For all the claims about monumental shifts in the way Britain would operate and reshape itself in the post-Brexit world, the country does not seem to be changing in the manner many of us expected – whether we voted to leave the EU or not.
One thing that was clear following the Brexit vote, however, was how crucial a role immigration played in influencing the way large swathes of the population voted. Nigel Farage made it the centrepiece of the campaign in the final days leading up to the referenda. The now-notorious billboard warning of hoards of immigrants from the Middle East certainly resonated with voters – we’ll skip over the fact that the freedom of movement of workers has nothing to do with that for now!
Of course, what Farage said and did during the campaign is irrelevant now that he’s seeking to enjoy the benefits of his own freedom of movement to the United States. More important is the increasingly weak convictions of the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. A staunch supporter of the freedom of movement as late as 2013, if not beyond, he abandoned his belief, as he became one of the faces of the ‘Leave’ campaign. Since entering government, he has maintained, at least publicly, his preference to ‘control our borders’ and severely limit immigration, and Johnson was lampooned by the foreign media when it was reported that he described the notion that the freedom of movement was a founding principle of the EU as ‘boll****”.
Privately, it seems, the veil is already beginning to slip, with Article 50 yet to even be triggered. Sky News reported that Johnson had conceded to foreign ambassadors that Britain would be likely to allow the free movement of people even if the Government’s public stance indicates the opposite. Reports from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) warned that ending free movement of low-skilled workers from the EU could see businesses close, food prices rise and social care cut – the government may not want to admit it but we need immigrants.
For all Johnson’s public claims, it seems that the freedom of movement, ultimately, is here to stay. Brexit may mean Brexit, but what Johnson says rarely translates into what he does. It may be time he saved the flip-flops for his holidays and not for his diplomatic excursions.