Last night's debate exposed the big con at the heart of the Leave campaign
The Leave campaign have chosen to make immigration their main argument for voting to leave the European Union tomorrow. But what are they actually arguing?
Last night’s EU referendum debate at Wembley Stadium, moderated by the BBC’s David Dimbleby, saw Boris Johnson, Labour’s Gisela Stuart and Conservative Andrea Leadsom carry the torch for Leave.
When the Brexiter’s big issue came up, the Leave side were strangely evasive about a fairly simple question.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, claimed the Leavers had never actually promised Brexit would cut the number of people migrating to Britain. She said:
‘Karen’s question was about numbers. And I think the Leave campaign are selling people a big con. Because you’re not promising to reduce numbers. You have never promised to reduce numbers. And you are pretending that you are going to reduce numbers. It’s a big con. Don’t believe them.’
(Watch the exchange here, from 6.40. Gisela Stuart from 7.15)
David Dimbleby put the question to Gisela Stuart:
DD: The accusation is you’ve never promised on the Leave campaign to reduce numbers. Is that true?
Gisela Stuart: What an Australian points system would allow you [groans and boos from the audience] is to decide what the numbers are. At the moment you can’t. But can I just make another point? This debate today isn’t actually about the –
DD: Sorry, can you actually answer her point? Did you promise ever – [applause and cheers] – has the Leave campaign ever promised to reduce numbers?
Gisela Stuart: What we said is you take back control and you can decide. [groans from audience] What we haven’t done is what the prime minister has done, and actually promise that he would reduce it to the tens of thousands when he knew he couldn’t do it.
Frances O’Grady: So you haven’t promised. You’re not promising. It’s a con.
Gisela Stuart: This is not about the six of us here on this podium and the debate. [etc.]
There is of course a good reason why the Leave campaign would rather imply there would be less immigration after Brexit than actually promise this would happen. And that’s because they can’t.
As even Nigel Farage has been forced to admit, more than half of immigration comes from outside the EU, and would not be affected by Brexit.
Of EU immigration, a huge chunk is foreign students and people filling specific jobs, or people with family members here, and so on – in other words, people unlikely to be turned away.
At best, according to some analysis, Brexit will only affect 15 per cent of immigration (around 40,000), leaving 85 per cent unchanged.There is also evidence to suggest reducing immigration would harm the economy, with a ‘trickle-down’ impact on low-paid workers.
And of course, the Leave campaigners know all this. But they keep on about immigration and Brexit all the same.
As Frances O’Grady said last night:
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‘It’s a big con. Don’t believe them.’