Brexit Backers Promise Immigration Overhaul as Remain Stalls

  • ‘Leave’ campaign keeps focus on cutting number entering U.K.
  • Poll finds majority don’t think quitting EU would hurt them

Campaigners to get Britain out of the European Union promised to implement a points-based immigration policy to limit the number of people entering the U.K. if the country votes to leave the bloc in this month’s referendum.

With the June 23 vote just three weeks away, the “Leave” campaign is focusing its fire on immigration, the area where polls show it has an advantage. The “Remain” camp is sticking to its own strong area, the economy, with a warning that a so-called Brexit would endanger 107,000 manufacturing jobs.

“We will end our support for the EU’s disastrous policies that have encouraged the people smugglers,” Justice Secretary Michael Gove, former London Mayor Boris Johnson and Employment Minister Priti Patel wrote in a joint statement. “We will welcome new citizens who wish to contribute to our society, as so many immigrants have done. And we will be able to remove those who abuse our hospitality.”

The proposal is the latest in a series made by senior Conservatives setting out an alternative program to that offered by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, in which Gove and Patel currently serve. Last month, they promised more spending on hospitals and a cut in tax on fuel and said these could be funded by ending U.K. contributions to the EU budget. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne described the plans as “uncosted and unworkable” in an e-mailed statement.

Investor Concerns

Investor concerns about the outcome of the June 23 referendum were demonstrated Tuesday when the pound dropped after an ICM phone poll unexpectedly put “Leave” in front. The question now is whether the poll was an outlier following a series of surveys showing the “Remain” camp in the lead, or whether it marks the start of a broader shift toward “Leave.”

The poll saw the Number Cruncher Politics Brexit Probability Index for Brexit rise to 21.3 percent from 18.6 percent. That’s its highest level in two weeks.

An online poll published Wednesday from YouGov Plc put the two sides neck-and-neck on 41 percent. When undecided voters were pushed to make a choice, Remain just edged ahead, to 44 percent over Leave’s 43 percent.

Meanwhile an Ipsos Mori poll on voter attitudes found 58 percent saying they didn’t think leaving the EU would affect their own standard of living. This is a blow to the Remain camp, as it’s their central message. Among the rest, 22 percent saw their standard of living decreasing, and 11 percent saw it increasing. Asked about exports to the EU, 46 percent saw them decreasing after a Brexit, against 39 percent who saw them unchanged, and 6 percent who saw them increasing.

Still, Ipsos Mori also found that arguments about the economy were more likely to make voters switch sides than arguments about immigration.

Received Wisdom

“The received wisdom has been that messages around controlling borders and sovereignty are the ones which resonate with people who want to leave the EU, but this study shows that the issue of how Brexit could affect individuals financially is more likely than immigration to cause uncertainty in how they would vote,” Bobby Duffy, managing director of Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute, said in an e-mail. “So whilst the rhetoric in the leave campaign has focused on more abstract concepts of self-determination, the arguments about cash in pockets seem more likely to impact on Brexit voters.”

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development cut its U.K. growth forecast on Wednesday and repeated its warnings about the economic damage a vote to leave the European Union would cause. The Paris-based group said uncertainty surrounding the referendum has already undermined growth and cut its 2016 forecast to 1.7 percent from 2.1 percent.

The bosses of Siemens AG, Airbus Group SE and GKN Plc issued a warning that a vote to leave the EU would endanger future investment and manufacturing jobs.

Airbus’s U.K. president, Paul Kahn, GKN Chief Executive Officer Nigel Stein and Siemens U.K. CEO Juergen Maier will share a platform in Bristol, western England, on Wednesday to deliver their warnings.

‘Less Attractive’

“The economic disruption and uncertainty that would accompany a ‘Leave’ vote would inevitably impact on long-term investment decisions,” Kahn is due to say. A Brexit would make Britain “less attractive,” according to Stein, with Maier warning the country will “miss out on fantastic future opportunities and the jobs and economic prosperity that go with them.” Their three companies employ a combined 35,000 people in Britain.

The campaign has become increasingly heated in recent days, with both sides deriding each other’s arguments about the fallout of the referendum result.

On Tuesday, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne attacked the assertion that leaving the EU would lead to cheaper energy bills as “fantasy economics,” saying taxes would rise instead. Brexit supporters seized on a report from Migration Watch, which campaigns for more controls on immigration, saying as many as 480,000 refugees who have fled to Europe since the start of 2015 could head to Britain after 2020 if voters opt to stay in. 

‘Steep Decline’

The “Remain” campaign is now trying to reach out to ordinary workers to show how they benefit from EU membership. In a fillip to its efforts, the Trades Union Congress, Britain’s umbrella labor body, released a report on Wednesday arguing that a Brexit could push manufacturing into a “steep decline,” with average weekly wages 38 pounds ($55) lower by 2030.

“For millions of workers, it’s the difference between heating or eating, between struggling or saving, and between getting by or getting on,” TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said in a statement. “At a time of continuing hardship, Brexit would be a disaster for working people -- for our wages, for our jobs and for our rights.”

The ICM telephone poll put “Leave” on 45 percent compared with 42 percent for “Remain.” The pollster questioned 1,004 respondents from May 27 to May 29. A simultaneous online poll of 2,052 adults also gave “Leave” a 3-point lead.

Poll Caveats

The findings of the phone survey were “interesting and unexpected,” YouGov Plc Research Director Anthony Wells said. It’s “very out of line in terms of other telephone polls,” which have been showing leads of about 8-10 points for “Remain,” he said.

“Suddenly showing ‘Leave’ ahead raises all sorts of questions,” Wells said in a telephone interview. He cautioned against reading too much significance into the survey: Firstly, it’s only one poll, raising the question of whether it will actually be echoed by other telephone surveys; and secondly it was conducted over a bank-holiday weekend, when it may be harder to reach respondents if they’re away.

Bookmaker Ladbrokes Plc shortened its odds on leaving the EU, noting “the sheer volume of bets for Brexit coupled with the latest poll movement.” Even so, its probability of a Brexit is still only 23 percent.

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