The Brexit Secretary’s Statement
Yesterday, David Davis MP, now HM Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union delivered what was described as a “statement” on progress towards Brexit in the House of Commons. For those who were otherwise engaged, the full text is to be found on the Conservative Home blog: “Davis’ statement on Brexit: full text”.
The Daily Telegraph’s Parliamentary sketch writer gives a fair account of the proceedings (embellished with a very good cartoon): “What does ‘Brexit means Brexit’ mean? A Tory minister tries to explain…”
“As for what Brexit will or even may mean in terms of international trade, immigration, jobs and security, however, Mr Davis was unable to be quite so enlightening. He spoke for a good 13 minutes, but MPs on the benches facing him sounded unconvinced that they’d heard anything new.”
The Guardian report is similarly dismissive: “David Davis accused of having no plan for Brexit – Secretary of state for exiting EU is accused of delivering ‘astonishingly empty statement’ to MPs on government’s plans”.
It was, of course, an empty statement. Those campaigning to leave the European Union have never had any clear programme about how they they would accomplish their plan to leave the EU without causing huge damage to the UK economy.
The British people have always been xenophobic – which other country has such a rich vocabulary of distaste for non-nationals: “bloody foreigners, frogs, krauts, spics, wops, wogs“.
It is worth remembering what were the provisions relating to nationality and citizenship as enacted by the British Nationality Act 1948. As an imperial power, all persons born in the United Kingdom and its colonies were British subjects. In addition all citizens of the dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Newfoundland, India, Pakistan, Southern Rhodesia and Ceylon were also British subjects and in addition there were special provisions relating to citizens of Eire. All those British subjects had the theoretical right to come to England and live and work on exactly the same basis as someone born here. But few did, because the cost of travel was too great. In addition, if a British subject married a wife who was not British, she could acquire the status of a British subject by registration.
Commonwealth immigration commenced after World War II and was initially officially encouraged because of the UK’s declining population and the need for labour – see these accounts in the National Archives: (1) “Origins of Commonwealth immigration” and also how and why steps were taken to restrict such immigration (2) “Commonwealth Immigration control and legislation“.
People of my age, who remember the vile racist abuse and violence meted out to those who came to the UK from the Commonwealth to do the jobs we did not wish to do and thereby make a better life for their children, recognise that the Vote Leave and UKIP campaigns used precisely the same tactics in relation to EU citizens as their predecessors did in relation to Commonwealth migrants. It did not matter to UKIP and others that the Eastern Europeans who, for example, are picking and packing fruits and vegetables in East Anglia are doing jobs that the local people are unable or unwilling to do.
Just as the public reaction to postwar immigration induced postwar governments to control Commonwealth migration, the public reaction to EU migration in the Referendum was designed to force the government to control EU migration. Whether it was right, or moral for the government to cave in to the profanum vulgus on this occasion is questionable.
Backlash from the G20 Summit
There is a report in the Telegraph: “Theresa May’s frosty reception at the G20 shows she cannot stonewall about Brexit forever“. Note that the article is written by a former British Ambassador:-
“As Japan rightly points out, the UK for years has been wooing Japanese investment into the UK as a sensible welcoming gateway to the EU Single Market. Japanese corporations large and small have done exactly what we urged them to do, investing heavily in the UK as a base for Europe-wide production and distribution chains. They are firmly asking both the UK and EU for clarity on all sorts of issues with sharp-end operational importance (rules of origin, intellectual property rights, movement of workers, technical standards and so on).”
The fact is that neither Cameron’s Government nor the Leave Campaigners had worked out a sensible course of action in the event of a Leave vote in the Referendum.
Mrs May has, quite rightly decided that she needs to work out her strategy first.
But the fact that HM Government is so unprepared, does not put the UK in a favourable light with other countries that have relied on us.
The Guardian reports: “David Davis’s single market stance ‘not government policy’ – PM distances herself from Brexit secretary’s remarks that staying in is ‘improbable’ as spokeswoman says she will be ‘ambitious’ in negotiations“.
There is a similar report in the Financial Times: “Davis view on leaving single market ‘not government policy’ – Theresa May distances herself from her new Brexit secretary’s comments“.
These reports give the impression that the Prime Minister recognises the desirability of remaining in the EU single market. It has to be recognised that the “free movement” principles include the free movement of labour. That is the area of real tension.
But there are many ways of controlling migration. The Telegraph has this: “Theresa May considers banning EU migrants from coming to Britain unless they have a job“. The real importance of this is the Prime Minister’s rejection of the points-based system proposed by Brexiteers.
The Guardian reports on a similar difficulty the Swiss are having with the EU: “Swiss blink first in EU standoff with striking similarities to UK predicament – Argument over free movement and access to single market leads to Switzerland creating jobs-for-locals compromise“. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Indeed, it is entirely likely that the Prime Minister will work out what she considers to be in the national interest and proceed along that path whatever her Brexiteer Ministers might say. This Prime Minister is every bit as tough as the late Margaret Thatcher was as she has amply demonstrated while she was Home Secretary.