Is Xenophobia Team Brexit's Final Hope?

03/05/2016 16:25

Immigration isn't something you typically bring up at the dinner table. It's a horribly divisive issue that causes even the most loving of families to draw fierce battle lines in the sand. It's essentially a perpetual duel between hatred and reason, and on that score alone it makes a pretty lame duck argument with which to spearhead an entire political movement.

Unfortunately, that lame duck argument is all that Brexiteers have left.

Britain's impending EU referendum was never supposed to be that simple. At first, the violently-Eurosceptic Vote Leave campaign vowed to rise above closet racism in order to present voters with a credible economic case for ditching Brussels. Campaign chief Dominic Cummings used to smugly declare that Vote Leave would come out on top in June's contest without even having to mention immigration.

Why? Because until quite recently, all of Britain's top Eurosceptics seemed to agree the country was actually better off thanks to the EU's freedom of movement charter.

London mayor and Brexit posterchild Boris Johnson warned last year that capping the number of foreigners landing on British shores would almost definitely lead to an economic meltdown. He used to openly mock people like Nigel Farage for trying to pin heavy traffic and NHS waiting times on immigration - and even backed amnesty for every single one of the capital's 400,000 illegal aliens.

And BoJo wasn't the only Tory Lothario flirting with Britain's foreigners.

Just last April, Michael Gove pissed off every Ukipper and their mum by arguing that Westminster's hard line approach on immigration was nothing but a self-inflicted shot in the foot. He told voters they needed to be more open and generous when it came to immigration, and attempted to soothe the fears of xenophobes by pompously declaring that "Britain is not full".

Fast-forward twelve months, and the Justice Secretary would now have us believe that millions of Albanian rapists and benefits-scrounging Turks will soon be living in our walls like mutant rats - ready to strangle us for the faintest whiff of a full English. What a turnaround.

For his part, Boris Johnson has been raving like a madman for all to hear that immigrants are destroying the NHS, stealing our children's school places and hogging all of the good prison cells. He's also got this strange conspiracy theory that Barack Obama cruelly wants to see Britain remain in the EU and flounder just because the US President is "part-Kenyan". But let's not even bother picking that one apart.

What on earth could have forced these guys to forsake their love of migration in favour of xenophobic fairy tales? In a word: desperation.

For years, British Eurosceptics had pinned their entire economic hopes and dreams upon the assumption that we could simply ditch those Belgian loofahs and dive headfirst into bed with rich countries like the United States. Yet in the course of a single week, unlikely power couple George Osborne and Barack Obama crumpled that argument into a tiny ball, set it ablaze and tossed the ashes into a bottomless pit of despair.

Rather than come back swinging, it looks like BoJo and the Brexiteers have meekly conceded economic defeat. After all, who can take the nationalistic chants of 'Economists for Brexit' seriously when you've got the heads of the IMF and OECD using genuine facts and numbers to tell us otherwise? Vote Leave never really had a fighting chance.

That's why we've come right back to square one.

Against everyone's better judgement, Brexiteers have now been forced to abandon all reason and double down on their hopes that Britain's festering xenophobia will ultimately be enough to defeat economic literacy come June. Politicians like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have consequently placed every last shred of credibility on the line by attempting to disprove their own fundamental beliefs on the supposed economic benefits of immigration.

That's a pretty risky bet - and right now, it's looking like a bet they're going to lose.