Immigration was one of the major issues in the referendum debate. The influx of several million Europeans coming to a country which had made no serious effort to accommodate its biggest ever increase in population changed the political landscape and enabled in no small way the decision to leave the EU.
Since the vote the immigration issue has appeared to become less important. In part this is because immigration from Europe has reduced in the last two years. Improved wages at home, exchange rate movements and a perception of a colder welcome have all did their part in making the UK less of a favoured destination for Europeans.
With the issue now off the political hot list the UK’s politicians have marched off to the Westminster trenches to fire the minutiae of Parliamentary procedures and personality failings at each other.
In the wider world however things are different. This month the UN met a Marrakesh to approve a new compact on migration, something which has received little coverage in the UK media. The compact is wide ranging in its aspirations and inevitably has controversial parts most noticeably in blurring the status of legal and illegal migrants. A short overview of the compact can by found clicking here.
Across the world positions are being taken. Trump unsurprisingly wants no truck with the deal, Frau Merkel is all for it; the populist versus internationalist fault line is once again opening up. In Belgium the government has lost its majority and is wobbling, the Eastern half of the EU has rejected signing up to the deal.
This creates once more the scene for an EU clash between Merkel who wants to push her immigration problem on to the rest of Europe and a nationalist Europe which says no.Once again immigration is climbing back up the political agenda, climbing at a time when economies are running out of steam.
For the UK little of this has yet hit the public consciousness. The government has said in principle it will sign the pact but what does that mean? Having seen immigration fall down the list of voter concerns the prospect of seeing it come back to life can’t be excluded.
In the Brexit mire where all sides look for reasons to open new lines of attack re-invigorating a touchstone issue is a real risk. If this does happen then the battle lines will be imported from a debate the UK simply is not taking part in.
Merkel and the Commission versus Trump and the Italians – the prospects are grim this won’t be debate but two tribes going to war. With mobile populations in the EU the UK cannot just expect to watch from the sidelines. Brexit aside the UK remains a favoured destination for people across the globe.
So time to for our politicians to do the boring stuff. Time to explain what we are signing up to, how it impacts us and what will be done about it, because if they won’t, the agenda it will be shaped for them. There are some imports we are better off without.