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Tue, 16 April 2024

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By Bishop of Leeds
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The ghost of Brexit still haunts Britain

(Alamy)

3 min read

Until recently, for the two main political parties Brexit was taboo. Six years after Brexiteers took control they demonstrated that they had no plans to make it work. Instead, we erected barriers between ourselves and our largest market. There was always going to be a price to pay.

The scientific community are to be congratulated on reversing the direction of Brexit travel by restoring our participation in Europe’s Horizon programme. This policy reversal gives hope to bankers despairing at the declining attractiveness of the City’s markets, analysts revealing the lack of confidence and depressing investment figures, and the public who now agree by a large majority that Brexit has failed. 

For our manufacturers, had we managed to secure those new markets outside of the European Union, they could have built plants there, taking advantage of lower costs and employ local labour. 

The inference of racism lurks in the gutters of politics

It was a delusion to think we would achieve compensation for the loss of our European partnership. However, these issues have caused little upset with Conservative and Labour Leave voters and the recent decision to rejoin Horizon has had no ripple effect in the red wall. 

The most crucial and sensitive issue of our time is immigration. Into that historic melting pot all manner of human behaviour is thrown, from the most generous form of political asylum to the worst excesses of racial prejudice. The most dangerous is the tendency for some politicians to inflame passions. I will never forget the effect on seemingly rational people in the aftermath of Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech in 1968. The assertion that Britain would have no veto on Turkey’s application to join the EU, enabling 40 million Muslims to come to Britain, had much the same effect.

Britain today is a prime example of how talent – regardless of colour, class or creed – can rise in the service of our civilised society. But even here the inference of racism lurks in the gutters of politics. It is a toxic undertone of the Brexiteers’ case.

Racism, tribalism and the persecution of minorities cover headlines daily. The reality is these immigrants are simply seeking calmer, safer havens for themselves and their families. Even in the poorest countries, those seeking asylum hear about the prosperity of the West. Climate change is another growing problem, displacing millions who are forced to abandon coastal locations.

The vast majority of immigrants today are young, male, talented and energetic, seeking a better life. The focus on boats crossing the Channel is just a small part of the problem.

There is no point in blaming the French. Those in the boats are not French and represent only a fraction of the immigrants that enter France illegally. Imagine our reaction if we were the transit nation and the French told us to take them back!

The honeypot is Europe, and it is that frontier that we should help to protect. The most practical solution is repatriation agreements with the immigrants’ own countries. That will require negotiation and include payments.

The influx of immigrants, largely from the South and East, places a disproportionate burden on the frontier nations. We should agree that a common border must be a shared responsibility. It is that frontier we must protect. We should join with the EU to seek repatriation agreements such as we recently agreed with Albania. We should recognise that the most effective way to stem the flow of migrants is to create conditions in their countries that persuade them to remain. That will require co-ordination of aid programmes and an enhanced role for wealth creation.

The present situation is not acceptable and will get worse. There are no simple, cheap or short-term solutions and those that exist can be better achieved in league with our European neighbours. 

 

Lord Heseltine, Conservative peer and former deputy prime minister under John Major

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