"You yearn for stability, cohesion and continuity. At bottom, you worry that the England you know is in terminal decline." Photo: Getty
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This is the open letter Cameron should write on immigration

Eric Kaufmann, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, pens a letter to the White British majority.

This article was originally published on May2015.com, our new elections site.

Ukip’s Mark Reckless is poised to win this week's by-election in Rochester & Strood. A major reason is immigration, ranked as the most important issue by the British electorate.

In a recently published report for Demos, my colleague Gareth Harris and I analysed census and survey data and ran focus groups to understand the White British response to ethnic change.

Rather than list the policy recommendations that might draw the sting from these forces, I've decided to phrase my recommendations in the form of a fictive letter from the Prime Minister to a friend swayed by Ukip, or a speech he might give.

The ethnic majority in England needs to be reassured.

The key point is that the ethnic majority in England, as in other European countries, needs to be reassured it has a future in an age of migration. When addressing minorities, the current narrative of ever-increasing diversity under an umbrella of shared British values is appropriate.

But when speaking to the ethnic majority a different narrative is required. This is not dishonest or two-faced, but represents a legitimate form of the diplomatic technique of constructive ambiguity, which recognises minority and majority Britons often connect to the nation in different ways.

Dear Ukipper,

I understand that immigration is your number one concern. I know from the extensive body of research on support for the far right and opposition to immigration that your concern with migration is primarily cultural, not economic. You feel the country is changing too fast. Your area remains overwhelmingly white English, but when you go downtown, or visit Birmingham or London, it feels like a foreign country.

Besides, you read in the paper that immigrants from Europe and beyond are entering the country illegally. You yearn for stability, cohesion and continuity. At bottom, you worry that the England you know - a land settled by people who have lived here for centuries, united by history, memory, traditions and ancestry - is in terminal decline.

Immigration is difficult to greatly reduce because, as part of the European Union, we must permit the free movement of people from other EU countries. As a signatory to human rights conventions, we have to allow a reasonable degree of family reunification - we wouldn't want to prevent British citizens bringing their spouses and children here to keep their family together. Tourists and students bring much needed export income to Britain, though we are working hard to ensure that people don't overstay their visas.

I'm not going to tell you immigrants put in more than they take out because I know economics is not your main concern.

Finally, skills shortages in certain sectors such as nursing mean it's important for us to admit immigrants to fill these jobs - at least until we can train up enough British people to fill them. So it will be difficult to reduce immigration much further - certainly as long as we are a member of the EU.

We could leave Europe, but this would make it much more difficult for English people to settle in Spain, France or other countries and may carry adverse economic consequences because overseas investors count on us as an English-speaking gateway to the continent. Pollsters tell us most British people still wish to remain in the EU. So while we must control our borders and restore faith in the immigration system, significant inflows will continue into the foreseeable future.

Hearing this probably reinforces your belief that the ethnic English majority of this country is doomed because England is becoming increasingly diverse through both immigration and a younger minority population. You notice this most of all in hospital maternity wards and schools, where ethnic minorities or European immigrants form a disproportionate share of the young people using these services. I'm not going to tell you immigrants put in more than they take out because I know economics is not your main concern. What I want to focus on is culture and identity in a time of change.

Above all, I want to challenge your pessimistic view about the English majority.

Our government, and previous administrations, have exacerbated majority fear by dispersing refugees and council tenants to close-knit, homogeneous areas instead of to places with a history of population turnover and diversity. We haven't considered how housebuilding and social housing decisions can accelerate local ethnic shifts. We will be more attentive to these dynamics in the future, seeking to build garden cities or dispersed development so as not to transform existing communities.

But above all, I want to challenge your pessimistic view about the English majority. A big mistake the media and government have made is to talk up ethnic change, emphasising how we are getting ever more diverse and how Britishness must change to adapt to this reality. Yet people forget that in many ways England is getting less diverse. This is a message the majority needs to hear more often because we know from American immigration history that it is only when the majority is confident in its ability to assimilate newcomers that the temperature of the immigration debate falls and social cohesion improves.

Read the full letter on May2015.com.

Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck University of London. He tweets @epkaufm.

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Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear