Why Tim Farron, and even Nigel Farage (this time), are right

“Lib Dems are the voice of those who see a positive future in Europe” – so writes Tm Farron for The Independent continuing his unapologetically pro-European line in the light of the referendum result:

The look of wide-eyed, guilty panic in the eyes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove on Friday morning hinted at what was later confirmed: the Brexiteers who had schemed for this moment all their political lives had absolutely no plan for life after Thursday…

I fought a positive campaign, working with others, setting out an optimistic, open vision of Britain. But sometimes Labour seemed keener to give a bloody nose to David Cameron than to keep us in Europe, even though membership of the European Union is way more important.

For a Liberal Democrat, this is visceral. I am an internationalist, who believes we must work across borders to face the great challenges such as the world’s largest ever movement of people, climate change, the rising power of multi-nationals and terrorism, along with the arrival in the international labour market of a billion Chinese workers which has depressed wages across the western world. A progressive political settlement needs international co-operation, and it has been the EU that has guaranteed worker rights, consumer protection and environmental safeguards.

Aside from being right in his principles, this view from Tim Farron is also smart politics because Britain’s future relations with Europe are far from settled by last Thursday. That’s because there is a contradictory divide at the heart of the Brexit camp – between free trade and immigration.

The problem for Brexiters is simply this. You can have a free trade deal with the EU which also means Britain does not get full control over immigration, thanks to continued free movement of people. Or you can have full control over immigration but don’t get a free trade with the EU.

During the referendum campaign the Brexit camp were able to paper over these fundamental differences. But we’ve already seen the speed with which the divide is opening up, with Dan Hannan saying people now shouldn’t expect immigration to fall, Boris Johnson trying to argue that immigration wasn’t really on people’s minds after all and Nigel Farage just waiting to give them both a political kicking.

On this occasion, for once, Nigel Farage will be right: Brexit was sold to millions of people as being a way to cut immigration. If it doesn’t deliver that, people will be right to feel betrayed.

Yet negotiating an exit deal will require committing either to immigration control or to free trade (and the jobs and public services funding tax revenues that go with that). When even the Brexit campaign fall out amongst themselves, there’ll be plenty of room for pro-Europeans to make their case. We shouldn’t feel shy about doing so.

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