Today I must begin my piece with a disclaimer. As regular Rust readers will know – and therefore accordingly discount my views by whatever percentage they choose – on the matter of the EU Referendum I am an avowed Brexiter largely because I wish to rid the UK of Scotland.
That said, I am doing my level best to remain impartial as I review the lacklustre performance on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday of long-serving Home Secretary Teresa May – an event that some may have missed because the programme had been moved to BBC2 on account of BBC1 clearing its schedules for its annual coverage of the London Marathon.
Mrs May, sporting a fluffy fur-type jacket and a new ‘helmet’ hair cut to which some degree of dye had been applied (‘low-lights?), was appearing in support of the ‘Remain’ case – an interesting position as in political circles until quite recently she had been thought to be in the ‘Brexit’ camp. [I believe this is an ‘impartial’ comment for me to make, not one laced with bile or derision because of my own views on the subject].
As an interviewer Andrew Marr tends to ‘swing about a bit’ in terms of remaining impartial – I’m referring here to my impression that sometimes he tends to give some interviewees a harder time than others – but on this occasion he was going robustly into his tackles whilst just managing (to use a football analogy) to stay on the right side of the ‘law’ in being careful not to go in two-footed or otherwise in a fashion that might attract an admonition or yellow card from any watching Ofcom referee.
Marr raised one of the ‘issues’ that the Brexit camp had spotted in George Osborne’s launch last week of his 200-page Reasons To Remain In the UK document (the one in which he warned voters that, on the Treasury’s projections for the economy to 2030 in the event of a Brexit, every family in the nation would be worse off to the tune of £4,300 per annum). Trawling through the detail, it appeared that the document had projected that the UK’s population would rise by 3 million over the period due to EU and other immigration.
In doing so, Marr opened the bowling with a fast-medium delivery on a length just outside Mrs May’s off stump. It boiled down to “This is tantamount, is it not, to an admission that, if we remain in the EU, you (the Government) won’t be in a position to control our borders”.
Whether it was via an intensive “What if” pre-match rehearsal involving her Home Office policy wonks and spin doctors, or otherwise, this was one admission that Mrs May was never going to make.
She never answered the question. Instead she blustered that the UK did control its borders. Whenever people came into this country, their passports and other papers were always examined. The Government took the issue of immigration very seriously. [It was noticeable that she stayed well clear of making any comment upon the Government’s once-avowed policy to get annual immigration below six-figures (failed), whilst the last year for which numbers were available demonstrated that the rate was now running at over 300,000]. What she wanted to emphasise today – for the benefit of both Mr Marr and his viewers at home – was that, by being in the EU, the UK would be able to have a great deal more data and information on each individual seeking to gain entry to the UK, which would enable our Border control people to make better judgements upon who and in what circumstances should be allowed in … and who should not.
Marr went back to his mark and then came off a shortened run to bowl one of slightly fuller length to which he had managed to apply a degree of reverse swing.
It amounted to “But you’re not addressing my point. If we remain in the EU we shall be operating under the EU’s ‘free movement of people’ policy principle, which means that if anyone in the 27 (or is it 28?) countries wants to come to Britain they can …”
Mrs May was prepared for this one, in the sense that she knew she wasn’t going to answer it – that is to say, she had up her sleeve a long list of comments which, strung together, could take up a significant amount of her ‘interview time’ as she gave the impression of dealing with the point, whilst in fact never going near it.
Summarised, it came across as “Andrew, you’re not listening to me. The Government takes immigration very seriously. The Prime Minister’s re-negotiation of our terms made significant advances on the issue, for example we have agreed that [and here I cannot remember quite what it was that Mrs May contended we had agreed]. We have very stringent border controls designed to identify those who may be criminal or otherwise undesirable as UK residents and they will be turned back. And so on …
Marr came back with a ball that might have been a bouncer had he executed it correctly.
“But the number of people who annually get turned back at our borders is only 6% of the total – i.e. 18,000 – which means that some 282,000 come flooding in despite your supposed efforts at ‘controlling’ our borders …”
From this moment the interview was collapsing in the manner of a descending hot-air balloon whose wickerwork basket had reached the ground (an analogy that seems particularly when used of a political interview) because Mrs May had begun the process of regurgitating the points she had previously made ad infinitum.
In concluding my piece today I wanted to present to my readers a piece by Oliver Wright, Political Editor of The Independent, on the latest findings of the independent fact-finding organisation ‘Full-Fact’ which appear to conclude that both sides of the EU Referendum debate are guilty of putting our inaccurate and/or misleading ‘facts’ – see here – THE INDEPENDENT
My thrust today is that those in the ‘Remain’ camp have a problem in answering the accusation from the Brexiters that the EU’s ‘free movement of people’ principle effectively means that, broadly-speaking, if the UK remains in the EU, the UK Government cannot prevent anyone in the EU from coming to live in the UK if they so choose.
In her interview yesterday Mrs May made part-reference to answer that may trouble the Brexiters, viz. that those countries like Norway and Switzerland, who are outside the EU but have one-off deals to trade with it, de facto always have to accept certain EU terms including ‘free movement of people’.
This is potentially a big problem for the Brexiters – touching upon their fundamental weakness, viz. their total inability to provide any evidence at all of what things would be like post any Brexit. They can bluster till the cows come home about “we’d do our own deal …” and so on, but it is all hot air and little more. It’s the one area where the much-criticised ‘Project Fear’ tactics of Mr Cameron and his fellow Remainers may gain some traction.
But – to get back the essence of the issue – if the UK remains in the EU, it will effectively be accepting the EU’s ‘free movement of people’ for all time … even if, one day in the future, the EU consists of not 28 countries, but 38 or 48. It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, that means that the UK can do nothing to prevent mass immigration in the future.
Mrs May and other can go on bleating as to how – if the UK does decide to Brexit but then wants any kind of trade deal with the EU, it will have to accept that principle (sometimes adding “So it’s better to be inside, where we can influence decisions”) – but it does nothing to deflect the fundamental dig that “Inside the EU it is impossible for any individual country to control its borders in order to prevent or regulate the rate at which mass immigration occurs”.
[I’m leaving aside the inevitable riposte to the point about it’s better to be inside the EU in order to influence its decisions, i.e. “Yes, but the UK has no more power to influence the EU’s decisions than any other individual member country. Look at how Mr Cameron’s infamous renegotiation points got watered down and also the fact that (is it on 40 or 50 or 70 occasions?) the UK has formally objected to EU laws, rule, regulations or directives and got nowhere every single time.]