Prime Minister Theresa May has been accused of sabotaging the Remain campaign in the run up to the EU referendum by failing to publish data on the benefits of immigration in the UK.
A leaked document by the Cabinet Office seen by the Independent reveals how the PM, who was Home Secretary at the time, attempted to use her influence in order to hide the benefits migrants bring to the UK’s economy and National Health Service (NHS).
It is now feared by some that the PM, who recently triggered Article 50 formally initiating Brexit talks, will place immigration concerns above the national interest during EU negotiations.
The PM has been adopting a hard line on immigration, as she has pledged to cut net migration, the difference between those coming to the UK and those leaving, down to the tens of thousands.
Net migration to the UK in the year ending September 2016 was at 273,000, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Putting a halt to free movement is also one of May’s main aims for the UK once it exits the bloc in 2019. She did, however, admit on Wednesday that free movement will probably last until well after 2020 as businesses and governments will need time to adjust and implement new plans.
A official for Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood said in the leaked document, written on May 5 last year, that then-Home Secretary May would likely be reluctant to publish any upsides of immigration.
“Despite attending the initial cross-Whitehall meeting, the Home Office haven’t really engaged with this work at all – I assume because they do not think the Home Secretary [Ms May] will agree to it.”
It added that without a “political decision by the Home Secretary” the government could do nothing more than publish the fiscal effect of immigration, the number of EU skilled workers in the UK, as well as there “broadly neutral impact” on the public finances and services.
The document, seized upon by Open Britain, the successor of the Remain campaign, was written at a time when the Leave campaign was making immigration control one of its main pledges.
Labour MP and Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna said May “undermined” Remain by failing to expose the beneficial effects of migrants coming to the UK.
“An ideological Prime Minister undermined the referendum campaign by failing to make the case for the value of migration.
“She helped sabotage Remain by refusing to properly engage with the migration debate.”
Pat McFadden, Labour’s former shadow Europe Minister, also suggested the outcome of the referendum in July could have been different if only May had published the figures.
“This document reveals that even though Number 10 wanted to make a more positive case about the effects of migration, their view was the Home Secretary was so hostile she wouldn’t take part.
“Immigration was a huge issue in the campaign. This could have made a difference,” McFadden remarked.