In the weeks and days leading up to the referendum on UK membership of the European Union a message was being transmitted loudly and clearly from Germany and indeed elsewhere: if the UK decides to leave the EU, it will be shooting itself in the foot. This was not some modern-day equivalent of a broadcast by Lord Haw Haw, peddling some big lie. It was informed opinion. Very few people in England seem to have been listening, however. What they were hearing instead was the Leave campaign wittering on about « independence day”, which would be June 23rd if a majority of the UK voting public expressed support then for withdrawal from the EU.
What else were English voters not paying attention to? They were ignoring the vast quantities of evidence which was being churned out, upon which the message from Germany was based. Now that the English (but not the Scottish) electorate has chosen for reasons not fully understood even by itself to shoot itself in the foot, a summary of all that information has appeared in the Financial Times, as the doleful consequences of the fateful and wholly improbable decision to leave the EU begin to take effect.
Why, you may ask, is the evidence in favour of rejecting Brexit being rolled out all over again? Is this just the Remainers closing the stable door after the horse has bolted? Or are they desperately hoping to coax the animal back into the stable? Certainly the arch pragmatist of our times, former UK prime minister Tony Blair, is going about insinuating that the majority for Brexit may no longer be there and that, as electorates are entitled to change their minds, referendum decisions can and sometimes should be « revisited ». Careful, Mr Blair, lest you be hoist with your own petard, as that argument applies equally to the question of Scottish independence, which you do not wish to revisit.
Why did the English reject or ignore the huge quantity of expert opinion which was marshalled by the Remainers? Firstly, much of it went over their heads and/or defeated the attention spans of many of them, frankly. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, judging by the wave of hate crime which has been sweeping England since the EU referendum, a huge proportion of the population of deepest England had apparently been building up a politically incorrect resentment against immigration and ethnic and cultural diversity. « We want our England back! » (Note that these people do indeed seem to think of their country as England rather than the UK, incidentally.) It seems that they have believed the Leavers’ promise that mass migration can be brought to an end by means of the simple expedient of extracting the UK from the EU. (The fact that the Scots do not want to leave the EU does not, of course, matter to them, as one frequently hears from that particular segment of the UK population that the Scots, like immigrants, are another group who are more trouble than they are worth.)
Two questions immediately arise and require to be addressed. (i) What has caused this resentment of immigration among so much of the population of England? (ii) Can ending UK membership of the EU solve their problem for them?
To begin to address the first question we need look no further, as a matter of fact, than that nice Mr Blair, whose government decided not to impose transitional quotas for Eastern European migrants at the time when Eastern European states were being admitted to the EU. Consequently, very large numbers of Eastern Europeans, especially Poles, descended upon the UK all at once to the consternation of the population of England but not Scotland, which is quite keen to attract industrious migrants with skills. It is important to bear in mind that this wave of migration was but the latest of numerous waves of migration which the UK has experienced since the decline and fall of the British Empire. Sooner or later one comes to the straw that breaks the camel’s back, it seems. Mass migration from the European Union seems to be the last straw so far as England is concerned. And so, since June 23rd, police forces up and down that country have been reporting « troubling » levels of hate crime directed at, among other minorities, « Polish vermin », as deepest or, if you prefer, darkest England seems to have come to the conclusion that the referendum result means that this sort of behaviour is all right now.
The second question is very easy to answer. To begin with, deepest England is going to be intensely disappointed to find, as it probably will, I venture to suggest, that between now and the end of the two-year period following the activation of Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, if it is activated, a further massive wave of migrants from the EU will descend upon Blighty in order to avoid being subject to the immigration controls which will be imposed when/if Brexit comes into effect. In addition, these controls are unlikely to be very effective when/if they are eventually imposed, as they were never very effective before the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973. In fact, they are likely to prove to be even less effective today, as substantially increased volumes of traffic at ports and especially airports of entry make it very difficult to operate what is known in immigration circles as an essentially external system of control, an essentially internal system of control being one which is favoured for obvious reasons by states with land borders. Such states tend to issue national identity cards to their citizens. The UK does not do so, set in a silver sea as it is, and as its citizens have always declined to have ID cards except in time of war. (In case you are wondering about the land border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, I should point out that both states have been part of a Common Travel Area since Irish independence; it operates in such a way as to obviate the necessity for immigration control at the land border.)
Aside from the fact that UK immigration control has never been very effective, because the British way of doing things simply does not allow it to be so, most immigrants, as experts have just been making clear, come to the UK not from the EU but from elsewhere in the world, notably the Indian sub-continent. UK withdrawal from the EU cannot be expected to reduce that. As has been pointed out in the FT, the level of non-EU immigration alone would without a shadow of a doubt prevent post-Brexit UK governments from achieving the target of immigration reduction which the present UK government set itself and missed by a country mile!
The huge difference in the sphere of immigration between hard facts and the fanciful notions that have been circulated by the Leave campaign can only give credence to the claim that there is a criminally huge gulf in other domains between the hard facts provided by the vast bulk of experts and the inflated rhetoric of the champions of « British independence »? On the Remain side persuasive evidence from authoritative sources. On the leave side bluster, unsubstantiated assertion and unconscionable manipulation of a segment of the electorate which does not pay much attention to experts but is easily swayed by sound bites that confirm them in their most ingrained prejudices.
No wonder there is a move to have the result of the EU referendum set aside. In extremis anything is worth considering, especially when you have just shot yourself in the foot.