Well blow me down! I thought it would be 52:48 to Remain, not 52:48 to Leave. Now it has happened, how do we make the best of it? First of all; the sky is not falling in. It’s a big change, but the reason why the UK has survived over three centuries without revolution, invasion, or collapse, is because we always step up to a challenge. And because we know a changing world demands continual adaptation. Moreover, it is a victory won by Vote Leave not Leave.eu.
So we don’t need to run scared of Nige…
Don’t get me wrong, I am enormously impressed with his grit, tenacity, and perseverance, but his journey has led him to represent interests I simply don’t share.
So, Vote Leave:
Why did they pursue the £350m figure when the sensible choice would have been for the campaign to avoid it like unstable dynamite. They endured week after week or grueling headlines about “lies”, defending the figure night after night when everyone was saying that Leave was losing. On the one hand, it is perfectly reasonable to point out that Basic Rate income tax is 22p in the pound, regardless of whether you get 19p back in gov’t services. On the other, subtracting the repayments without also explaining the rebate would have been a shambles, ripe for endless ridicule in what passed for serious referendum debate. But surely they would have had a much easier time defending the straight net figure of £120m/week? After all, in terms of public debate £120m is an enormous figure just like £350m, but without all the baggage.
Is it because their plan entails joining EFTA/EEA in the event of winning the referendum? If the plan is to join EFTA then there will be a significant cost per head, roughly the same as Norway pays today, and roughly the same as the net cost we pay in total to the EU right now. “Vote Leave to save nothing!” That would have been the headline if they’d gone with the £120m/week figure. Sure, we still save nothing having joined EFTA after talking about £350m, but now we’re back to the income tax argument. ‘We’ get to decide what to do with the other £230m. A fairly nominal victory afterwards, but at least it doesn’t look ridiculous as would have been the case had they opted for a more accurate figure. Take back control!
Hold on, you say; all well and good, but doesn’t EFTA involve the four freedoms, one of which is the free movement? Why yes. But, didn’t they spend every waking minute in the debates talking about how they would reduce immigration to a trickle? I didn’t hear that claim. Gove, Johnson, and Leadsom all conspicuously avoided ever being tied down to any commitment on how much they would reduce migration by. So much so, that the Remain camp started to use it as an attack against Leave, constantly baiting the trio that they were hiding plans for even HIGHER migration than Remain. Because, isn’t that what happens under Australia’s points-based system relative to Britain. Did you lose track of that in the repeated incantation of “Take back control”?
You can’t “Take back control” when the regime of freedom of movement persists, surely? True, but somebody somewhere obviously thought the schengen crisis would in future provide some scope for revisiting this. It may not amount to much, perhaps only reducing the legal threshold by which someone may be excluded due to the threat they pose. Would this be enough? It might have to be, because the 48% that voted Remain see freedom of movement as totemic to their EUropean identity. Retaining freedom of movement within EFTA may be enough to shoot the SNP fox. The four freedoms are also deemed crucial by small but important demographics such as Gibraltar.
Would freedom of movement be a betrayal of many of those who voted “Out” from the Labour heartland towns? Possibly, there were indeed some for whom immigration was the motivation. Freedom of movement is great, and I’m grateful for the colour and dynamism they’ve brought to me and the country. But why has Labour been unable to understand that freedom of movement has never been seen as a reciprocal right by its core electorate? Yes, it’s great that Mikel and Bartec can come here and work (really, it is), but of what use is freedom of movement to 21 year old’s Damon and Jordan with the five E-C grade GCSE’s? You might work the Games Industry in Finland or a Fin-Tech company in Berlin, industries that speak English wherever they’re located. You’re highly skilled people with no barriers to your mobility, I’m pleased for you, but do you know what the working language of a Slovakian meat-packing plant is?
This last is a warning to the left-wing that feeling salty about the referendum result isn’t good enough. If you care about your ‘constituency’ then you need to address the lack of reciprocity when free movement comes up in the negotiation, because Tory’s aren’t going to expend their political capital doing it for you. EFTA could be just a transitional thing while a more bespoke arrangement is put in place, make the best of it. Put your shoulder to the wheel.
One last point on trade. It should be tariff free with the developing world. It should be supported by lowering business taxes to compete with cheap imports. That should be paid for by slashing the DfID budget in half. It would make a lovely change if, having escaped the EU external tariff border, we helped developing nations get richer with trade. This, as opposed to hiding behind the EU’s tariff wall, and making ourselves feel better about their continued poverty by giving billions in aid so that despots and quangos can swan around sunny parts of the world in Toyota Landcruisers.
This objective is also achievable from within EFTA. 😉
p.s. Why do pundits keep describing the result as decisive? It was not, which is why measures to assuage the fears of the 48% are important.