Each of our lives—all lives—is characterised by change and challenge. We attempt to rise to the second and cope with the first. How successful we are in that depends on context, individuals and circumstances. What is absolutely certain is that the familiar touchstones of enduring certainty, by accentuating what we know, affirm our personal sense of belonging and communal notion of identity.
In trying to build a society in which the things that unite us are greater than any which divide us, mass migration proves difficult simply because of its scale and the difference it makes. When communities quickly change beyond or nearly beyond recognition, people find it hard to cope. That was precisely why the people decided to say, as expressed through the referendum, that they wanted no more of free movement, and that was what the Home Secretary and shadow Home Secretary drew the House’s attention to. Of course, that was not the only thing that the referendum was about but, emblematically, what people saw as migration “out of control” became a proxy for not being able to command their own future and not being able to govern themselves.
Free movement has that problem at its heart. The idea that people can come here at will, regardless of need and of what they do when they get here, and can choose where they go and what their life is like thereafter, seemed to be at odds both with immigration policy before, which was based on applications, visas, needs and specificities of various kinds, and with what the people who are here already feel is fair and reasonable.