Nigel Farage talks to journalists during European election campaigning on May 9, 2014 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Farage needs Miliband to promise an EU referendum - but he won't

The Labour leader won't U-turn if Ukip win the European elections. 

In his interview on Today this morning, Nigel Farage again expressed his belief that Ed Miliband would be forced to guarantee an in/out EU referendum if Ukip wins the European elections. To date, Miliband has said that a Labour government would only hold a referendum in the event of a further transfer of powers to Brussels, a condition that he believes is unlikely to be met. The result is that the Tories are able to boast that the only way to guarantee an in/out vote on EU membership is to vote Conservative in 2015, an attack line that Farage recognises has the potential to do increasing damage to Ukip. Given the likelihood that Labour will be the largest party after the general election (not least thanks to the divided right), Farage needs Miliband to U-turn if he is to avoid losing EU withdrawalists to the Tories. 

But as I've reported before, there is no prospect of him doing so. A senior Labour source told me: "The idea that Labour will change position is as unfeasible and ill-thought out as everything else Farage says." He pointed out that both the shadow cabinet and the PLP (with the exception of mavericks such as Kate Hoey) were "united" behind Miliband's stance and said a future Labour government would not allow itself to be "paralysed" by an arbitrary referendum. Instead, it would promote "the national interest" by only holding a vote in "the unlikely event of a further transfer of powers" and focusing on tackling the living standards crisis. 

While Farage managed to force Cameron to promise a referendum against his wishes, there is no chance of him enjoying a similar success with Miliband. Unlike the PM, the Labour leader does not lurch, he does not U-turn. When a stance is adopted, typically in the form of a detailed speech, it is maintained. With Labour far more united than the Tories on Europe (a reversal of the situation in 1975), there is also no prospect of Miliband coming under comparable internal pressure to Cameron. 

Finally, since Miliband rightly believes that he has a good chance of becoming prime minister, he is not prepared to allow the opening years of his premiership to be dominated by a referendum that he could struggle to win (an outcome that would likely force his resignation). 

If Ukip do win tomorrow, the Labour leader will speak again about the need to restore trust in politics and to address the root causes of the party's support. What he will not do is promise an EU referendum that is neither in his interests nor those of the country. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.