Thursday, 23 February 2017
Immigration: who's really in control?
I'm not so sure that concern over immigration was the over-riding motive for Leave voters in the UK referendum on membership of the EU, but it was clearly important. Certainly, the Leave campaigners thought so, as they kept banging on about "taking back control" and, in particular "control of our borders"
However, like so many of the Leavers' claims, that the EU is entirely or even mainly responsible for immigration into the UK does not stand up to scrutiny.
Net migration into the UK form other pats of the EU is estimated to have been 190 000 (see here)in 2016 A similar number comes from the rest of the world, over which, with the exception of refugees and asylum seekers, for whom we have other international treaty obligations, the sovereign British government has total control.
Of those from the rest of the world, nearly half (actually 47%) are students. (see again above link) For anyone thinking rationally it is absolutely crazy to try to reduce the number of these (though our sovereign government is doing so). They bring desperately needed foreign currencies in fees and for living expenses, they keep our world class universities in funds, and by and large they gain a favourable impression of the UK which increases our international standing.
An additional 21% of this group have definite job offers, and where our NHS and care services would be without them Lord only knows.
Now to look at immigration from the rest of the EU.
There is much concern about the influx of job-seekers from the Eastern European countries which joined the EU in 2004. But EU reputations permitted transnational restrictions on immigrants from these countries for up to seven years. The sovereign governments of Germany and Austria imposed the restriction for the full seven years, the sovereign government of France for five years, others for shorter periods. Only the sovereign governments of the UK, Ireland and Sweden imposed no restrictions.
So for better or for worse, the profusion of Polish plumbers et al was the direct responsibility of the UK government, not the EU.
For those who would dismiss these transitional restrictions, or lack of them, as history, there remain in force at least three EU provisions which could be used to regulate migration from other EU counties should the sovereign governments so require.
A letter from a John Bloomfield to the Guardian reminds us that: Article 48 [of the original Treaty of Rome]states that “freedom of movement for workers shall entail the right (a) to accept offers of employment actually made; (b) to move freely within the territory of member states for this purpose.” Article 49 calls for “the achievement of a balance between supply and demand in the employment market in such a way as to avoid serious threats to the standard of living and level of employment in the various regions and industries”.
The same link shows a letter from a Pat Whitaker which points out that : Since 2004, European Union law has allowed governments to control movements of EU citizens as follows: allow EU citizens to freely circulate only for three months and then require them (should they want to stay longer) to show they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student or have sufficient resources (pension, savings) to support themselves and comprehensive sickness insurance eg a valid European health insurance card enabling the NHS to claim back the cost of treatment or have private health insurance. The UK is one of the few governments that has not implemented this.(my emphasis.)
And a week or so later a letter from a David Jones tell us that: Article 45 of the Lisbon treaty states that the right to freedom of movement of workers is subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health. Article 46(d) provides for the achievement of a balance supply and demand of labour.
- and asks: Why can’t these clauses be the basis of an agreement on controlled migration that does not throw out the baby with the bathwater of Brexit?
Why not indeed?
The blame for the distortion of the EU's influence over our immigration rules lies not just with he Leave campaigners. Regrettably politicians of all stripes, both here and in the rest of Europe, have for decades used the EU in its manifestation as "Brussels Bureaucrats" as a scapegoat for any policies which some of their electorates found unpopular. So our vote to leave is to some extent the result, not just of distortions in the campaign itself, but of several decades of political cowardice.
Mrs May's insistence, however, that immigration rules should take priority over access to the customs union and single market, is completely misguided and difficult to understand. I hope someone will make this clear in the House of Lords debates.