Leading Brexit campaigner says UK can remain open to immigrant labour

By on 25/04/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Douglas Carswell MP at the Institute for Government think tank event (Image copyright @ifgevents / Candice McKenzie)

The UK’s leaders have the opportunity to win public support for a Brexit settlement that protects the levels of immigration required to support economic growth, a leading Brexit campaigner has claimed. Douglas Carswell MP argued earlier this month that the referendum result “was not an angry, nativist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant vote; it was won precisely because it was an argument about Britain being internationalist, generous and global.”

UK prime minister Theresa May – who last week won parliament’s approval to hold a general election on 8 June – has ruled out the continuation of free movement between the UK and EU. And the referendum campaign involved strongly anti-immigration messages from prominent Brexiteers including former UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage.

However, Carswell – UKIP’s only MP between 2015 and 2017 – told an audience at think tank the Institute for Government that the EU poll was “not a referendum on immigration.” The MP blamed “two sets of ‘deplorables’” – Remainers who view Leavers as racist, and a minority of genuinely racist Leave voters – for “trying to rewrite the memory of what the vote was about.”

Answering a question from Global Government Forum, Carswell said the referendum “could not have been won if we’d focused mainly on immigration.” Carswell argued that public opinion is relaxed about immigration – and that the UK government thus has the freedom of manoeuvre to create a visa system that maintains high levels of inward migration where that’s what the economy requires.

In his view, the UK needs to have “a grown-up conversation about higher labour mobility.” For “unless you want to live in North Korea, you have to accept that the level of labour mobility will be higher in ten or 20 years time; London’s level of labour mobility will be national. This is an inevitable consequence of modernity.”

“I’m in favour of ending the free movement of people,” he added. “But free movement of workers I think is perfectly compatible with our status outside the EU and I’m very keen on that idea.”

Carswell is a former Conservative MP and a longstanding Brexiteer, who defected to Farage’s UKIP in 2014 and resigned his seat to stand again on a UKIP ticket. Winning, he became UKIP’s only MP – but he fell out with Farage during the referendum campaign, and recently left the party. He has since announced that he will not stand again in the forthcoming general election.

The MP’s clash with Farage had its roots in their very different approaches to Brexit – Carswell has long championed libertarian causes, whilst Farage appeals to traditionalists – and in his principled refusal to accept the government funding to which his election win entitled UKIP. A supporter of electoral reform and increasing politicians’ accountability to the public, Carswell does not believe that parties should receive funding from the state.

At the Institute for Government, Carswell also set out his belief that the electoral and political storms currently shaking established parties have their roots in the creation of fiat money and unrestrained fractional reserve banking in the early 1970s. By permitting banks to create almost endless amounts of new capital and enabling governments to borrow on the bond markets, he argued, these financial reforms have ultimately given governments the ability to raise money without requiring popular support – supporting the growth of an “oligarchy”, distant from the public, that controls the heights of the polity and economy.

“It’s no coincidence that since the creation of fiat money and unrestrained fractional reserve banking, most western governments have failed to balance the books,” he said. “The basics of statecraft have been beyond them. France hasn’t balanced the books since 1973, two years after the end of [the] Bretton Woods [post-war financial system]. America has only balanced their budget in eight of the past 40 years; the UK in six of the past 40 years.”

The “root cause of the emergence of oligarcy”, he argued, is that “our parasitic elites siphon off wealth from posterity using the bond markets. The Americans had a revolution where they asserted the principle of no taxation without representation: you need the permission of the taxpayer to do stuff. The bond markets, since 1971, have meant that the governing elite no longer needs the permission of the taxpayer. If one in four or five pounds comes from posterity, they don’t have to bother asking the permission of the taxpayer.”

In Carswell’s view, the reaction against contemporary, mainstream politics – as visible in the French election and Brexit vote as in Donald Trump’s US victory – reflects the dominance of the resulting “oligarchy” in western power structures, and its tendency to deliver economic growth and public policies that suit its own needs and interests rather than those of the wider public. “The current system of fiat money and fractional reserve banking is incompatible with the maintenance of liberal democracy into the next century,” he argued.

As the event drew to a close, Carswell was asked how he saw the future for UKIP, “Job done,” he replied. “When you’ve won a war you disband and go home and reach out to the people you beat and try and win the peace, and that’s what we need to do. It’s over; we’ve won.”

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See also:

Report: ‘Deluded’ UK cannot afford to be smug on Brexit

New European Parliament president sets conciliatory tone on Brexit

May’s hard Brexit: starting position or ultimate goal?


About Matt Ross

Matt is Global Government Forum's Contributing Editor, providing direction and support on topics, products and audience interests across GGF’s editorial, events and research operations. He has been a journalist and editor since 1995, beginning in motoring and travel journalism – and combining the two in a 30-month, 30-country 4x4 expedition funded by magazine photo-journalism. Between 2002 and 2008 he was Features Editor of Haymarket news magazine Regeneration & Renewal, covering urban regeneration, economic growth and community development; and from 2008 to 2014 he was the Editor of UK magazine and website Civil Service World, then Editorial Director for Public Sector – both at political publishing house Dods. He has also worked as Director of Communications at think tank the Institute for Government.

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