The Archbishop’s assurance that expressing concern about immigration has nothing whatsoever to do with racial prejudice, is welcome. I recall the way that expression of such concern was derided by the ‘establishment’ over the last decade. During the 2001 election campaign there were howls of anguish and indignation, indeed there was even a walk-out, when I raised the subject at a hustings organised by a New Forest church.
Now that we have the leave of the Archbishop to discuss it, I can say that – overwhelmingly – immigration has been the subject most often raised with me by constituents over the last 19 years. It has been their top concern, where their dislike of the EU has been way down the list by comparison.
The two are intimately connected however, to put it bluntly, we can’t control immigration because of our membership of the EU. Most of our immigrants come from the EU and the terms of our membership require that they be given free movement into our country, and the same employment rights as British subjects. So, when governments announce honest intentions to reduce immigration, they fail because they have absolutely no way of limiting the greater part of the source of immigrants.
We are often told that immigration is good for us and promotes prosperity and economic growth. It is true that foreign entrepreneurs bring their skills, enterprise and investment here. In the end however, it comes down to a question of numbers and a balance of advantage: 70% of EU migrant workers in the UK claim in-work social security benefits, at the same time they consume public services and acquire a pension liability; The notion that this is all economic gain is fanciful.
Clearly, the Government recognises this, and that is why we tried to create levers to control the flow of EU migrants. We failed: the re-negotiation has come up only with an ‘emergency brake’ which requires the consent of the EU Commission if we wish to operate it. The brake consists of nothing more than a temporary diminution in amount of benefit payable. It is certainly better than nothing, but it does not amount to control of our borders and I do not believe that it will diminish the numbers of migrants.
This brings us to a key principle underlying the whole EU debate: Control. Pundits demand that both sides paint a picture of what the future holds inside, or outside the EU. Of course, neither of us can with any certainty, because we live in an unpredictable world and we are not clairvoyants. The real issue therefore, is that we are likely to fare far better in this unpredictable world, if we have control of our own affairs to pursue our national interest, rather than that control should reside in Brussels.