A passionate, last-minute intervention by former prime minister Gordon Brown is credited with swaying voters in Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom during the 2014 referendum – now he hopes to achieve similar effect on Britain’s future in the EU.
Pitching in to influence voters to stay in the European Union during the June 23 referendum, Brown highlighted in a speech on Monday the issue of Britain assuming the European Union’s rotating presidency from 2017, and how it could use the position to seek further reform of the 28-nation bloc.
Brown suggested a reform agenda he hopes will assuage anti-EU feelings in Britain. It included 500,000 new jobs for Britain, lower energy bills and more energy security, action against tax havens, action against terrorism, help for communities affected by immigration and stronger protection for workers.
Critics were unsure if the David Cameron government had signed up to Brown’s reform agenda, and insisted there was no guarantee he would have the same influence on voters as he did during the Scotland independence referendum.
Brown’s intervention was part of a relaunch by the “Remain in EU” camp that faces increasing support for the Vote Leave camp, primarily because of the latter’s focus on immigration from the within the EU, which Britain is unable to stop due to the “free movement” principle. The pound has continued to fall in the face of Brexit fears.
Brown and senior Labour leader Hilary Benn downplayed increased immigration predictions if Britain remained in the EU. Vote Leave leader Boris Johnson countered by reiterating that Britain is powerless to restrict immigration from within the EU.
Brown said: “Norway, outside the European Union, has a higher rate of migration. Switzerland, outside the EU, has a higher rate of migration…The real problem we are dealing with, and the biggest problem, is illegal immigration.
“When you saw these Albanians coming into the country, that wasn’t Europeans trying to get in by right. That was illegal immigrants driven by gang masters, driven by traffickers, criminal gangs.
“That is the heart of the future problem. If you talk to an American, if you talk to an Indian, if you talk to people in Europe - it is illegal immigration that is the problem that they are most worried about,” he said.