Brexit secretary David Davis’s immigration proposals are desperate and dangerous—and the reactions to them are revealing.
He calls for restricting European Union (EU) nationals’ right to live, work or claim benefits in Britain as an alternative to stopping them at the border.
Rather than imposing extra controls at ports and airports, Davis’s proposal means recruiting bosses, landlords and public service workers as proxy border guards.
Visa free travel would continue, but legally working would require a work visa
This would effectively extend the “hostile environment” that Theresa May as home secretary sought to create to EU nationals too.
It’s a reminder that whenever controls are brought in against one group of migrants they can easily be extended to cover others later. They should be resisted as an attack on everyone, not just on those immediately affected.
The effect will be more discrimination against those whose names or accents mark them out as potentially European.
Bosses will be more wary of hiring them and landlords more wary of housing them. And both will have an extra threat to wield against any migrant worker or tenant who steps out of line.
It’s a filthy lie that such immigration controls protect workers.
The effect will be to make migrant workers more vulnerable, and to sow racism that undermines workers’ unity. This only helps bosses push pay down further.
Tory MPs praised the proposal, but it won’t get them out of their Brexit debacle.
Davis resembles a man trying to ride two horses at once in opposite directions.
On one hand scapegoating migrants has been central to the Tories’ strategy for years. They need to satisfy their racist activists and voters by pointing to some form of post-Brexit clampdown.
On the other, bosses in Britain are terrified of the disruption that Brexit could cause to their profits.
They don’t want to lose the benefits of the EU’s neoliberal customs union and single market. And behind all the lies about migrants “draining” or “swamping” Britain, the economy couldn’t function without them.
So Davis has attempted to square this circle, and offer both “frictionless borders” to appease business and “taking control of our borders” for the bigots.
This has emboldened critics on both sides.
Lib Dem former coalition minister Ed Davey claimed that it proved Britain could restrict EU migrants while remaining inside the customs union and single market.
His comments underlined that the liberal defence of these institutions has nothing to do with anti-racism, internationalism or defending migrants.
Meanwhile odious former Ukip leader Nigel Farage returned to some front pages to attack the government for letting EU migrants in at all.
By giving credence to the idea that migrants in Britain are a problem, Davis’s controls only further fuel calls to stop them at the border or get rid of those already here.
It certainly wasn’t enough to win over EU negotiators, who continue to give him the cold shoulder.
The Tories are further restricted by their reliance on the bigoted Northern Irish DUP party.
It effectively ties them to keeping the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland largely open—robbing their clampdown of any coherence.
Creating physical border controls there would be a contentious undertaking even without the DUP.
As for immigration, the mess the Tories are in leaves an open goal for demanding that EU nationals keep their existing rights after Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour should do it.
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle