False conclusions on the Brexit vote

At least someone agrees with me that austerity caused the Brexit vote – even if it is only Alistair Darling on Radio4’s ‘Westminster Hour’.

I have long been of the view that with the population increasing, yet with no investment in schools, housing, health or much else (apart from the largely useless prestige project of HS2) people would feel ignored and hard done by. From that there is an appealing if myopic logic for many to blame immigrants for the lack of school places or the fact that housing is short and rents are increasing or even that you can never get a midwife when you need one.

So austerity delivered what the majority of the Conservative Party didn’t previously want, exit from the EU. But the vote was difficult for them to rationalise.

They could hardly suggest that when you have ceased to believe that the playing field is anything approaching level then two fingers to the government of the day is an entirely logical result. Having invested so much in the austerity mantra Conservatives could not admit any problem with it, nor could they blame the economy which they’ve told us they are so good at managing. For the Tories, having tried and failed to reduce immigration on two previous occasions they found it easiest to blame their lack of performance on immigration. (They conveniently forgot that they had voted, without exception, to enlarge Europe with no immigration restrictions at all). It fitted fairly neatly because they could paint the EU as refusing to ‘improve’ the deal that Cameron had negotiated prior to the referendum. The government in conjunction with the anti EU press made common cause by saying Brexit was a vote against EU immigration.

Yet immigrants could not, of course, be taking the jobs of the great British workers as so many more people in Britain are, the Conservatives assert, employed. So immigrants must be just driving down the wages of those here already – and we all know enough economics to realise that is called the law of supply and demand.

It isn’t correct of course, but it is plausible.

So the Conservatives and their supporting press came to have the perfect knowledge that the electorate answered a matter that appeared on a few ‘Leave’ posters but certainly wasn’t on the side of the bus. Nor was the subject anywhere on the ballot paper. But they still knew that EU immigration caused the real demand for Brexit. And stopping that immigration had to be an essential.

The horrifying part is that Labour seem to support this as well. And without pointing out that slightly more than one half of immigration (from the non EU countries) was already under government control. Still less that the controls on EU countries that were available to Theresa May when Home Secretary she never bothered with. And anything that suggested EU immigrant employees had no effect on wages she never bothered with either.

Additionally we now are entwined in a situation where we citizens are required to enforce government immigration policy, so, inadequately resourced for the task as almost everyone is, we play safe. As politics.co.uk says:

“When victims or witnesses of crime are too afraid to report an offense to the police, criminals run free and can strike with impunity. When a sick person is too afraid to go to a doctor, diseases can spread without intervention and put the rest of the public at risk. When MPs’ constituents are too afraid to go to their surgeries, they lose touch with what is happening in their local area. And when a person is unable to rent a property in the usual way, they create the incentives for a burgeoning black market.

This approach to immigration enforcement also builds the infrastructure of the surveillance state in the day-to-day interactions of millions of ordinary citizens. It is in effect taking immigration enforcement out of the hands of the Home Office and putting it into the hands of everyone else – often with a requirement that they enforce it or face criminal penalties themselves. This is a political project which is turning neighbour against neighbour and degrading the trust required to keep a healthy society operating.”

It is beginning to look as though for Labour, their immigration policy is as erroneous as failing to contradict the lie that Labour crashed the economy.

Jeremy Corbyn has shown that he will not support austerity. Surely he should complete Labour’s transformation and turn round the immigration narrative. He could show that far from encouraging mutual suspicion, there is a better outcome for a government instituting proper border controls. (This should even play well with the Daily Mail set.) And once here, being inclusive is more important to the prosperity of everyone, and yes, much, much better fun, than being exclusive. It was simply the Conservative government’s total ineptitude and unwillingness to properly enforce the rules, that allows EU immigration to be quite as free as it is.

It would surely resonate if he simply resurrected Orwell’s idea that Britain is “a family with the wrong members in control.”


  1. Ade -

    It should also be considered that the wave of ‘immigration’ into Europe if Syrian refugees was also manufactured (albeit real) by policies of the West (US, UK etc funding/facilitating the Al Queda/Al Nusra mercenaries & pretending that they represented legitimate opposition to the sovereign Syrian government).

    The news prior to the Brexit vote was full of ‘Refugees coming over here…’ – that meme surely influenced the voting intentions.

    1. Peter May -

      Probably – certainly Farage did his best.

  2. Ms Christine Bergin -

    This whole Brexit thing seems to me to be an extension of the ‘heroes led by donkeys’ to which the privileged class in this country is so addicted.

    1. Peter May -

      But the privileged are the donkeys presumably so not quite sure why they should be addicted to it?! Additionally donkeys fortunately can’t reproduce…

  3. Allen Bell -

    Please could a definition of austerity be offered. We can see that govt spending per head in the year of the referendum vote was higher than in 2007, and professional attention-seeker and Professor of Practice Richard Murphy has published numbers showing that real terms government spending per head in the period 2010-2016 was the highest in any 6 year period in UK history. That doesn’t look like austerity to me.
    I think government spending has been quite sufficient, but it has been wrongly allocated to people in favoured groups, from foreign energy companies coining in the green subsidies, foreign land owners getting the farm subsidies ( and the protection of the CET ) to consultants advising how to give foreign aid to rich people in poor countries.
    And that’s what may have swayed the referendum vote.
    But if a claim is to be made that it was austerity that swung it is to hold any water then please define it Best regards.

    1. Peter May -

      I agree about your wrong allocation, if not the exact culprits! Additionally when you privatise you naturally increase your expenditure – as profit has to be made by subcontractors and expensive administrative control has to be exercised – so much of that expenditure doesn’t as a consequence reach its alleged target, the electorate.

      1. Peter May -

        Many thanks

      2. Sean Danaher -

        Thanks Tony
        shows how difficult it can be to define something we think we should be simple to pin down.

  4. Andrew Goodwin -

    Is not opposition to immigration driven by the desire on Corbyn’s part to erect a Benn-inspired autarchy? From the Tories’ point of view that might be a feature rather than a bug.

    1. Peter May -

      I’m not sure I follow you. Do you think Corbyn wants to be a dictator?

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