With just weeks now to go until the British electorate casts its vote on our country’s relationship with the European Union, I wish to make a plea to voters. Please do not allow the poverty of the mainstream debate — a whirlwind of claims and counterclaims around how much better or worse off we will be if we decide to leave the EU, morphing all too swiftly into bitter arguments around the motives and integrity of those making the claims — to disguise the fundamental choice facing our country.
The electorate is about to cast its vote on the destiny of our country. In doing so, it might also be about to ignite a fresh debate on the future of our entire continent — a debate that, until now, has lay dormant in post-war Europe. We, therefore, find ourselves at a historic crossroads.
The truth is, of course, that there are opportunities and risks associated both with leaving and remaining in the EU. Nobody knows for sure what will happen to our country, regardless of the referendum result. No fact sheet will help voters decide the destiny of Britain on Referendum Day.
But we do now have the chance, over the next four weeks, to think carefully about who we are as a country, and decide what kind of country we want to be.
The Prime Minister, I grant you, presented us with this choice only in an attempt to hold together the Conservative Party and keep the UK Independence Party at bay. He clearly doesn’t understand what serious negotiations from the inside should have looked like.
But, regardless of the way we arrived at this point, we do now have a choice, and we must make the most of it. Our hopes, our fears, and our inner trust must be drawn upon when we face up to that choice.
The choice is, I believe, between a Britain that becomes ever more closely bound into a single European state, and one that retains a close relationship with Europe, but is its own governor.
THE aim of the great European venture that took hold after the Second World War was to build, in stages, a single European state. The aim of that state was to prevent a third world war originating in Europe.
But it is NATO that has prevented that third world war starting in the heart of Europe yet again. Our peace has nothing whatsoever to do with the European Union.
This great venture has, therefore, become primarily a political adventure. A vote to remain is a vote to take our country firmly and securely into that single state, and, with it, the inevitability of unlimited immigration.
That is one risk. The other risk is associated with voting to leave the EU.
The EU is deeply unpopular with voters across Europe. So the main danger is that our vote to leave will begin a fast unravelling of the European community. If we vote to leave on Thursday 23 June, voters across Europe will begin demanding a vote equal to ours.
This will be the point of maximum danger, and we should not kid ourselves otherwise. We must, therefore, be prepared for Day Two of the post-referendum world, in which a new Prime Minister would need to pull together the very best negotiating talents — from across the House of Commons and beyond — to ensure the well-being of the EU, and to deliver the package that the British electorate will have voted for.
MANY of those voting to leave the EU will do so, I believe, out of a desire for our country to regain control of its borders; for unlimited immigration from Europe has, since 2004, changed our country beyond recognition.
In the decade after the opening of our borders to Eastern Europe, 5.3 million newcomers arrived in Britain. At the same time, 1.7 million Brits emigrated, and thus there was a churn in our population over this ten-year period of seven million people — the equivalent of seven cities the size of Birmingham. That is not a misprint.
Such a rapid change in the size and composition of our population poses unbelievably difficult questions for our national identity. From where can our nation source its shared memories, customs, and beliefs, if our population is changing so rapidly on such a vast scale?
Leaving aside these fundamental questions about what now binds us together as a country, a most crucial issue here is the impact of uncontrolled immigration on our most disadvantaged citizens.
It is the poorest in our communities, those whose choices in life are already by far the most restricted, whose standard of living is most adversely affected by the arrival of a record number of newcomers.
There is a school of belief which quite naturally draws upon compassion to justify the opportunities given to millions of people from the EU to start a new life here. But compassion demands that we consider as a priority the impact that so many new arrivals has on our poorest citizens’ chances of securing the ever scarcer necessities in life — a place at a decent school for their children, a home that they can afford to rent or buy, and swift access to healthcare.
A lethal combination, since 2010, of public-expenditure cuts and unrestricted immigration from the EU has already diminished our poorest citizens’ choices in this regard. Remaining in the EU will, I fear, bring a continued erosion in their living standards.
It is inconceivable that house prices and rents will fall, that the number of school places will expand, and that pressure on local health services will ease, in communities that are at the sharp end of unlimited immigration. An ever-growing portion of our national wealth — we know not how much — will be required to accommodate an unknown and unlimited number of newcomers.
The Prime Minister has failed from the inside to secure any concessions that would limit the number of newcomers to this country. Compassion toward the weakest members of our society, therefore, demands that we vote to leave the EU.
Frank Field has been Labour MP for Birkenhead since 1979. He is currently co-chair of the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration.