Almost on cue from my article imploring UKIP not to screw it up out came the headline that Mark Reckless had done his level best to do just that. If the headlines were to believe he had got up on the hustings and promised to kick out all the foreigners. Words like "deportation" and "repatriation" were used to describe what Reckless had suggested. Our attention was drawn to some poor hypothetical Polish plumber, settled in Rochester for years with his hypothetical kids in the local school, and the suggestion was that under UKIP rule this poor fellow would be rounded up and shoved on a boat home the day after we announced our departure from the EU.
To put this in context, hundreds of millions of people currently have the right to work in the UK through the EU freedom of movement regime, and many are currently in the UK. If we withdraw from the EU and opt to control immigration from the remaining EU countries this will beg the question of what we do about EU nationals already living and working here, some for many years. They range from my friend's French-Algerian grandmother who married an English soldier in 1946 and has lived in the UK ever since with French nationality, to the Romanian pimp serving time for armed robbery. There isn't any catch all answer. There is no obvious and clear point between those two extremes where one will be granted permission to stay and another will be refused.
The only sensible answer that can possibly be given is that the situation will be reviewed in more depth, a policy will be set and a legal framework will be designed to examine each of these complex cases on it's own merits.
Of course this would be a lousy quote for a headline hungry editor so you have to make the news, so it needs a bit of spin, and spun it was. Let's have a look at the actual exchange:
Q: ‘What would happen Mark Reckless if we left the European Union. What would happen for instance to the Polish plumber who lives in Rochester. Would he be able to stay, would he have to go back?’
Reckless: ‘Well, I think in the near term we’d have to have a transitional period, and I think we should probably allow people who are currently here to have a work permit at least for a fixed period.’
Q: ‘Forgive me, if there’s a Polish plumber who for instance has got a house, got a family, got kids at a local school, are you going to deport him and his family?’
Reckless: ‘I think people who have been here a long time and integrated in that way I think we’d want to look sympathetically at. But what we’d want to do is new people coming in [interrupted by laughs from the crowd]…what we’d want to do is to look at new people coming in and apply a consistent, Australian-style point system and the same to people coming from Europe as we do to those coming from say the Commonwealth, from Australia, Africa, India, the Caribbean. We shouldn’t have a discriminatory system which favours Europeans against people from the outside.’
Is that really the shocking quote a frothing at the mouth racist ready to tear families and communities apart out of pure prejudice?
To my mind it's an honest if ill defined answer to a very complex question which doesn't have a 10 second soundbite answer.
The only rational answer is that we will set a policy and assess each case against it, with citizenship, indefinite leave to remain or work or residence visas granted as appropriate, and denied where not appropriate. Can he explain every nuance of that policy at the hustings? No. Can he decide the outcome of this hypothetical future visa application with no more information than some hypothetical Polish plumber with kids at a local school? Of course he can't.
Mark Reckless gave an honest, rational and necessarily incomplete answer to a ludicrously vague question and a certain section of the media tried to make a story out of it by presenting certain facts in a certain way, the day before a by election. Fortunately in this instance they were unable to do so, but the crude simplicity of the attempt makes it a good case study of how the media do this. Often they are more successful.