Colin Hines and Jonathon Porrit – Progressive Parties in the UK Must Now Address the Immigration Challenge Head On if Brexit is to be Avoided

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“What we’re suggesting, in essence, is that all mainstream parties should commit to something along the lines of ‘no new, large-scale, permanent immigration’. The word ‘new’ makes it clear that curbing future levels of immigration involves no changes for those already legally resident in a country. ‘Permanent’ has the caveat that foreign students are welcome to study here and workers temporarily to fill vacancies here, but only for a specified periods. We can no longer countenance the permanent propping up of whole sectors of our economy as a direct result of our failure to train people properly here in the UK. Crucially, we must rapidly train enough doctors, nurses and carers, for example, from our own population to prevent the shameful theft of such vital staff from the poorer countries which originally paid for their education.”

Colin Hines has worked in the environmental movement for over 40 years on the issues of population, food, new technology and unemployment, nuclear proliferation, and on the adverse environmental and social effects of international trade. He is also the convener of the Green New Deal Group and blogs at Progressive Protectionism

Jonathon Porritt has been a Member of the Green Party since the mid-70s, and is a Patron of Population Matters, as well as a former Director of Friends of the Earth and Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission.


Immigration was the dominant issue for voters in the 2016 Referendum demanding that UK politicians should ‘take back control’ of our borders from the EU.

Since then, however, Brexit discussions have focussed on the so-called ‘divorce issues’, with immigration apparently off the agenda. This has allowed Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens to keep their heads down on what remains the highly controversial issue of immigration.

A hard-hitting paper from Jonathon Porritt and Colin Hines suggests that this is very unwise. Public opinion on Brexit continues to soften, but any serious prospect of avoiding a ‘hard Brexit’ (which remains a critical priority for all progressive parties), let alone of rejecting Brexit altogether, depends on decisively addressing UK voters’ concerns about immigration.

Jonathon Porritt: “Progressive parties have already paid a high price, across Europe, by allowing right-wing and populist parties to manipulate citizens’ concerns about high levels of immigration coming into and moving between EU countries. All EU countries are now wrestling with this ongoing dilemma, with the majority of their citizens demanding that their governments should indeed manage immigration far more rigorously – in effect, taking back more control of their borders. Progressive parties are now duty bound to develop much smarter, compassionate policies to achieve precisely that.”

Colin Hines: “What is inadequately understood is that political discussions about reinterpreting ‘freedom of movement’ to allow nation states to manage migration is already taking place across Europe. Such an emphasis in the UK would strengthen support for a ‘No Brexit’ position, as the public is becoming increasingly uneasy about the present state of negotiations on leaving the EU.”

As the paper highlights, 2017 elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic have made this a pivotal issue for all centre left and Green parties, in a way that can no longer be ignored or deferred. And there are already welcome signals that both Labour and the Lib Dems are beginning to move in this direction as well, but they need to move far faster and far more proactively than is currently the case. As indeed does the Green Party.

Both Jonathon Porritt and Colin Hines believe that Brexit can be avoided, but that this will only happen when all three political parties address the immigration issue head on, reassuring people that we really can and must take back more control over our borders.


‘The Progressive Case for Taking Control of EU Immigration – and Avoiding Brexit in the Process’


Jonathon Porritt and I have written this report both to address some ‘taboo territory’ for the progressive left and many greens – and to start to undo some of the damage caused by the 2016 Referendum.

Background to the report by Jonathon Porritt

“Anyone who cares about progressive politics has to get real about immigration.”

That’s a quote from Colin Hines, a very good friend of mine. Colin’s work has been ignored and overlooked for far too long by far too many. In January, he published his latest e-book, ‘Progressive Protectionism: Taking Back Control’, and I think Colin would be the first to agree that it has not, as yet, turned out to be a publishing sensation!

His book addresses the four basic ‘freedoms’ on which so much of the EU’s philosophy and policy is based: Freedom of movement for capital, for goods, for services, and for people. As it happens, I don’t share Colin’s fundamental hostility to the movement of goods and services, but on both capital and people, we are pretty much in the same place.

This publication focusses on the freedom of movement for EU citizens. With his permission, roughly half of the raw material for it has been taken from Colin’s e-book, but I have re-ordered it, re-purposed it, and then added a lot of my own stuff. But I do urge you to have a look at Colin’s full protectionist argument in all its unvarnished (and much more provocative!) glory:


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