LONDON — Theresa May “sabotaged” a government plan to explain the benefits of immigration to the British public in the run-up to the referendum on EU membership, according to a leaked document seen by the Independent.
The Cabinet Office paper suggests Prime Minister May used her political influence as Home Secretary to derail a government-wide bid to communicate the “positive impacts” of immigration on the economy and NHS to voters.
Immigration was a major issue for the public in the June referendum and the David Cameron-led government was keen to counteract the arguments being put forward by Leave politicians like Nigel Farage and Michael Gove about the impact of EU migrants on Britain.
The plan was to explain “the positive impacts that migration can have on the economy as a whole and on individual public services” and “more effectively counteract the arguments of those advocating Leave.”
However, a lack of engagement from the May-led Home Office meant the plan could not be put into action.
In the written report to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, an official wrote: “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 [May] will agree to it.”
It added that the pre-referendum plan could not go ahead “without a political decision by the Home Secretary.”
Reacting to the leaked document, Labour’s former shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden said: “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.”
May endorsed Remain but was criticised for her contribution to the campaign. The then-Home Secretary, for example, made just 29 media appearances in the eight weeks leading up to the vote. Cameron made 499 while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was lambasted by many of his MPs for his perceived lack of effort towards the campaign, made 123. The minor role she played in campaigning earned the description of a “reluctant Remainer.”
The prime minister has since taken a hard line on immigration. She has vowed to end the free movement of people to the UK as part of Brexit and continues to refuse to remove international students from net migration figures, despite opposition from hundreds of MPs and ministers in her own government like Boris Johnson and Liam Fox.
Business Insider has contacted the prime minister’s office for comment.
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