A country votes against the EU in a referendum in which rabidly anti-immigrant sentiments are aired by senior politicians. That is Hungary, of course, where voters have just rejected — with a majority of 98 per cent, albeit it on a turnout of 44 per cent, too low to make it binding — an EU plan for the country to house 1200 refugees. Now, perhaps, the Remain camp in Britain will stop trying to portray Britain as a nasty, xenophobic country out of step with European values and admit that actually we are really rather liberal in our attitudes towards migration. The only difference is that we had an in-out referendum on EU membership and no other country has yet done so.
If you want illiberal sentiments on migrants, don’t look to Nigel Farage — try Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister, who has spent the past few weeks complaining that migrants are ‘over-running’ his country, adding ‘They’re not just banging on the door, they’re breaking the doors down on top of us.’ All this over a plan to house 1200 refugees.
Of course, there is a legitimate opposition to the EU’s migration policies – that these are the sort of matters which should be left to individual member states to determine, not to be imposed from above. But that isn’t quite the debate which Orban has been trying to lead. On the contrary, he seems perfectly happy with undemocratic decisions being made by an aloof European bureaucracy when they are showering his country with handouts. It is just the migration which seems to bother him.
The situation with Britain’s referendum could not have been more different. Contrary to the Remain camp’s efforts to portray the Leave case as being racist and xenophobic, there is little to suggest that migration was the main issue for most voters. Migration from elsewhere in the EU only became an issue after 2004, with the accession of former Soviet-bloc states. Yet Eurosceptism was well-established in Britain by the late 1980s, when it was beyond the imagination that Poles and Romanians would one day join the EU. Had there been an in-out referendum in 1993, when John Major was forcing the Maastricht Treaty on his reluctant backbenchers the result would very likely have been the same as it was this year. That is because, all along, the issue for British voters has been about loss of sovereignty and of undemocratic decisions being made on our behalf by unelected officials.
To turn the Remain lobby’s assertions on its head, it isn’t the rest of Europe which should be pleased to be rid of nasty, xenophobic Britain. We should be pleased that we will soon no longer be pooling our sovereignty with the likes of Viktor Orban and his government.