One of David Cameron’s former closest aides, Steve Hilton (pictured above), has written in the Daily Mail about meetings in 2012 when the Prime Minister was told his migration target was “impossible” while Britain remains in the European Union (EU):
You may be surprised to read that I believe the Prime Minister has done everything in his power to control immigration. The problem is that as the leader of an EU member state, he doesn’t have enough power to control immigration.
That goes to the heart not just of the migration debate, but of this entire referendum campaign and the decision we need to make as a nation in two days’ time.
In all the years I worked as an adviser to David Cameron, he expressed a very clear point of view about immigration, one that I share. We believe that immigration has enriched this country’s economy and society. As the son of immigrant parents, I feel this particularly strongly; I will forever be grateful to this country for the incredible opportunities it has given me.
And now, as an immigrant myself — to another country that prides itself on its open, inclusive character, the United States — I am doubly grateful for the fact that we live in a world where people can move freely and put down roots in places far from where they were born.
On many occasions, in public and private, I heard David Cameron set out his belief that precisely to protect this proud British heritage of welcoming people to our shores, immigration had to be controlled.
He spoke approvingly of the fact that in the Eighties, Margaret Thatcher’s governments got the balance right on immigration, and that this contributed to the important and unequivocally positive fact that no party of the extreme Right ever managed to win significant support for a xenophobic anti-immigrant agenda.
He deplored the fact that subsequent Labour governments lost control of immigration, and was determined to get a grip. In office, I saw at first hand how seriously he took this responsibility. He had announced a clear commitment — to reduce the overall level of immigration to the tens of thousands annually — and understood very well that the public would rightly hold him to account for such a clear promise…
…I remember the meetings on immigration towards the end of my time in Downing Street. Everyone around the table, in some way or another, was working hard to try to deliver the government’s commitment.
We were presented with analysis of the numbers of people coming to Britain through various routes, the impact of policy changes we had already made, and projections stretching into the future.
The news was not good. We were way off target; indeed, the numbers were going in the wrong direction. We explored various policy options — and I’m sure that process continued after I left the government in May 2012. But I recall very clearly one of the points that was made to us by the expert officials in the room.
We were told, directly and explicitly, that it was impossible for the government to meet its immigration target as long as we remained members of the EU, which, of course, insists on the free movement of people within it.
Now let me make one thing clear. The Remain campaign and its supporters say that leaving the EU will not on its own solve our immigration problems, and they are right about that. Leaving the EU is not a silver bullet. But, as we were advised in government, it is impossible for the ‘tens of thousands’ target to be met unless we leave — or negotiate an end to, or exception from, the free movement rules, which is an option Brussels has always refused to countenance…
…But the point is, whatever the policy, whatever people vote for, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the Prime Minister of the day is able to deliver it. That is simply not possible in the current, unreformed — and in my view unreformable — EU.
You don’t need to sit in a ‘stock take’ meeting at No 10 Downing Street to see the obvious truth: our immigration system is completely broken, and as long as we’re in the EU, our elected governments are powerless to fix it…
…all this is a political disaster because, as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson have said, when politicians make promises they can’t keep, it undermines not just faith in individual politicians but everybody’s faith in the democratic process itself.
In the 2015 Conservative manifesto, the Prime Minister re-affirmed his commitment to the immigration target he had been told was undeliverable. When I saw that, I assumed this was either because he was certain he could negotiate a solution within the EU, or was assuming we would leave.
For the Government to continue to make the promise today, after no negotiated solution was achieved and while campaigning to stay, is, I think, what Gove and Johnson meant when they described this as corrosive of trust in politics…
…It seems to me that here in Britain, and especially in this referendum campaign, our insular ruling elite is playing with fire.
By dismissing — or worse, demonising — people’s desire for control over the things that matter to them, and their perfectly reasonable expectation that the government they elect should have the power to deliver its promises, the rulers are the ones stoking the anger they decry.
Undeliverable promises. An ungovernable country. An untrusted political establishment. This is what the EU has helped do to our country. We can’t go on like this. It’s time for change. It’s time to leave.
Read Steve Hilton’s piece in full here.