Rolling post, begun April 2016
In which, although a remain voter, I detail the metrocentric liberal elite’s arrogant and disastrous dismissal of white working-class leave voters’ concerns about unrestricted mass immigration from poor East European countries as ignorant, provincial racism.
Guardian letters: January 2017, April 2017, June 2017, June 2017, December 2018, January 2019 and December 2019 (Chris Hughes)
2017 🔽 | 2018 🔽 | 2019 🔽 | 2020 🔽 | 2022 🔽
April 2016 | Introduction
May 2016 | Entered the elephant
May 2016 | Labour’s ‘horrible racist’ row
23 June 2016 | Referendum result and immigration
October 2016 | Post-result toxicity
October 2016 | May tackled immigration – accused of xenophobia
December 2016 | By-election blues for Labour
December 2016 | Welsh leader: Labour’s ‘London-centric’ view of immigration could lose votes
December 2016 | Top Labour MP: immigration class divide – shadow home secretary: wrong
January 2017 | Ukip’s post-Farage farrago of fiascos disadvantaged the dispossessed
January 2017 | Corbyn waffled about free movement
March 2017 | Shadow home secretary: Labour must defend free movement
April 2017 | May called snap general election
April 2017 | Starmer: Labour would end free movement
May 2017 | Corbyn said it: free movement to end
June 2017 | Labour manifesto: free movement to end
June 2017 | May lost majority
July 2017 | Labour weaved this way and that
July 2017 | Tory cabinet’s free movement squabble
August 2017 | Labour remainers: defend free movement
August 2017 | Tories got it together, sort of
August 2017 | Labour went soft again
September 2017 | Kofi Annan stuck his oar in
September 2017 | Labour remainers organised to defend free movement
September 2017 | Corbyn to TUC: free movement to end
September 2017 | Government U-turn
September 2017 | Labour stayed in one piece
October 2017 | Conservatives swerved back to Brexit
October 2017 | Tory minister’s ‘tantrum’ smear
December 2017 | Labour wanted ‘easy movement’
March 2018 | May surrendered to Barnier
March 2018 | Labour’s position: no one knew
May 2018 | Tories planned free movement lite
June 2018 | Tory minister backed free movement
July 2018 | Chequers white paper: free movement to end
September 2018 | Abbott immigration speech: nothing on free movement
September 2018 | Belfast legal report: the Irish back door
September 2018 | Migration report: ‘End free movement’
November 2018 | Draft withdrawal agreement – free movement to continue during transition
November 2018 | Draft political declaration: free movement to end – draft documents approved by EU
December 2018 | Plan B touted: ‘Norway plus’ (includes free movement)
December 2018 | May cancelled vote on Brexit deal – then survived Tory confidence vote
December 2018 | May: withdrawal agreement vote in January – Corbyn: no confidence
December 2018 | Immigration white paper: free movement to end, kind of
January 2019 | ‘Failing’ Grayling succeeds – in backing the end of free movement
January 2019 | Corbyn: free movement negotiable
January 2019 | Pre-vote summary: the DWA, the DPD and free movement
15 January 2019 | May lost Brexit deal vote – Corbyn tabled no confidence vote
September 2019 | Labour conference voted for free movement
November 2019 | Labour manifesto unclear on free movement
January 2020 | Chickens came home to roost – Labour lost its heartland
January 2020 | Labour abandoned its heartland – again
April 2020 | Metrocentric remainer is new Labour leader
June 2020 | Labour review of 2019 election defeat didn’t mention elephant in room
November 2022 | Bonzo gone; red wall goes off Tories; Starmer: free movement over
Footnote | A brief history of the UK’s brutal colonisation of Ireland, and its troubled aftermath
In the UK in 2016 we were facing a referendum on membership of the EU. Disturbing reports about the high number of rough sleepers in London could be seen to have made a good case for the UK leaving.
Most of the rough sleepers were from eastern Europe, part of the recent unrestricted mass immigration to the UK allowed under the EU freedom of movement rule.
Some were working but unable to afford accommodation and not yet eligible for government support. Many were not working. Some had apparently been bussed in by criminal gangs to beg on the street. The police were having to deal with complaints of antisocial behaviour.
The referendum was happening because Conservative prime minister David Cameron had been pressed by Eurosceptics in his party (and by Conservative MPs worried about their seats being threatened by the rise of the populist anti-EU Ukip party) to put it in his manifesto for the 2015 general election.
Cameron probably didn’t want the referendum. Following his (lacklustre) Conservative-Liberal coalition term of government, polls led Cameron to expect another coalition with the Liberal Democrats. They’d have blocked the referendum.
When he unexpectedly won a majority in 2015 with the un-polled votes of ‘shy’ Conservatives (shy leavers?), Cameron tried to avert the referendum by negotiating better terms for the UK with the EU.
Cameron’s negotiations, typically lacklustre, failed. The referendum, which Cameron had never wanted and had never expected to have to implement, was arranged to take place in June 2016.
As a middle-class left-liberal-Green, I had mixed feelings about the EU. I loved the noble internationalist free-trade idea, but disliked the corrupt neo-liberal bureaucratic gravy-train reality.
In my local cafe, here in the UK’s East Midlands, I heard the views of two older working-class white women about the EU freedom of movement rule.
They were reluctant to say so, aware their views might be considered ‘wrong’, but they deeply resented this change, imposed with no consultation. Their quiet, genuine and non-racist strength of feeling made a big impression on me.
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 weren’t sleeping rough in London were gathering in ghettos elsewhere, mostly working and paying tax, but seen as lowering wages, and putting stress on services such as schools and hospitals.
Economic evidence suggests migrants make a positive contribution to the public purse and public services. However, perhaps people’s perception to the contrary arose from a direct experience of unfair competition for scarce resources.
Also, since before the referendum, non-EU immigration had been consistently higher than EU immigration. So why had EU immigration become such a contentious issue? Perhaps because most non-EU immigrants needed a visa; whereas most east European immigrants (mostly low-skilled workers and many with no jobs to come to) were allowed almost unrestricted entry to the UK .
This was breeding resentment amongst the indigenous white working class, whose traditional Labour votes were being lost to Ukip. The media debate on the referendum was all about trade and jobs, but the elephant in the room was east European immigration.
People were reluctant to say what they thought about free movement for fear of being considered racist (or – just as bad, in some circles – politically incorrect).
There probably was racism at play here, but much of the blame for it lay with government. Mass immigration imposed without consultation was bound to provoke racism.
(We’re probably all potentially racist, but with awareness we can choose not to indulge it – whatever the provocation. See my analysis of racism, Racism explained as a redundant instinct.)
In any case, the referendum would be a secret vote!
Entered 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 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 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 had ignored – and belittled – the genuine concerns of the white working class about east European immigration. Labour, with its unconvincing remain campaign, ignored those concerns at the risk of losing support.
Glass later issued a grovelling apology (well, semi-grovelling – note the weaselly use of the bolded word ‘any‘), 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 the post of 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 rising star Glass tripped over that ‘bruising’ reality. If she – and her party – had 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 San 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, Suu Kyi was heard to say: ‘No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.’)
23 June 2016
Referendum result and immigration
Metrocentral London: Remain
Most of the rest of country: Leave
(Me: Undecided, but voted: Remain)
The high turnout (72%) and the leave result (disconcertingly close at 52-48%) were unexpected.
It’s estimated 24-30% of Labour voters voted leave.
Immigration was a major factor. Postwar mass immigration from UK colonies and former colonies and the more recent unrestricted free movement of people from Eastern Europe that followed 2004’s EU enlargement were allowed by governments for economic reasons with no consideration for the social wellbeing of either the immigrant or the host communities – and with no public consultation.
The EU referendum was, in effect, the first public consultation on immigration. Several polls confirmed immigration was a main reason for voting leave:
- An Ipsos MORI poll taken just before the referendum showed immigration was seen as the biggest issue (48%) that would influence people’s vote. (The economy scored 27%.)
- A Lord Ashcroft post-referendum poll found 33% of leave voters said the main reason was that leaving offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders. (Immigration was second. The highest scoring reason was sovereignty, at 40%.)
- A July 2016 Economist analysis concluded high numbers of migrants didn’t bother Britons, but high rates of change did.
- An April 2018 CSI poll found 40% of leave voters gave immigration as the main reason.
The post-referendum ‘toxic’ debate inflated as metrocentric remain intellectuals whined stridently about the supposedly stupid people who’d 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 the stupid ones. They couldn’t accept the truth: 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 a semi-coherent act of resentment at being overlooked. It was about issues – issues the metrocentrics, in their lofty arrogance, chose to ignore.
An April 2018 CSI poll asked leave voters to rank four reasons for voting leave. The poll report said:
‘Interestingly, “To teach British politicians a lesson” had by far the lowest average rank, being ranked last by a full 88% of leave voters. This contradicts the widespread claim that Brexit was a “protest vote”: i.e., people voted leave as a way of venting deep-seated grievances.’
(The CSI poll found immigration was the main reason for voting to leave. It was ranked first of the four reasons by 40% of leave voters polled.)
PM May tackled immigration – accused of xenophobia
Despite having promised to stay on whatever the result, UK prime minister David Cameron resigned after the referendum. He was replaced as leader of the Conservative Party and as PM by Theresa May.
May had campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, but now promised to implement the leave result. At the post-referendum Conservative Party conference, she acknowledged the immigration elephant in the room, and confronted the metrocentric sneerers.
Pledging to crack down on immigration, May said some people don’t like to admit 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 May was fanning the flames of xenophobia and hatred. SNP leader and Scottish assembly first minister Nicola Sturgeon said May’s speech was the most disgraceful display of reactionary right-wing politics in living memory.
Admittedly, May had form. In her previous post as home affairs minister she implemented a Gradgrind approach to reducing immigration. She set ambitious targets which she then failed to meet. An excellent November 2018 Irish Times article links that policy to her post-referendum enthusiasm for ending free movement.
In 2010, home secretary May promised to cut net immigration. Instead it rose significantly. In 2012, she pledged to create ‘a really hostile environment for illegal migrants‘ and wrongly blamed the Human Rights Act for being unable to go further, earning a rebuke from senior judiciary. She ignored warnings about passport backlogs and chaos at border posts, and put ads on the side of lorries telling people to ‘Go home or face arrest‘. The ads were banned for inaccuracy – very few people could actually be arrested – and because of general public revulsion.
It was May’s incompetent and target-led ‘hostile environment’ that led to the shameful cruelty of the Windrush scandal.
So metrocentrics Corbyn and Sturgess arguably had reason to criticise May’s stance on immigration. However, they pointedly failed to acknowledge that this time, May was also voicing the feelings of Leave voters – many of whom were not Conservative voters – who weren’t necessarily xenophobic, but were genuinely concerned about having mass immigration imposed on them.
(If those influential metrocentrics stopped defending their moral high ground, got off their high horses, and got down to thinking about improving society, they might consider that the problems and concerns experienced by the increasingly large precariat underclass could be resolved by paying all adult citizens an unconditional state income. This would, of course, require effective border control – which we could now have. See my post, Robots could mean leisure.)
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.
Welsh leader: Labour’s ‘London-centric’ view of immigration could lose votes
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 were.)
Top Labour MP: immigration class divide – shadow home secretary: wrong
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 focussed on it.
They included northern Labour MP and political big beast Andy Burnham, former shadow home secretary and the then front-runner for the post of elected mayor – which he subsequently won – of northwest UK region Greater Manchester. Burnham joined Carwyn Jones (see above) in speaking up on the subject.
Writing in the Guardian, Burnham said 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‘.
(That’s what I said.)
Stubbornly metrocentric Labour shadow home secretary and close Corbyn ally Diane Abbott then said Burnham had got it back to front, and was wrong.
Ukip’s post-Farage farrago of fiascos disadvantaged 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 – loved 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 the intentions of leave voters were honoured.
Prime minister May seemed to mean well, but without the pressure an effective Ukip could have provided, she might have followed Cameron into the Brexit bin, and the metrocentric remainers would then be free to dilute and delay the process – until only a dog’s dinner was left.
However, May held firm. In January 2017 she announced Britain would leave the single market (the subject of much anguished hand-wringing amongst remainers) in order to control and strengthen sovereignty.
Corbyn waffled about free movement
In a major Brexit speech, UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn further toned down his already weak statement that Labour was ‘not wedded’ to free movement by adding that it hadn’t been ruled out.
According to an extract handed out the night before the speech – in leave-voting Peterborough – Corbyn was due to say he supported ‘reasonable management‘ of immigration after Brexit. That sounded like something that would happen after the end of free movement (ie, the end of unmanaged immigration). Corbyn was also due to say: ‘Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle.’
That was weak and weaselly. ‘Not wedded to the principle’? (Who wrote that?) Corbyn could just have said Labour’s position was that free movement would end.
Nevertheless, some thought this was a change of policy by Corbyn, who’d been under pressure from Labour MPs to address the concerns of Labour supporters and swing voters who’d voted leave.
However, in a round of interviews before the speech Corbyn insisted ‘it’s not a sea change at all’ – and complained his planned statement had been misinterpreted.
In the actual speech, after acknowledging many people had expressed deep concern about unregulated migration from the EU, Corbyn said:
‘Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.‘
[Labour Party’s punctuation]
Corbyn went on to say EU immigration should be part of the negotiated attempt to keep full access to the EU single market.
Right. That was clear, then. As everyone knew by then, full access to the single market would mean accepting – as non-EU Norway does – EU free movement of people.
So, no misinterpretation possible after that gem of clarity, Jeremy.
Shadow home secretary: Labour must defend free movement
Adding to the confusion, the opposition Labour party’s shadow home affairs minister called for free movement to be defended, in apparent contradiction to her party leader’s (apparent) position (see above).
In a widely publicised foreword to a book of essays, Free Movement and Beyond – Agenda Setting for Brexit Britain, Labour’s stubbornly metrocentric shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said freedom of movement was a workers’ right.
In her foreword, Abbott described criticism of EU free movement as reactionary and anti-immigrant. She said the labour movement couldn’t accept the attack on freedom of movement, and must stand to defend it.
Abbott, whose parents were Jamaican immigrants, clearly cares deeply about historical and recent injustices suffered by immigrants, but she showed no understanding of the concerns of leave voters about unrestricted immigration from poor east European countries under EU freedom of movement.
May called snap general election
UK prime minister Theresa May was on course for a sensible Brexit, having cruised past various remain 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 dispossessed former Labour voters who wanted control over immigration would have to vote – Conservative!
Starmer: Labour would end free movement
The UK opposition Labour Party said they’d accept the referendum result, and would end free movement. That’s big of them.
Labour shadow Brexit minister Sir Keir Starmer (human rights lawyer, London MP and arch-remainer) said (presumably through gritted teeth) Labour would seek to end free movement. He added that Labour wouldn’t shut the door on the single market, the customs union or participation in EU agencies.
Despite Starmer’s controversial rider, that was clearer than his leader’s mystical miasma of a pronouncement in January.
Corbyn said it: free movement to end
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK opposition Labour Party, said for the first time that under Labour the free movement of citizens between the UK and the EU would end with Brexit.
In January 2017, Corbyn said in a speech, somewhat cryptically, Labour wasn’t wedded to free movement but it hadn’t been ruled out.
Since then, the prospect of a general election seemed to have concentrated Corbyn’s mind – somewhat, if not wonderfully. He was asked in a TV interview what immigration controls Labour would implement. After some characteristic waffling, Corbyn said:
“Clearly the free movement ends when we leave the European Union but there will be managed migration and it will be fair.”
This confirmed what shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer said in April (see above). Corbyn and Starmer were both said to favour free movement, but had apparently been persuaded to accept it must end to keep Labour leavers (and swing-voting leavers) sweet. Hence the gritted teeth through which Corbyn’s and Starmer’s concessions were made.
Labour manifesto: free movement to end
The snap general election called by UK premier Theresa May had the benefit of clarifying the opposition Labour party’s position on free movement.
The 2017 Labour manifesto, in chapter 2, Negotiating Brexit, under the heading of Immigration, said:
‘Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union.’
May lost majority
UK Conservative premier Theresa May won her snap general election, getting more seats in parliament than Labour, but she unexpectedly lost her overall parliamentary majority. (Her general election campaign was rubbish, and Labour’s under Jeremy Corbyn was good.)
May managed to get the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, a tiny party in UK country Northern Ireland, to give her a tiny but workable majority. The DUP wanted a ‘soft’ Brexit, including a ‘soft’ land border with NI neighbour and EU member-state Ireland. (See footnote). An extra £1bn of spending for NI was part of the deal.
May also needed the parliamentary support of every Tory member, including the many EU remainers.
With Brexit negotiations due to begin very soon, May’s pre-election ‘hard’ Brexit plan looked likely to be abandoned – and white working class concerns about mass EU immigration seemed once again in danger of being ignored.
Labour weaved this way and that
Jeremy Corbyn, still leader of the Labour Party after his unexpectedly good performance in the general election, surprisingly announced Labour would leave the EU single market.
This was a change from his previous statement that Labour would push to maintain full access to the single market.
Metrocentric remainers who wanted the UK to stay in the single market – or who simply wanted to derail Brexit – dominated the vocal section of the party. Perhaps Corbyn was thinking of the silent traditional Labour voters who voted leave because of their concerns about recent mass immigration.
Maverick Labour shadow trade minister Barry Gardiner, a remainer in the referendum, but who thought the result must be honoured, then wrote a Guardian article backing Corbyn and explaining why: people voted leave because they wanted UK borders controlled.
However, Labour metrocentric remainer MP and nobody Heidi Alexander in a Guardian.com article said Gardiner’s position was wrong, depressing and disingenuous. Alexander’s views were then reported by the Guardian in the print edition as ‘news‘.
Tory cabinet’s free movement squabble
After UK premier Theresa May’s disastrous snap election, her power had weakened. While she was on holiday, having left no deputy in charge, her ministers were squabbling about Brexit – and about free movement.
Finance minister and arch-remainer Philip Hammond said there should be no immediate change to immigration rules when Britain left the EU.
Trade minister and Brexiter Liam Fox said allowing free movement after Brexit would not keep faith with the referendum result. He said the government had not agreed on whether to keep free movement for a transitional period.
A spokesman for May then stepped in to say free movement would end in March 2019.
Labour remainers: defend free movement
A Guardian report said Labour remainer MPs including Clive Lewis and David Lammy had written an open letter calling for Labour to defend free movement.
The report said although Labour’s official position was that free movement would end at the point of Brexit in March 2019, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow home secretary Diane Abbott had always supported free movement.
Tories got 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-remainer Philip Hammond escaped the chop – and had been making trouble.
However, all was now sweetness and light as Hammond collaborated with trade minister and arch-Brexiter Liam Fox to write a newspaper article meant to mend fences.
There’d been much discussion about a ‘transitional period’ after Brexit, with some remainers suggesting a minimum five-year period, during which free movement would continue.
In their joint article, Beavis and Butt-Head 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 remainers objected to this sensible announcement. However, May’s ‘hard’ Brexit – amazingly – seemed to be back on track.
Labour went soft again
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn swerved dramatically to the metrocentric remainer ‘soft’ Brexit side when he allowed his shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer – a London MP and human rights lawyer – to announce that Labour wanted 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 would mean accepting free movement. In April 2017, Starmer said Labour would end free movement, but 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.
Apparently, 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 stuck his oar in
Influential Nobel Peace Prize winner and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (on a flying visit from his Swiss HQ to northern UK city Hull to give a lecture) said in an interview with UK metrocentric national newspaper the Guardian 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 needed 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 was effectively 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 Goodbye, Suu – the Rohingya crisis.)
Labour remainers organised to defend free movement
A group of pro-EU Labour MPs and activists launched the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.
Their aim was to reinforce Labour’s recent swerve to a soft Brexit. The campaigners had drafted a resolution for the Labour conference, backing the continuation of free movement. They were encouraging local Labour parties to support the resolution.
An article backing the campaign on centre-left website LabourList by prominent Labour leftie Hugh Lanning apparently committed the campaign to free movement from everywhere – not just from the EU!
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 main campaign backers were:
- Clive Lewis, close Corbyn ally and shadow minister whose constituency in Norwich was an island of remain in Norfolk’s sea of leave
- David Lammy, London MP who in 2016 urged Parliament to overrule the referendum
- Manuel Cortes, London-based union leader
- Tulip Siddiq, London MP
They all had 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 had 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, Lammy is black and Cortes is Spanish, they’ll have experienced personal and institutional racism and xenophobia, 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 brought in EU workers to be obliged to negotiate with a trade union to ensure wages of local workers weren’t undercut. But he’d apparently abandoned his support for the insecure precariat in favour of blanket metrocentric remainer obstructionism.
The Labour Party, having survived the Corbyn crisis, might well have fallen apart over this issue, as both sides of the free movement divide dug in.
Corbyn to TUC: free movement to end
UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn confirmed free movement would end on leaving the EU. At the September 2017 annual UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference, Corbyn said:
‘When we leave the EU, the current free movement rules will end.’
It wasn’t clear what views – if any – trade unions collectively held on freedom of movement, or how that might have affected the Labour Party. The party was partly created (in 1900) by trade unions. The unions keep close links with the party, and currently provide just under half of its funding through ‘affiliation‘.
Affiliation to the Labour Party used to give unions a block vote on policy and leader selection. The block vote for leadership elections was abolished in 1994, but lives on at the party conference (where votes are split 50:50 between union delegates and constituency Labour parties).
In February 2018, two of the biggest UK unions signed a Brexit statement which called for the UK to stay in the EU’s single market and customs union and called on the government to ‘uphold freedom of movement for skilled workers’.
The TUC, a federation (which isn’t itself affiliated to the Labour Party) of most trade unions in England and Wales, apparently preferred staying in the single market and accepting free movement, but applying previously unused EU controls. Its September 2018 Brexit statement said:
‘If the outcome of negotiations with the EU was for the UK to stay in the single market in the longer-term…the UK should look at other EU countries’ models of free movement, and should use all the domestic powers at its disposal to manage the impact of migration.’
In a speech in Florence, Italy, UK Conservative prime minister Theresa May turned around on her promise to end free movement when the UK leaves the EU.
In July 2017, May said free movement would end in March 2019, the scheduled date for Brexit.
However in her Florence speech, she now said free movement would continue for two years after March 2019 (albeit subject to a Belgian-style registration process).
May, weakened by her disastrous snap election, was either pandering to Conservative remainers led by finance minister Philip Hammond, or surrendering to unelected EU negotiator Michel Barnier. Or both.
Labour stayed in one piece
The Labour party avoided tearing itself apart over free movement at its annual conference (see above) – by avoiding the subject!
The powerful Corbyn-backing Momentum movement managed to block any debate about Brexit. They apparently thought it would be used to attack their man.
Conservatives swerved back to Brexit
In her recent Florence speech, Conservative UK premier Theresa May said free movement would continue for at least two years after Brexit in March 2019. (See above.)
However, in a speech at the Conservative annual conference, immigration minister Brandon Lewis (a remainer) said freedom of movement for EU migrants would end in March 2019.
Tory minister’s ‘tantrum’ smear
Conservative Europe minister and prominent remainer Alan Duncan insulted leave voters in a speech in Chicago by saying the leave result was caused by campaigners inciting prejudice about immigration. Duncan said 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 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 the question of immigration was ‘far more complicated than many have admitted’. Now he’s a remainer, things are much simpler.
Labour wanted ‘easy movement’
Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said on TV that Labour backed the ‘easy movement’ of EU workers after Brexit and was also prepared to consider ongoing payments. This would ensure, he said, that the UK kept the full benefits of the single market and the customs union.
Remainer Starmer said:
‘The end of free movement doesn’t mean no movement. Of course we would want people to come from the EU to work here, we would want people who are here to go to work in the EU.’
Asked if that was best described as ‘easy movement if not free‘, Starmer replied, ‘Yes, of course’.
Starmer agreed Labour was seeking a ‘Norway-style agreement for the 21st century‘. (The modern aspect was apparently a bespoke customs union.)
May surrendered to Barnier
In her September 2017 speech in Florence, UK premier Theresa May said 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 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 mostly sheep-like 27 member states) said free movement would continue during the transition period until December 2020.
So once again, precariat leave voters had 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.
Labour’s position: no one knew
Meanwhile, did anyone know what the view was of the UK opposition Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn on free movement?
Debate on the issue at Labour’s annual conference last year was smothered by the powerful Corbyn-backing Momentum movement to prevent it being used to attack their man. (See above.)
in September 2017 (see above), Corbyn told the TUC, ‘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 2017 (see above), shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer, Labour’s chief remainer, diluted that commitment by saying on TV that the end of free movement didn’t mean no movement, and Labour would accept the ‘easy movement‘ of workers to secure the benefits of the single market and customs union.
Starmer also said 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.
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 Diane Abbott – the stubbornly metrocentric shadow home secretary. I had no reply.
Tories planned 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 let the UK halt it in certain circumstances.
A government insider said 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 remainer civil servant. May has form for relying on dodgy advice – as in her disastrous 2017 snap election.
Tory minister backed 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.
Economist Clark’s concern is apparently about UK service industry workers needing to move freely to work in the EU. The UK service industry is worth 80% of UK gross domestic product.
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 had come to rely on cheap imported labour.
Northerner 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, Clark was arrogantly disregarding the genuine concerns about mass EU immigration that underpinned the referendum result.
Chequers white paper: free movement to end
Following a crunch cabinet meeting at Chequers (during which ministers were required to hand in their mobile phones) Theresa May’s Conservative UK government issued a white paper on Brexit.
The Chequers white paper, under the heading of ‘Immigration’, welcomed the contribution that migrants bring to our economy and society, and went on to say:
‘5.3 However, in the last decade or so, we have seen record levels of long term [sic] 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 and foreign affairs minister Boris Johnson, and Brexit minister David Davis both resigned.
This was a victory for unelected advisor Olly Robbins. (See above.) Robbins – 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 May and Robbins had side-lined him.
Needless to say, remainers put the boot in. However, in spite of many difficulties, May stuck to her guns: free movement would end.
EU unelected chief negotiator Michel Barnier was likely to also put the boot in, pompously maintaining freedom of movement was an uncrossable ‘red line’ – despite many EU member states questioning it.
The ‘negotiations’ were an embarrassment. The ‘no deal’ option might cause difficulty and disruption, but would have the benefit of a clean break – and we could take our £40bn football home with us. (The UK might then be sued for the £40bn – but how would the court order be enforced?)
Abbott immigration speech: nothing on free movement
A speech on immigration by the UK opposition Labour Party’s home affairs minister managed to completely avoid the toxic topic of free movement.
Labour’s stubbornly metrocentric shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, made a speech in London on 13 September 2018 explaining Labour’s policy on immigration.
In her speech, Abbott announced a reformed work visa policy which would be available to ‘all those we need to come here, whether it is doctors, or scientists, or care workers, or others’.
However, apart from saying ‘anyone who arrived here under the Freedom of Movement provisions up to the exit date must continue to be accorded those same rights going forward’, Abbott’s speech had no reference at all to free movement, whether ending it or – as she previously advocated – defending it.
However, she referred several times to the possibility of immigration being part of a trade deal with the EU, or with others. She said Labour’s immigration policy would be ‘Brexit-ready’:
‘Brexit-ready means that our new system can be applied and can accommodate any new trade agreements. That is an agreement either with the EU itself or trade agreements with other countries…If access by our trade partners – and by us – is needed as part of any trade deal, our system can accommodate it. It will be Brexit-ready.’
Perhaps Abbott was hoping that, although it was apparently still Labour party policy to end her beloved free movement, it might be revived as part of some Frankenstein trade deal.
Belfast legal report: the Irish back door
A report published in Northern Ireland addressed the issue of back-door access for EU immigrants.
Brexit, Border Controls and Free Movement, a policy report by BrexitLawNI (a UK-government-funded collaboration between two university law schools and a human rights organisation), said advocates of further migration controls viewed the region as a potential ‘back door’ to the UK after Brexit.
The report said the UK had ruled out passport controls within the common travel area (CTA) agreed between the UK and Ireland, and intended to rely on ‘in-country‘ controls by, for instance, landlords and employers. This is the disastrous ‘hostile’ environment that caused the Windrush scandal.
Given the risk of ‘in-country’ controls being even more pronounced in NI, and given the potential ‘back-door’ problem, the report recommended the CTA be legally underpinned and continued EU freedom of movement into NI and across the CTA should be considered as an option.
However, given the government’s assurance that there’d be no border in the Irish Sea, wouldn’t that be a front door to continued mass EU migration to mainland UK?
Perhaps the back door – and the front door – could be closed by giving Northern Ireland back to the Irish. The self-styled unionists – who want to keep Northern Ireland within the UK, but couldn’t actually care less about the UK – would object for a while, but they’d be fine.
Given our brutal history of colonialism in Ireland, it’d be fair to give it back. We could have a referendum on it! (Admittedly, it’d be constitutionally challenging. Maybe we could buy the unionist majority out.)
Migration report: ‘End free movement’
An independent government-sponsored report on the impact of EU immigration to the UK recommended freedom of movement should end.
The report by the migration advisory committee (MAC), EEA migration in the UK: Final report said, in a foreword by MAC chair Professor Alan Manning:
‘…we recommend moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens.
‘This would mean ending free movement… The problem with free movement is that it leaves migration to the UK solely up to migrants and UK residents have no control over the level and mix of migration. With free movement there can be no guarantee that migration is in the interests of UK residents.’
Manning made it clear his recommendation was based on immigration not being part of the negotiations with the EU and the UK deciding its future migration system in isolation. He apparently accepted ending free movement might be bargained away to get a trade deal.
However, as ending free movement was the current position of the government, the report should have strengthened its negotiating position – and weakened that of pompous obstructionist M Barnier.
Needless to say, business leaders, hooked on cheap east European labour, immediately started squealing. They’d had two and a half years to think about kicking their habit, and their lobbyists had squeezed out a further two-year ‘implementation period‘ during which free movement would pretty much continue. But like the pathetic junkies they were, they were hurting. Bless.
UK prime minister Theresa May was said to be planning to push the MAC report through her cabinet, despite opposition from remainers Philip Hammond (finance minister) and Greg Clark (business minister and lobbyist for the business squealers).
Draft withdrawal agreement – free movement to continue during transition
The Government published a draft withdrawal agreement (DWA) on Brexit, the final result of many months’ ‘negotiations’. The DWA would require the UK to follow EU rules during the transition period. Apparently, this included the free movement of people.
After getting agreement on the draft from her cabinet, UK premier Theresa May said,
‘When you strip away the detail, the choice before us is clear: this deal, which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs, security and our union – or leave with no deal. Or no Brexit at all.’
May said the deal would end free movement, but the DWA actually made no mention of free movement of people (except in a section on Gibraltar). However, it said the UK would continue to observe all EU rules during the transition period (or implementation period, as the government calls it).
Apparently, May’s claim that the DWA deal would end free movement merely referred to the DWA kindly allowing us to leave after the transition period, and the UK then being able to take full control of immigration.
Over the last year or so, the government had been consistently inconsistent about exactly when free movement would end.
- In July 2017 (see above), amid cabinet squabbling, a spokesman for May said free movement would end in March 2019.
- In September 2017 (see above), May said free movement would continue for two years after March 2019, albeit subject to registration.
- In October 2017 (see above), immigration minister Brandon Lewis said free movement would end in March 2019.
- On 2 March 2018 (see above), May said free movement would end when we left the EU.
- On 19 March (see above), the government published an interim draft withdrawal agreement which said free movement would continue during the two-year post-Brexit transition period. This is now apparently the government’s position.
The main stumbling block for the DWA was the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland (yawn). The DWA’s compromised solution could apparently result in the UK being permanently stuck in the proposed temporary customs union.
Despite supposed cabinet agreement on the DWA, this contentious issue led to the resignation of several ministers soon afterwards, including Brexit minister Dominic Raab (who’d replaced David Davis for four short months after Davis’s resignation in July – see above).
A government white paper on immigration, awaited for over a year and supposedly due soon, was expected to say free movement would end.
Unelected panjandrum Michel Barnier, arrogant EU negotiator and obstructionist, was the chief architect of the humiliating DWA. Barnier twisted the knife still further by helpfully suggesting the UK could extend its transition period by two years, at a cost of about £20bn (on top of the £40bn already agreed).
That would mean four more years of free movement. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur.
May was now – again! – under threat of removal by her own party. Meanwhile, she grimly hung on to the DWA schedule: approval of the DWA by EU states Germany and France and their flock of sheep, followed by a crunch parliamentary vote.
If, as seemed likely (given the opposition to the DWA from almost every side), that vote was to fail, then things would get messy. The options would then include a second referendum, a general election – or ‘no deal‘.
What would ‘no deal’ mean to leave voters concerned about free movement? No pollsters seemed to have asked.
Draft political declaration: free movement to end – draft documents approved by EU
The government published a full and final version of its draft political declaration (DPD) on Brexit. It confirmed their intention to end free movement, but wasn’t legally binding. This and the draft withdrawal agreement (DWA) – which was legally binding – were approved by the 27 other EU states, and then needed approval by parliament.
When the government published its Brexit DWA (see above), they also published a short DPD, which addressed the future relationship between the EU and the UK. They now published a new 26-page version of the DPD.
The DPD had been agreed by negotiators, and needed to be approved – along with the DWA – by the 27 other EU countries at a Brussels summit on 25 November, and then by the UK parliament in December.
The first, seven-page, DPD mentioned free movement just once, under the heading of ‘Security partnership‘. A very long non-sentence proposed:
‘…reciprocal law enforcement and judicial cooperation…taking into account…the fact that the United Kingdom will be a…country that does not provide for the free movement of persons.’
The new – better written – 26-page version didn’t mention free movement under ‘Security partnership‘. (That section merely said, ‘The [security] partnership will respect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom…’).
However, the new DPD mentioned free movement of people twice elsewhere. In the introduction, it said:
‘The future relationship will be based on a balance of rights and obligations …This balance must ensure…the sovereignty of the United Kingdom…while respecting the result of the 2016 referendum including with regard to…the ending of free movement of people between the Union and the United Kingdom.’
More specifically, under the heading of ‘Mobility‘, the new DPD said:
‘Noting that the United Kingdom has decided that the principle of free movement of persons between the Union and the United Kingdom will no longer apply, the Parties should establish mobility arrangements…’
However, the DPD, unlike the DWA was not legally binding. At the end of the transition/implementation period in January 2021, that declared policy – free movement of people would no longer apply – could be changed.
In spite of Spain having a hissy fit about Gibraltar and vainly threatening to derail EU approval, the EU 27 duly rubber-stamped both documents – the DWA and the DPD – at the summit.
The two documents then needed approval by the UK parliament at a vote due in mid-December. Speculation about what might happen if, as expected, it got voted down spiralled into seeming hallucinogenic madness. Welcome to Planet Panic.
In any case, we were legally bound to leave next March. The EU could allow an article 50 extension for a second referendum – but what would the question be?
Suggested format for a second referendum
Please place a tick next to one of the following statements:
1. I’m an intelligent urban liberal who lost last time, but it wasn’t fair, so I’ve demanded a second referendum, and this time I want the obviously correct result: to stay in the EU.
2. I’m allegedly an ignorant provincial racist who supposedly got it wrong last time, but I haven’t changed my mind – and I resent being asked to vote again.
Alternatively, a new referendum might address the Brexit Irish ‘question’ by asking: Should Northern Ireland be unified with Ireland? Yes or No.
Plan B touted: ‘Norway plus’ (includes free movement)
As panic increased in the UK political bubble known as Westminster (the London location of parliament) in advance of the vote on UK premier Theresa May’s Brexit ‘plan’, ie, the draft withdrawal agreement (see above) and the draft political declaration (see above), and as wild flowcharts filled newspaper pages, MPs’ thoughts turned to Plan B.
May was holding firm, echoing former UK premier Margaret Thatcher’s ‘There is no alternative’. However, perhaps with May’s tacit approval, some of her cabinet colleagues (including tax-avoiding minister Amber Rudd) had joined with influential Labour MPs (including Europhile Stephen Kinnock) to tout ‘Norway plus‘, a scenario featuring continued free movement.
Norway isn’t a member of the EU but is in the European Economic Area (EEA), meaning it’s part of the European single market. It contributes to the EU budget, and has to follow most EU rules and laws, including the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital – and people.
Norway isn’t part of the EU customs union, so, to avoid a hard Irish border (yawn), a new customs union with the EU – a ‘Norway plus‘ solution – would be needed.
To get into the EEA, the UK would have to join EFTA – the European Free Trade Association, namely Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
The plan was rejected by Heidi Nordby Lunde, an MP in Norway’s governing Conservative party, and leader of Norway’s European movement. Lunde, claiming her views reflected those of the governing party, said:
‘It is not in my country’s interests to have the UK aboard, and I cannot see how possibly an EEA/EFTA agreement could be in the interests of the UK As part of the agreement with the EU we accept migration and free movement, we have our own body of justice, but it is compliant with the European court of justice. We accept the rules and regulations of the single market.’
Kinnock said the EFTA court could diverge from the European court of justice, and the EFTA treaty allowed for an emergency brake on migration in exceptional circumstances. Not very convincing, Stephen.
Plan Z, anybody?
Here’s mine. Let parliament:
- Implement previously unused immigration controls, as allowed under EU rules
- Get a two-month Brexit extension to give time for ref2
- Hold a second referendum, and if, as expected now mass immigration from poor east European countries had been stopped, the referendum delivered a remain majority, then –
- Cancel Article 50 as allowed by a recent EU ruling
- Er, that’s it
May cancelled vote on Brexit deal – then survived Tory confidence vote
UK Conservative premier Theresa May called off the crunch vote on her Brexit deal so she could go back to Brussels and ask for changes to it.
May admitted the deal would be rejected by a significant margin if MPs voted on it. She said she was confident of getting reassurances from the EU on the Northern Ireland border plan.
The following day, a confidence vote was triggered by Conservative MPs angry at May’s Brexit policy, which they said betrayed the 2016 referendum result.
May won the vote by 200 to 117 and is now immune from a leadership challenge for a year. Speaking outside her official residence in Downing Street, she vowed to deliver the Brexit ‘people voted for’ but said she had listened to the concerns of MPs who voted against her.
May: withdrawal agreement vote in January – Corbyn: no confidence
UK prime minister Theresa May announced a date for the postponed vote on the EU withdrawal agreement. Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn then tabled a motion of no confidence in the PM.
A week after cancelling the crunch vote on her Brexit plan, and then surviving a confidence vote by her own Conservative party, UK premier Theresa May announced the postponed vote on the withdrawal agreement would take place in mid-January.
May said she hoped for ‘further political and legal assurances‘ from the EU before the vote in January. She also urged MPs not to ‘break faith with the British people’ by demanding a second referendum.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said putting off the vote until January was unacceptable. He tabled a motion of no confidence in the PM because of her failure to hold the ‘meaningful vote‘ immediately.
However, the government was able to simply refuse to allow parliamentary time for Corbyn’s motion – because it addressed May personally, not her government. Corbyn’s half-baked motion couldn’t lead to a general election (under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act), so it was just ignored.
Immigration white paper: free movement to end, kind of
The UK government finally published its much delayed ‘white paper‘ on post-Brexit immigration policy. This policy document said free movement would end in 2021 after the implementation period (due to end on 31 December, 2020).
However, business squealers hooked on cheap east European labour and their pusher, business minister and lobbyist Greg Clark, had won a shoddy compromise: free movement lite – until at least 2025.
As a ‘transitional measure‘, unlimited numbers of low-skilled migrants from ‘low-risk countries‘ in Europe and elsewhere would be able to come to the UK without a job offer and seek work for up to a year.
The scheme was designed to fill vacancies in sectors such as construction and social care which are heavily dependent on EU labour and which ministers feared could struggle to adapt when free movement ended.
Poor things. Businesses have only had two and a half years so far, and they’ve only got a further two years up to and during the implementation period. It must be a terrible struggle doing absolutely nothing to adapt to the end of cheap foreign labour – for four and a half years.
The government – split over immigration – had caved in completely to the demands of industry while ignoring the strong public desire expressed in the referendum to get immigration down.
The chief winners would be businesses, free to exploit the bonanza of a huge new pool of cheap labour from around the world, while continuing to avoid their responsibility to recruit and train local talent.
Low-skilled immigrants would have to pay an entry fee, wouldn’t get benefits, and wouldn’t be able to bring their family or switch to another migration scheme. There’d be a ‘cooling off period‘ after a year, meaning they’d be expected to leave and not to come again for another year.
However, there’d be no way of making sure people left after a year. Someone supposed to go back to their home country after a year could easily ‘disappear‘ under the radar, and take another low-paid job.
This scheme would continue the main free movement problem: large numbers of low-paid workers from abroad upsetting the locals and undercutting their wages.
Happy Christmas, dear Reader! 🎄
‘Failing’ Grayling succeeds – in backing the end of free movement
In a bid to boost support from Conservative voters (and, therefore, rebel Conservative MPs) for the Brexit withdrawal agreement (see above) ahead of the postponed crunch vote due on 15 January, loyal cabinet minister Chris Grayling gave a warning in right-wing UK newspaper the Daily Mail that if freedom of movement is allowed to continue, people may turn to extremism.
Brexiter Grayling, nicknamed ‘Failing‘ by left-liberal UK newspaper the Guardian because of his disastrous performance as transport secretary (especially with regard to Britain’s rubbish privatised railways), said:
‘If MPs who represent seats that voted 70 per cent to leave say, ‘Sorry guys, we’re still going to have freedom of movement‘, they [leave voters] will turn against the political mainstream … We would see a different tone in our politics – a less tolerant society, a more nationalistic nation … It will open the door to extremist populist political forces in this country of the kind we see in other countries in Europe.’
He could be right – about that, at least.
Happy New Year, dear Reader! 🥂
Corbyn: free movement negotiable
Interviewed on BBC TV current affairs programme the Andrew Marr Show, UK opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said free movement should end, but went on to say it should be negotiable:
‘Many workers that are vital in this country to agriculture, to the care sector, to the NHS and to education have either left or are contemplating leaving. We have 100,000 vacancies in the NHS. Our economy relies on people coming in from other countries. I want to keep that.’
That sounded a bit like the recent government white paper on immigration (see above), which proposed that after Brexit unlimited numbers of low-skilled migrants from Europe and elsewhere could to come to the UK to fill vacancies in sectors such as construction and social care.
Pushed repeatedly by Marr to say whether or not free movement should continue after Brexit, Corbyn eventually said it should be ‘open to negotiation’. Finally, he invoked Labour’s immigration policy, produced by shadow home secretary and stubborn metrocentric Dianne Abbott (see above), saying, ‘Diane Abbott has made it very clear our migration policy will be based on the needs and rights of people to work in this country’.
In her September 2018 speech explaining Labour’s immigration policy, Abbott made no mention of free movement, but emphasised the possibility of immigration being part of a trade deal with the EU, or with others.
Corbyn’s metrocentric waffle on free movement – the transcript
BBC transcript of that part of Corbyn’s interview by Andrew Marr
AM: Let me ask you about another area which is the free movement of people. Why are you against the free movement of people?
JC: I’m not against the free movement of people. What I want to end is the undercutting of workers’ rights and conditions which has increasingly happened in some parts of western Europe, and I did in the referendum actually make quite a lot about the whole issue of what’s called the posting of workers directive on that issue.
AM: But in your own manifesto, not long ago you said, ‘freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union.’ Why?
JC: Because we would not be in the European Union. We would obviously have an immigration based policy which would be based on the rights of people to move in order to contribute to the economy here and obviously what’s happened with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is two things. One is many EU nationals feel deeply uncertain. We would unilaterally legislate straight away to guarantee them all permanent rights of residence in Britain, including the right of family reunion. The second is that many workers that are vital in this country to agriculture, to the care sector, to the NHS and to education have either left or are contemplating leaving. We have 100,000 vacancies in the NHS. Our economy relies in people coming in from other countries. I want to keep that.
AM: It is in your gift right now to say that you would allow the free movement of people from the EU to continue after Brexit. It would make it much easier to negotiate and it’s something you could say and you could do right now.
JC: I think I’ve made it pretty clear the need for workers to go both ways, ‘cause obviously there’s an awful lot of British workers that work in other parts of Europe. I meet them all the time as I’m sure you do.
AM: But you’re not saying that you would allow free movement to continue?
JC: What we’re saying is that we would want –
AM: Why not?
JC: – we’d want that migration to be able to take place, we’d want those conditions to take place, we would not be part of the European Union if we were outside it, so clearly that ..
AM: But you could allow free movement as a non-member of the EU?
JC: It will be open to negotiation but the point has to be about the treatment of EU nationals in this country, which we would radically change straight away. Remember Andy Burnham proposed
AM: You can just say we’re going to end free movement [sic*], why not?
[*Perhaps this was a mistake by Marr or a transcript error. Metrocentric remainer Marr was clearly pushing Corbyn to say he’d allow the continuation of free movement.]
JC: Andy Burnham proposed straight after the referendum guarantee rights of all EU nationals here. Government voted that down. They ignored the vote in parliament and then opposed it.
AM: I’m talking about you, not about the government and I’m just saying again, you could say we’re going to allow free movement of people to continue after Brexit. You could say it now, it will be clear – why not?
JC: Diane Abbott has made it very clear our migration policy will be based on the needs and rights of people to work in this country just as much as British people who work overseas and we will guarantee all those rights of EU nationals that are currently here and their rights of permanent residence and of family reunion.
Me: Thanks, Jeremy – clear as mud.
Pre-vote summary: the DWA, the DPD and free movement
The crunch vote on the UK government’s Brexit deal was due on Tuesday evening, 15 January, in UK’s parliament. The deal, widely expected to be voted down, came in the form of two documents: the draft withdrawal agreement (DWA) and the draft political declaration (DPD).
What did those apparently doomed documents say about EU free movement of people (still the elephant in the room)?
May said the DWA ended free movement. It didn’t – not directly. It said from January 2021 the UK could set its own rules.
The DPD also didn’t say free movement would end. Rather, it implied free movement would have already been ended, saying:
‘Noting that the United Kingdom has decided that the principle of free movement of persons between the Union and the United Kingdom will no longer apply, the Parties should establish mobility arrangements…’
Fortunately, the government’s recent white paper on immigration explained their policy: free movement would end in 2021 after the implementation period.
Unfortunately, the white paper also proposed what could be called free movement 2.0: for at least four years after 2021, unlimited numbers of low-skilled migrants from Europe and elsewhere could come to the UK to fill vacancies in sectors such as construction and social care.
So, May’s deal would allow the UK to set its own rules from 2021 and so control immigration. May’s policy is to end free movement in 2021, but then to run free movement 2.0 until at least 2025.
15 January 2019
May lost Brexit deal vote – Corbyn tabled no confidence vote
As expected, UK premier Theresa May lost the crunch vote on her Brexit deal. She lost by a record-breaking margin of 230 votes (432 to 202). After the vote, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a motion of no confidence.
Unlike the last time, this motion was aimed at the government, meaning that if passed, it would trigger a general election. Corbyn’s motion was thought unlikely to succeed, but if it did, what might the two main parties’ manifestos say on Brexit?
When May postponed the vote in December, she said she’d go back to Brussels and ask for changes to the draft withdrawal agreement. She said she was confident of getting reassurances from the EU on the Northern Ireland border plan.
However, May only got a weak, waffley letter from unelected obstructionist EU panjandrums Council president Donald Tusk and Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. In their final letter, they offered vague assurances but no real changes.
After the vote, Tusk said the UK should revoke the decision to leave the EU.
Dzięki, Donald, for your thoughtful suggestion. It’s a good idea, but perhaps you’ve forgotten how democracy works.
Labour conference voted for free movement
Labour’s 2017 manifesto said: ‘Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union’ (see above) but Labour’s 2019 annual conference passed a motion demanding a commitment to the free movement of people.
As at the 2017 conference (see above) the Labour Campaign for Free Movement drew up the resolution. In 2017 it was kept off the agenda (see above) but this time it was put to the vote and a composite motion on immigration was passed by a show of hands.
It urged Labour to campaign at the next general election for, amongst other things, keeping and extending the free movement of people.
On the subject of free movement, the stirringly metrocentric motion, paraphrased, said:
Confronted with attacks on migrants, including Conservative plans to end free movement, we stand for solidarity, equality and freedom. Ending free movement is an attack on all workers. Labour will include in the manifesto pledges to campaign for free movement and to maintain and extend free movement rights.
Unfortunately for the brave liberals, conference has no power to write the manifesto. That’s done, under constitution clause 5, by a committee of the great and good.
Labour manifesto unclear on free movement
Labour’s 2019 general election manifesto waffled for Britain on the subject of free movement.
In 2017 Labour’s manifesto said: ‘Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union’ (see above). In 2019 Labour’s annual conference passed a motion instructing the party to keep and extend free movement (see above).
The 2019 manifesto found the muddy middle ground. It said Labour would seek to ‘protect’ free movement rights and the benefits they’ve brought. Understandably, it more or less ignored the conference motion.
In its manifesto, Labour said free movement would continue if the UK remained in the EU following a second referendum. If the UK left, free movement would be ‘subject to negotiations’. Page 71 said:
If we remain in the EU, freedom of movement would continue. If we leave, it will be subject to negotiations, but we recognise the social and economic benefits that free movement has brought both in terms of EU citizens here and UK citizens abroad – and we will seek to protect those rights.
Chickens came home to roost – Labour lost its heartland
As I forecast, Labour leave voters in heartland constituencies (now known as the ‘red wall’), having been abandoned by metrocentric Labour leaders, voted Conservative. The December 2019 general election called by May replacement Boris ‘Piffle’ Johnson gave him a massive 80-seat majority.
Johnson had tweaked May’s deal to make it more acceptable, and campaigned effectively on lies and ‘Let’s get Brexit done‘. Labour was ambivalent on Brexit and failed to stir the electorate with its socialist dream.
The Tories could now do what they liked. In addition to pleasing his secret super-rich backers by selling the NHS to the USA, Johnson could please businesses hooked on cheap labour by implementing May’s post-Brexit free-movement-light immigration policy. Let’s hope that annoys his new Labour leave voters enough for them to return to Labour next time.
Labour abandons its heartland – again
The candidates to replace failed Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn weren’t exactly encouraging Labour leave voters to return. Most were either metrocentric remainers or Corbynite clones. Only one candidate, northerner Lisa Nandy aimed to build a ‘red bridge’ to former ‘red wall‘ Labour voters.
However, Nandy may have pre-burned that bridge by supporting free movement. She said, ‘We should have been bold enough to defend free movement‘. Right. Most Labour front-benchers did just that. Eg Dianne Abbott.
‘But this would have required recognising it has flaws, and not dismissing concerns about the operation of free movements as simply racist anti-immigrant sentiment. We should acknowledge that over decades governments have used the steady influx of skilled labour to cover up a lack of investment in skills and training in the UK, and we should address this.’
Fair enough – but perhaps too nuanced to build that bridge. Nandy was third favourite behind metrocentric Kier Starmer and Corby-clone Rebecca Long-Bailey.
Meanwhile, front-running lofty liberal Starmer ignored Labour’s lost voters by arguing for the return of free movement after Brexit.
Metrocentric remainer is new Labour leader
Metrocentric remainer Kier Starmer won the leadership contest for the UK opposition Labour party by a big margin, and said he wanted to reunite the party. He appointed third-placed northerner Lisa Nandy, who’d sympathised with Labour’s lost ‘red wall’ leave voters, to his shadow cabinet.
The coronavirus pandemic dominated political discourse, and ‘unskilled’ care workers – who’d be excluded under the Conservative government’s new immigration policy – were briefly the focus of attention.
Under the Conservatives, the fragmentation, privatisation and impoverishment of UK health and care services had led to reliance on cheap labour from poor east European countries to staff UK care homes. These brave, underpaid people were now risking their lives to help the people they cared for. That should have helped to reframe the issue.
But it didn’t. Labour had betrayed its leave voters. In turn, those voters had betrayed Labour by putting an uncaring Tory government in power. In that toxic atmosphere, health care workers were soon forgotten.
Labour review of 2019 election defeat didn’t mention elephant in room
Election Review 2019, the UK Labour Party’s widely reported major review of its disastrous electoral defeat – the Tories got a majority of 80 after promising to ‘get Brexit done’ – managed to avoid the elephant in the room: the free movement of people from Eastern Europe.
A search of the review shows no mention of ‘free movement‘ or ‘Eastern Europe‘. Apparently, the party still couldn’t handle that crucial hot potato.
The 153-page review was published by Labour Together, a unity project set up after the unusually divisive 2015 leadership election. It was written by a panel of MPs, union leaders, officials and activists.
The panel included two prominent metrocentric remainers: former party leader Ed Miliband and union leader Manuel Cortes. Cortes was a main backer of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, formed in 2017 (see above) and still active at the time of writing (2020).
There was some discussion in the review about the problem of lost voters and about immigration as an issue, but the east European elephant was blanked – Labour deserters’ reasons weren’t analysed.
The defensively statistical discussion about the loss of traditional ‘red wall’ Labour leave voters pointed out that voters associated with the leave side had deserted in 2015 and again in 2017, so the 2019 result only needed a small shift – but the reason for that desertion was ignored.
On that, the review was cravenly silent. Thus spake brave Soothfairy: traditional heartland Labour voters left because of the party’s dismissal of their concerns about the free-movement mass immigration from Eastern Europe that followed the 2004 EU enlargement (a typically half-baked neoliberal project led by then UK Labour premier Tony Blair).
According to the review, for Labour to win next time, it would need the votes not only of existing supporters and younger voters, but also of leave-minded former Labour voters.
To reclaim those long-lost leave voters, the party could start by apologising for dismissing them as ignorant provincial racists. Otherwise, here’s to 2029.
We’re now stuck with UK premier Boris ‘Bonzo’ Johnson and his Tory wrecking crew for the foreseeable future. The lesson for the London liberal establishment is: you should get out more – out of your headland and into the heartland.
Bonzo gone; red wall goes off Tories; Starmer: free movement over
In 2022, his lies having found him out, Boris ‘Bonzo’ Johnson was replaced by the Tories – but red-wall disillusionment with the clown (and his useless succesors) doesn’t mean votes for Labour, which remains as metrocentric as ever.
However, Labour leader Kier Starmer has finally said it, presumably through gritted teeth: Labour will not try to reinstate EU free movement of people.
Starmer spoke – quite bravely, it must be said – at a CBI meeting (Confederation of British Industry) about how business ‘immigration dependency’ had to change. (They’ve only had six years to kick the habit, poor things.)
It’s way short of the apology due for dismissing those red-wall voters as ignorant provincial racists – but given the Tories’ disastrous misrule, it might be enough for a Labour win at the next general election.
This rolling blogpost rolls to a halt here. Its terrible warning came horribly true: Labour leave voters, dismissed by the metrocentric liberal establishment – including the Labour Party – as beyond the pale, voted Conservative.
(See, if you will, my sister blogpost, Four EU freedoms are indivisible, said Verhofstadt – but Blair’s mobility of cheap labour is no freedom.)
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A brief history of the UK’s brutal colonisation of Ireland, and its troubled aftermath
In the light – or, rather, the Celtic gloom – of the Brexit Irish border problem, a little history is due.
After centuries of previous military incursions, the 17th-century conquest of Ireland by Protestant mass murderer Oliver Cromwell made Ireland a British colony. In 1800 it became part of the newly named United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Several horrific famines and brutally suppressed rebellions later, the Irish Home Rule movement resulted in the the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. The colony ended and Ireland was partitioned.
The main part of Ireland gained independence as the Irish Free State, and in 1937 was established as Ireland (or Éire). Ireland was officially declared a republic in 1949.
Six counties in the northeast of Ireland chose to stay in the UK, and became known as Northern Ireland. In 1927, the UK was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
In Northern Ireland there’s been constant conflict between the mostly Protestant unionist majority and the mostly Catholic republican minority.
The unionists take their name from their claim of loyalty to the United Kingdom.
The indigenous republicans want Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland (officially known as Ireland or Éire) in a united Ireland – a policy known as unification.
It’s important to distinguish between unification (sometimes wrongly called reuinification – Ireland’s never been formally unified, so can’t be reunified) and unionism. It’s not at all confusing. Or Irish.
The Protestant unionists are mostly descendants of English ‘settlers’ who migrated during the 17th-century colonial ‘Plantation of Ulster’.
The Plantation of Ulster reinforced the colonialisation of Ireland. British landowners were given land in the north of Ireland, mostly stolen from the Irish. The new landowners imported English tenants and workers.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, more British settlers came to the north of Ireland from Scotland, forced out by the theft of land known as the Highland clearances.
(Regarding the theft of land by the aristocracy, see my blogpost, The super-rich – law and order.)
Protestant ascendancy in Ireland was consolidated in 1690 by the crucial Battle of the Boyne (fought for control of a ford on the River Boyne near Drogheda, north of Dublin) when the forces of Protestant King William defeated those of the deposed Catholic king, James.
William III, AKA William of Orange (he formerly ruled the Dutch Republic), had recently become king of England and Scotland, deposing James II in the so-called Glorious Revolution.
Having lost the battle, James fled to France. The defeated Irish ‘Jacobites’ were allowed to practice Catholicism if they swore loyalty to William.
In Northern Ireland, the Boyne victory by William – popularly known by his supporters as ‘King Billy’ – is commemorated annually by Protestant unionists with Orange parades.
The parades face opposition from Catholics and Irish nationalists, who see them as sectarian and triumphalist.
In the 1960s, violent unrest known as the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland. 30 years of armed conflict between republican and unionist groups and the British army ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an uneasy but lasting peace.
In 2020, a Northern Ireland opinion poll showed 47% in favour of staying in the UK, and 45% in favour of a united Ireland. (The same poll was run in Ireland: 71% favoured unification.)
On the whole, the rest of the UK couldn’t care less about Northern Ireland – it’s an embarrassing colonial hangover – and NI Protestants, despite their proclaimed ‘loyalism’, couldn’t really care less about the UK – they just want to preserve their postcolonial privileges.
Considering this horrible history, it’d be better and fairer all round if Ireland was unified. Sure, the Protestants would protest, but they’d be fine. They’d be a protected minority – in an EU country, lucky sods.
Unification would, of course, also solve the otherwise intractable Brexit Irish border problem.
- Note to Taoiseach: take Northern Ireland – I mean, actually take it, please!
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