Richard North, 02/06/2016  
 


Although we've never been particularly impressed by politicians as a breed, the thought that Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Priti Patel sit either in the main or political cabinet of this Conservative government is pretty daunting. That such low-grade people can get so close to the reins of power perhaps explains why our government is so incompetent.

Now these people have been visited on Vote Leave, we are having to suffer their stupidity in public without the filter of an obliging Civil Service to protect us from their worst excesses. The latest round is their crass intervention on immigration, doing exactly what they said they wouldn't – producing an "exit plan", covering one aspect of the Brexit policy domain.

The flatulent Johnson at least has a sufficient glimmer of intelligence to realise that he is compromised, arguing that he is not offering an "alternative vision" but merely addressing "policy options". Given that this is a distinction without a difference, it is unsurprising that he has referred to his idea of a "points-based system" as a policy that would be carried out by "the government of the day" and "any government" that might be in power after the 23 June referendum, rather than this current government.

But this is a policy which has already been demolished by Migration Watch some eighteen months ago. It is one that has no redeeming features. It can only do harm. With its disadvantages so well rehearsed, however, that even David Cameron is able to trash it within hours, leaving the "remain" campaign with a gift that it will not be slow to exploit.

Crucially, the insistence on rejecting freedom of movement means that Vote Leave has completely and irrevocably ruled out any deal on Single Market participation. It thus excludes the Efta/EEA (Norway) option, just at a time when we are starting to see a recognition that this is the only safe way to leave.

Thus, instead of progressing to a scenario where the electorate is reassured that we can leave without any significant economic penalty, we are instead being regaled by Mr Cameron claiming Vote Leave's ideas, if implemented, would "crash the economy".

In terms of detail, rejection of free movement would cause massive disruption in Ireland. As Mary Ellen Synon remarks, any significant divergence between immigration policies of the UK and the EU would mean that the Common Travel Agreement (CTA) could not survive.

But not only are we looking at the very real prospect of having to reinstate border controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland itself, we are confronting the near certainty of reciprocal action from EU (and Efta) member states.

After enjoying visa-free travel with France and other European countries, since 1946, there is a possibility that we could once again be seeing visas in order to travel to mainland Europe. Certainly, there is no chance that we could start excluding workers from EU Member States and not expect retaliation.

To add to this, the Vote Leave trio are also talking of an early repeal of the European Communities Act, specifically to make it easier to remove criminals and other people whose presence in the UK is "not conducive to the public good". Without going through the full Article 50 process, that would put the UK in breach of its treaty obligations, a move likely to precipitate a complete breakdown in relations between EU Member States and the UK. Such a move would be insane.

Of course, no government would even consider such a rash action, with Lost Leonardo confident that an interim solution would be sought. So the very fact that politicians from Vote Leave should be suggesting it says a great deal about how far the "leave" campaign has departed from reality.

Despite this, some will argue that it represents a robust stance on immigration, which is a sure-fire vote winner. And we may even see a boost in the polls as the intent of this move percolates through to the electorate.

Nevertheless, there are so many hostages to fortune being offered, that the "remain" campaign would have to be even more incompetent that it has already shown itself to be if it didn't make the most of it. Vote Leave has suddenly become the gift that keeps on giving. It is not going to take very long, for instance, for the "remain" campaign to recall that Owen Paterson has already dismissed the Australian system, saying it would not guarantee lower migration.

At a fringe meeting organised by Conservative Home and British Future on immigration, he observed that the issue was "a huge recruiting agent" for UKIP, which was "quite ruthless" at exploiting the issue, then going on to point out that "we do need to have open borders to have a dynamic, thriving economy".

This, in October 2014, was against the background of Mark Reckless's defection, and his claim that unless we leave the EU we shall be unable to restrict immigration. This is quite wrong, Paterson averred. About 13 percent of the UK's population consisted of immigrants, but the equivalent figure for Norway was 14.9 percent, for Switzerland it was 23 percent, and for Australia, with its much-vaunted points system, the migrant level stood at 27 percent.

None of those countries was in the EU, which had Paterson arguing that, "there are no glib, easy, quick-fix answers". Copying Australia's points-based immigration system may sound to some like the answer, he said, but it was "glib and Ukippish". 

Amonth later did we have Lord Green of Migration Watch explain why a points based system for immigration control was "a bad idea". How it is, he asked, that the Australian Points Based System keeps cropping up in the British debate, venturing that it must be because the term has become shorthand for an effective system and, perhaps for that reason, it is regarded by some as an electoral asset. If so, he said, "it is fool's gold".

The Independent, however, suggests that the "Australian-style points system" has become the preferred way of opposing immigration without actually saying that we do not want so many foreigners here. But if that's fool's gold, it's also kipper's gold. It was a bad idea when it was the centrepiece of Ukip's immigration policy for the general election, but it is even worse in the hands of Vote Leave, which is fighting a referendum campaign.

Even without that, says The Sceptic Isle, the abolition of freedom of movement makes the campaign look "negative and regressive". Between that and charge of "fantasy politics", the sight of Vote Leave going "glib and kipperish" is not a pretty sight.






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