With the outcome of the EU referendum predicted to be on a ‘knife edge’, there are growing concerns that David Cameron may have misplayed his hand. So, in order for the Remain camp to reclaim a lead in the polls, they need some solid media performances from names the public can trust.
Alas, they may soon come to regret Tristram Hunt’s appearance on yesterday’s Sunday Politics. During a tense exchange with Andrew Neil, Hunt struggled to rebut Neil’s questions on immigration, going on to accuse the BBC presenter of offering up his own version of ‘project fear’.
TH: In the long run, I think there is a really interesting question about the degree of free movement of people across the European Union, but my point is that Britain should be a part of that conversation. They should be involved in that reform and change, and if we’re not at the table then that voice won’t be heard.
AN: But the numbers would seem to be beyond our control because that’s the price of membership. Over the past five years, the number of EU nationals living in the UK has gone up by 700,000, and it’s now 3.3 million. It’s doubled in 10 years. Now as long as we remain in the EU, it’s surely a risk that at least another 700,000 could come in the next five years — or it could be even more
TH: … Or it could be markedly less. If we go back in time to when the British economy was in a worse position in the mid 1980s, obviously we saw large numbers of people from Britain going abroad to work in the European Union.
With Hunt maintaining the current figures are a snapshot, Neil went on to outline out the factors that make a reversal of numbers seem unlikely. He started with the million Syrian immigrants Angela Merkel’s has let into Germany:
AN: Why should we be at the risk of unilateral decisions taken by a foreign leader?
TH: But obviously there are issues about residency rights in Germany, in Italy before anyone could come to the UK and we still retain border control.
AN: If they become German citizens they’d be allowed to come here.
Then they moved on to the prospect of other countries like Turkey and Serbia joining the EU. While Hunt maintained that it was better to have a place at the table when these topics are discussed in years to come, Neil suggested this wouldn’t matter if we left the European Union as they wouldn’t be able to come in:
TH: The broader conversation about the total free movement of people is something that needs to be addressed. But first of all, we won’t have any say about that if we’ve left the European Union
AN: If we’ve left the European Union, they couldn’t come in
TH: Secondly, those countries that trade with Europe like Norway and Switzerland, also have to accept the free movement of people so there’s no free ticket on this
With Hunt going on to concede that he is yet to read the Five Presidents’ report on plans for EU integration, his turn on the show certainly couldn’t count as one of his more polished performances. In fact, it seems Tony Parsons may have had a point that morning when used his turn on the Andrew Marr paper review to explain why he no longer supports Labour:
‘The fact that they’re terrified to say anything about immigration shows how far removed they are from ordinary people.’
Mr S suspects Remain-ers ought to come up with a new line of defence next time the ‘i-word’ is raised.