The government’s two red lines in the negotiations hinge on the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and immigration. The government’s line on the ECJ has already started to crumble, leaving immigration – and the control of it – as one of the major drivers of Brexit.
That’s why Best for Britain is focusing on freedom of movement and public attitudes towards it over the coming months. This is because we do not believe that the people of this country and those that voted Brexit conform to the caricature that the government and much of the media would have us believe. The nation was divided at the referendum because they were asked one very divisive question, with no real information from either campaign about the reality of staying or leaving the EU. But now things are changing – the impact of Brexit is becoming clearer and the detail around the rights we get from Europe are coming to the fore. Freedom of movement doesn’t only mean people having the right to come in and work in the UK. As is becoming increasingly clear, care workers, nurses, doctors, farm workers from other parts of Europe are the lifeblood of our economy, filling vital roles that keep us fed and healthy. Even employers that voted leave are changing their minds when they realise the impact on their workforce. There is scant evidence for them reducing the opportunities for UK citizens and there is much evidence that their departure – whether forced or encouraged by Brexit – will leave whole sectors in disarray. Freedom of movement also means a job market open to our young people and future generations.
Best for Britain commissioned polling at the end of June asking a range of questions on immigration and freedom of movement to explore how the reality of Brexit might be changing attitudes. We found a very interesting picture. When people were asked about their attitudes to freedom of movement, the majority were in favour of some limitations such as making sure people come in to find work, and have a limited amount of time to do that. They were also more in favour when people didn’t immediately have access to the full complement of welfare benefits. These are changes that the government could undertake within the context of EU membership. When asked whether UK citizens should have the right travel, work, study and retire in Britain in return for EU citizens having the same rights, respondents overwhelmingly agreed, with 69% in favour – and this cuts across political party allegiance as well as geographically. Young people are consistently more in favour of freedom of movement, showing generational divides on attitudes similar to those displayed in the referendum and in the recent election. Politicians that want a growing vote, not a dying one, should take note.
Our polling features in Dan Roberts’ piece in the Guardian today, which also looks at the results of another study that has similar findings. The results question the idea that Brits are against immigration and freedom of movement, and should prompt politicians to reconsider their approach to this fundamental Brexit issue.
To see the full results from our polling click here.