There Is a Strong Case for a Second Referendum on EU Membership Prior to Brexit

Theresa May’s Brexit plans have prioritised immigration over everything else, including leaving the single European market as a price worth paying to end freedom of movement. A report by the thinktank, Global Future, has crunched the numbers on the likely impact on immigration once Britain leaves the EU, only to discover that the reduction may amount to no more than 15% out of a total of 335,000 immigrants entering Britain per year.

This is because professionals with certain skills will still be needed in Britain, and hence will be exempt. So if immigration was the main driver for the many voting for Brexit, they are in for a big disappointment.

The muddle, the contradictions and the sheer blinkered vision continue to colour the decisions of this government. If Britain is going to need people coming from the EU post Brexit, then it follows that those already here are certainly needed. So why has this government refused to make a commitment to all Europeans who are already here that their contributions to Britain are valued, and they can remain in the UK indefinitely?

Instead, they have been asked to complete an 85 page form, and are required to provide P60s for five years, utility bills and more, making them feel unwelcome and unwanted. This kind of treatment may influence the response of the rest of Europe towards British nationals living in their respective countries.

We have now ended up creating worry, uncertainty and anxiety for our fellow Europeans and the 1.2 million Brits living in the rest of Europe, and for what?  The Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Farron, described the difficulties millions on both sides of the Channel are facing thus:

This issue could have been settled from the start if the government had done the right thing and made clear EU citizens who have made the UK their home can remain indefinitely. Instead, millions of people on both sides of the channel are being left in limbo and faced with agonising uncertainty over their futures. Antagonising our European partners is no way to get a good deal for Britain and for the many UK citizens living in EU countries.

Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, chastised the government thus:

It’s deeply worrying that British nationals living abroad face being on the receiving end of a backlash against our government…The simple fact is that Theresa May should have already given an unequivocal guarantee to EU nationals living here in Britain – giving them certainty of their right to remain.

In fact, even now this unwelcoming, grudging response to our fellow Europeans is creating shortages in certain sectors of the economy that may impact negatively on our GDP growth. Here are the words of Gerwyn Davies from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development:

This is creating significant recruitment challenges in sectors that have historically relied on non-UK labour to fill roles. With skills and labour shortages set to continue, there’s a risk that many vacancies will be left unfilled, which could act as a brake on output growth in the UK in the years ahead.

What a terrible indictment of this government. It has alienated the rest of Europe prior to negotiation, and has shown Britain to be mean-spirited, lacking compassion and understanding of the difficulties millions of people on both sides of the channel are facing with Brexit looming. It is almost certain that finally our government will have to say to our fellow Europeans “you are welcome to stay because Britain needs you”. By then it may be too late. Why not say it in the first place?

Here is the thing; if people had known that: (a) almost all fellow Europeans already in Britain will continue to reside in the UK (b) immigration will only be cut by 15% and (c) there will be no extra £350 million a week for the NHS, would a majority have voted for Brexit? This makes the case for a second referendum on EU membership prior to leaving overwhelming. Let the people decide.

Adnan Al-Daini (PhD, Birmingham University, UK) is a retired University Engineering lecturer. He is a British citizen born in Iraq. He writes regularly on issues of social justice and the Middle East. Read other articles by Adnan.