Gordon Brown nails it on immigration and EU membership

Former PM offers a moment of clarity


In a welcome moment of clarity in the EU referendum campaign, former prime minister Gordon Brown eloquently dealt with the Brexiters’ argument that Britain would be more able to control immigration if we left the EU.

Leaving, they say, would save us from the gazillions of migrants flooding Europe, desperate to reach Britain and drain our health service, welfare system and housing market.

Answering a question from the Financial Times after his speech today, Brown said:

‘One part of people’s worries [are] about the impact of immigration and how we can manage immigration in the future. And my point to you is that around the world at the moment, the biggest problem is with illegal, irregular immigration.

When you think about how to cope with that problem of immigration you can only do so by co-operation between countries.

Where people are coming through these countries into Europe and if there is a cross-border trade in people – which there is, smuggling, trafficking people against their will into countries – you can only deal with that through international co-operation.’

The merits of this argument are:

  1. It accepts that immigration is largely a good thing for Britain
  2. It considers migrants as humans and often victims
  3. It assumes that immigration is best addressed, not through demagogy, but efficient (and humane) regulation, processing and so on. (How else can it be ‘controlled’?)
  4. It argues that the best way to do this is obviously to co-operate with the governments of other countries. What the resulting policies look like is a separate argument, but some kind of ‘joined up’ approach across European borders is plainly desirable, and more likely for members of a political union.

For reasons to do with its balancing act on immigration, the Conservative wing of the Stronger In campaign is unlikely to make this argument with the same clarity and confidence. The Left ought to take it up and kick out one of the central pillars of the Leave campaign.

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