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Mon, 1 June 2020

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By Andrew McQuillan
Press releases

Brexit happened because working class ‘threw a tantrum’ over immigration, says Europe minister

Brexit happened because working class ‘threw a tantrum’ over immigration, says Europe minister

Agnes Chambre

3 min read

The Brexit vote was the result of the British working class “throwing a tantrum” over immigration, the Europe minister has claimed.

In surprising comments, Sir Alan Duncan said some Leave voters complained about immigrants “pinching” jobs that they refused to do themselves. 

And he warned labour shortages following Britain’s withdrawal from the EU could result in “quite a lot of damage” to the country’s infrastructure, especially the NHS.

His comments put him at odds with his boss in the Foreign Office, Boris Johnson, who insisted today that the UK's future was bright outside the EU.

Speaking at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, Sir Alan said: "I was a Remainer. I thought, as most people that had political antennae, that they thought worked that it would be 52 Remain to 48 Leave. It turned out to be the other way round.”

He added: “The manner in which the campaign was fought stirred up a lot of sentiment amongst people that are not habitual voters, particularly on the issue of immigration. You could feel in the last 10 days of the campaign, traditional blue-collar urban Labour opinion going viral for Leave. They were stirred up by an image of immigration, which made them angry and throw a bit of a tantrum. That was part of the chemistry that explains the result.

The Remain campaign was badly conducted in that the the-government led by David Cameron and George Osborne hogged the campaign limelight and it did not look as though the Remain argument put a vision of optimism. Nor did it appear a cross-party endeavour and that made elements of voting opinion treat it as a verdict on the government of the day."

When asked why people in Boston in Lincolnshire overwhelmingly for Brexit despite relying heavily on Polish immigrant workers, he said: “That is one of the paradoxes. Lincolnshire folk said ‘ooh, they are coming to pinch our jobs’. Well, they would not do the jobs themselves anyway so it was a rather artificial anger.
“It is less worrying to our agriculture than it is to our health service and our care sector. So many of the labour problems that might follow from this could cause us quite a lot of damage."

In another break with the likes of Mr Johnson and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Sir Alan also played down the importance of an early free trade deal with America, saying the most important thing was to secure one with trading partners in the EU. 

He said: “A free trade agreement is not the answer to everything but where one can be designed and agreed in a way that is mutually advantageous to both sides that will be of benefit. We do hope to have free trade agreements across the world but the one that will matter to us enormously is the one we have with the 27 countries in the EU itself."

Read the most recent article written by Agnes Chambre - Confusion among Labour's top team as senior figures disagree over second EU referendum