Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:45 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench 10:45 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Suri, and to hear some common sense on freedom of movement from a member of the immigrant community. I intend to be extremely brief, given that the hour is late, and I shall focus on the dog that hardly barked. Some noble Lords may be able to guess what that is.

I am sure that many noble Lords will have noticed a kind of developing enthusiasm among those in the remain camp for another referendum—yet, strangely, they do not seem to have considered why they lost the last one. All serious studies have found that immigration, whether you like it or not, was a major factor. In August 2016, the director of the LSE Centre for Economic Performance wrote this:

“There are multiple reasons for the Brexit vote, but by far the most important one can be summarised in a single word: immigration”.

Just before the vote itself, MORI found that immigration was by far the most important issue, running 11 points ahead of the National Health Service and 21 points ahead of the economy. So there seems to be little doubt —and I do not know that anyone actually challenges it—that immigration was a major factor in the outcome.

Two years on, public concern is still strong, whether we like it or not. Polling conducted by Channel 4, of all people, and published only last month found that 70% of the public want to see a cut in EU migration. Some 42% want to see a large cut while 14% want to see an increase. Furthermore, in April this year a YouGov poll found that 63% of voters consider that immigration levels over the past 10 years have been too high—and even among younger voters, about whom we hear so much, more thought that immigration had been too high than thought that it had been about right or too low. So there is just no doubt about the strength and breadth and continuity of public opinion on this matter, and it is not good enough, frankly, to say that it is about blaming immigrants because it is absolutely nothing of the kind.

It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, pointed out, that EU migration has fallen since the referendum, probably due to uncertainties about the future. But it is still running at 100,000 a year, with another 200,000 from outside the EU. But I repeat: this is not a question of blaming immigrants. That is simply an attempt to close down a very important debate and a very important aspect of the problems that confront us.

What can we conclude on this narrow but important point? First, there can be no doubt about the continuing strength of public concern. Secondly, the public seem to particularly dislike what they perceive to be the complete absence of control, notwithstanding the Government’s failure to reduce non-EU immigration. As they see it, there is just no limit, no prospective limit, no brakes and no way of preventing a continued and significant inflow from Europe. This is how the public see it. For many, therefore, a touchstone of how they judge the Brexit outcome will be whether the Government are able to get a grip on immigration.

Lastly—I am up to three minutes—I will conclude by saying that I wonder whether behind all this there is a perhaps a still greater issue: namely, the question of public trust in our political system. It is trust on which the system depends, and it is not going terribly well.