the last decade or so, we have seen record levels of long term net migration in the UK, and that sheer volume has given rise to public concern about pressure on public services, like schools and our infrastructure, especially housing, as well as placing downward pressure on wages for people on the lowest incomes. The public must have confidence in our ability to control immigration. It is simply not possible to control immigration overall when there is unlimited free movement of people to the UK from the EU.
5.4 We will design our immigration system to ensure that we are able to control the numbers of people who come here from the EU. In future, therefore, the Free Movement Directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law.
Some aspects of the Chequers agreement upset some cabinet Brexiteers. Political big beast Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and David Davis, the secretary of state for exiting the EU, both resigned.
This was a victory for unelected advisor Olly Robbins. (See above.) Robbins – who’s paid more than the PM – was the key adviser behind the Chequers strategy which led to the resignations of Davis and Johnson. Davis had been working on his own strategy white paper, only to discover that May and Robbins had sidelined him.
Needless to say, remoaners put the boot in. However, in spite of many difficulties, May has has stuck to her guns: free movement will end.
No doubt EU unelected chief negotiator Michel Barnier will also put the boot in, pompously maintaining that freedom of movement is an uncrossable ‘red line’ – despite many EU member states now questioning it.
(The ‘negotiations’ are an embarrassment. Perhaps we should just leave.)
Please feel free to comment…