Thursday, 23 February 2017

Is there any point in Brexit any more?

“We must not forget that a key motivating factor behind the vote to leave the EU was to control immigration,” Andrea Leadsom, UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has assured us.

She was responding to concerns from farmers. According to the Guardian

Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers’ Union, told the body’s annual conference in Birmingham that … the industry would require 90,000 season workers a year by 2021, on top of more than 250,000 permanent workers – more than three-quarters of whom now come from the EU.

Meurig Raymond of the National Farmers’ Union
A stark warning on the potential consequences of Brexit on agriculture
This comes on top of the statement from David Davis, the Brexit secretary, in the Latvian capital of Riga. The Guardian tells us:

He said that it was not plausible that British citizens would immediately take jobs in the agriculture, social care and hospitality industry once the UK had left the EU and repeated comments made in Estonia on Monday that immigration restrictions would be phased in.

He said: “It will be a gradual process. That will take some time; yesterday I said it will take years.

“Don’t expect just because we’re changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut: it won’t,” Bloomberg quoted Mr Davis as saying in the Estonian capital of Tallinn on Monday.

That certainly chimes with the fears of the National Farmers’ Union:

“Quite simply, without a workforce – permanent and seasonal – it wouldn’t matter what a new trade deal [with the EU] looks like. Food will rot in the fields and Britain will lose the ability to produce and process its own food.”

Hold on, though. It certainly doesn’t chime with the comments by Davis’s colleague Leadsom. “Controlling immigration” was, she claimed, a key motivation in the vote for Brexit.

That at least has the merit of honesty. Many of us on the other side of the debate have long felt that what was behind the vote was xenophobia. The great leave campaigner and then-leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, once famously claimed to be made uncomfortable at being in a railway carriage in which no one around him was speaking English.

My own feeling is that if you’re made uncomfortable by people speaking a foreign language, then the problem is with you, not with the others. There are, however, enough Brits upset by hearing Polish in our streets to have put together a majority for leaving the EU.

In vain, it would seem. If Davis is to be believed, there will be no let up in immigration for many years to come. So we may achieve Leadsom’s goal of controlling immigration, but not that of reducing it. Yet a reduction is what people really mean when they talk about control: they want fewer immigrants.

It won’t be happening. Certainly, not at any time soon. Probably never, unless you want crops rotting in the fields and Britain to lose self-sufficiency in food.

So that only leaves the other motivations for Brexit.
  • Taking back control over our affairs from Brussels. Sadly, that seems only to mean that we have to crawl on our bellies to the US, even under Trump. That’s because we need to try to find other trade deals that might compensate for the loss of exports to the EU. That’s a tall order anyway, since we might be suffering a 30% drop in trade as a result of Brexit, but in the meantime it means losing all control over our destiny as we try to beg deals with the Americans and other nations.

  • Saving money. We were told by Brexiters that leaving the EU would generate savings of £350m a week. That figure was always a lie and it certainly isn’t going to be produced. Indeed, we’re now beginning to count the cost of Brexit, and it’s clear it will far outweigh any possible savings.
In the past, I agreed with Brexiters who said that there was no case for a second referendum. You can’t keep consulting the people and ignoring the decision until you get the one you like. But now that we’ve established that Brexit will generate none of the promised benefits – absolutely none of them, not even the base xenophobic ones – mightn’t there be a case for a second consultation after all?

I mean, now that it’s clear that there’s no point in Brexit whatever.

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