Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Immigration drives debate on EU referendum

Published:Sunday | June 19, 2016 | 12:00 AM
In this June 16, 2015 file photo, president of the French far right Front National, Marine Le Pen (centre), poses with other members of the EU far right after a media conference at the European Parliament in Brussels. Le Pen supports a Brexit.


Don't try to talk to Brian Hall about economics, trading blocs or the value of the British pound. He won't listen.

There's one factor - and one factor only - shaping his view in the June 23 referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union: immigration.

He's tired of Eastern Europeans arriving on these shores, and he plans to use his vote to make that point.

"In Dover, the biggest issue is immigration," said the proprietor of the W&G Hall convenience store. "I'm speaking for a lot of people here - we've been inundated, and they've changed the face of the town, not for the better."

The 'remain' camp led by Prime Minister David Cameron appears to be winning the economic argument, with key business figures warning that leaving the EU might bring economic calamity in the form of higher taxes and spending cuts.

The 'leave' camp, however, may be winning the emotional argument about how staying in the EU will lead to unchecked immigration and the transfor-mation of British life.

British workers hurt

Led by former London Mayor Boris Johnson and UK Independence Party chief Nigel Farage, the 'leave' campaigners charge that British workers have been hurt because EU "freedom of movement" laws mean that Hungarians, Slovaks, Poles and others can come to Britain visa-free to live, work and claim benefits.

They warn that if Turkey joins the EU - a prospect that is not imminent - it will give access to Britain to millions more. And they point out that Cameron's government has failed to make good on promises to cut immigration. Official figures show net migration of 330,000 people into Britain last year, far higher than Cameron's targets.

It is not clear if anger over immigration played a role in the slaying last Thursday of Labour Party legislator Jo Cox, a backer of the 'remain' campaign who had called for more to be done to help Syrians fleeing civil war there.

She was shot dead by a man who, several eyewitnesses said, shouted "Put Britain First" during the fatal attack.