The UK’s Immigration Distraction

Do British voters hate foreigners, or merely freeloaders? That is essentially the question British Prime Minister David Cameron posed in his long-awaited speech on immigration from other EU countries – a speech that, though clever, missed the mark in terms of the debate about the UK's relationship with Europe.

LONDON – Do British voters hate foreigners, or merely freeloaders? That is essentially the question British Prime Minister David Cameron posed in his long-awaited speech on immigration from other European Union countries, delivered last month at the headquarters of the construction-equipment manufacturer JCB.

Cameron’s gamble is that voters do not mind Poles or Lithuanians operating JCB’s machines on construction sites all over the United Kingdom. What they mind is people immigrating to the UK to take advantage of its welfare benefits.

The speech was Cameron’s answer to the recent defections of two of his Conservative Party MPs to the anti-EU, anti-immigration UK Independence Party, which he fears could steal Conservative votes in the general election next May. But, as clever as the speech was, it is unlikely to succeed in beating back UKIP – and it leaves the British debate about EU membership focused on the wrong issue.

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