Gisela Stuart tries to airbrush record on migration

by Hugo Dixon | 18.07.2016

Gisela Stuart is trying to wash her hands of responsibility for racial hatred unleashed by the referendum campaign. The Vote Leave chair told Progress Online that she played a vital role in tempering some of the more inflammatory rhetoric on immigration. The Labour MP didn’t try hard enough.

Look at three of Stuart’s claims. First, she says: “When the Farage poster came out, we were absolutely clear, and said so in public, that this was utterly unacceptable.” While this is true, Vote Leave had its own leaflets, posters and social media campaigns that were also inflammatory, though not as appalling as the Farage poster with its echoes of Nazi propaganda.

Here’s a map the Brexit group produced purportedly explaining the impact of a mooted deal for Turks to get visa-free travel to the Schengen Area, which Britain isn’t even part of. Stuart herself signed a letter that said the European Commission “is already extending visa-free travel to the border with Syria and Iraq. This is dangerous.”

Second, the Vote Leave chair now says: “I hope that on reflection, if you go back, that every time I talk about [immigration] I’ve been very careful.’

What about this statement made on 27 April? “Instead of giving an extra 88 million people – more than our entire population – access to the NHS I believe it would be safer to take back control. We should give our struggling NHS the £350 million we send to the EU every week.”

What’s careful about saying that 88 million people, the population of Turkey and a few Balkan countries, are descending on the NHS when Turkey isn’t remotely close to joining the EU? What’s careful about saying we should give the NHS £350 million a week, when we don’t even send Brussels this amount?

Stuart’s third defence is that she didn’t promise to cut migration: “I was actually criticised after one of the debates on the Left Foot Forward blog: ‘Watch Gisela Stuart refuse to say whether Brexit would cut immigration’. I refused to do that because this takes you to the wrong territory.”

It’s true that the Vote Leave boss wasn’t drawn on the topic in that particular debate. But what about this comment she made on 20 June?

“It is clear that it will be impossible to reduce net migration below 100,000 if we vote to stay in the EU. The prime minister must now make clear that he will abandon this manifesto pledge if he wins the referendum on Thursday. He cannot continue to promise to do something that he knows is impossible. Inside the EU we don’t control our borders and cannot control the movement of people coming here from the EU.”

If that wasn’t meant as a nudge and a wink that quitting the EU would cut migration to below 100,000, what on earth was it supposed to be?

If Stuart regrets the inflammatory rhetoric of the referendum, she should apologise for it – not try to airbrush her record.