Nigel Farage on last week's Question Time turned the British passport into a prop, saying that with ‘European Union’ emblazoned across it 508 million EU citizens could come to the UK anytime if they so wish. He in my view was trying to build a fear that 508 million people would just turn up to our little island and sink it; and successful given by the fear on the faces of some in the audience.
So let’s take a step back and address some of the Brexit issues.
Will all of EU’s population just come to the UK?
This is where the distinction between will and can is very important. All EU citizens can (subject to meeting certain conditions – see below) move to the UK, just as all British citizens can (subject to meeting the same restrictions) move to any country in the EU. This doesn't mean that they will. Additionally, the receiving country retains the legal right under EU law, to refuse an EU citizen entry on grounds of public policy, public security and public health.
Farage’s fearmongering tactic is akin to saying all British and other EU citizens can move to say, France - how likely is that? Heck, the chance of every single British citizen leaving the UK at all is nil – ditto for other countries. We love our country – it’s a beautiful place. But our footpaths are not lined with gold and Brits don’t hold a monopoly on patriotism.
Indeed, despite Greece having seen a lot of issues, and despite every Greek citizen having the right to move to the UK to work or study, and yes claim job seekers allowance for a limited period while they look for a job (which if they don’t find they must leave the UK), UK is not overrun with people from Greece – no one says there are too many Greeks in the country.
So the assertion that problems in Eurozone will lead to the locals there flocking to our shores must be wrong. Evidence suggests that by and large people prefer to stay where they are.
I mentioned restrictions. What are they?
If any EU citizen wants to move to another member state, it must only be to:
· Live here self-sufficiently, whether as an unemployed person or retired.
(A student or self-sufficient EU citizen must have comprehensive sickness insurance – they cannot just rely on the NHS if they are moving to the UK for example.)
Now let’s imagine UK votes for a Brexit.
Brexit – what kind of terms will we have with the EU?
I don’t know. No one does. And that’s telling. Brexit supporters don’t know either – they certainly don’t agree on what kind of deal we will have with the EU, if any. So if we do leave, the majority of British citizens will not have the kind of relationship with the EU they wanted – obviously not those who voted to remain, but not even all those who voted to leave.
· Retain EEA membership like Norway. Norway must for the most part abide by all EU legislation though it gets no say in what that legislation is, and it has free movement of people. Why would Brexiteers be happier with this than what we have now?
· Let’s be like the Swiss some say. Switzerland also has free movement of people, but as neither a member of the EU nor EEA, it does not have free movement of services – which form a significant portion of UK’s exports and the reason why so many banks have their European headquarters in the UK instead of Switzerland. You may not like banks and think good riddance if they move to France or Belgium or wherever. But what about all the jobs that go with it? The investment, the taxes and the hugely detrimental impact to our economy? Yes house prices may go down – you may finally be able to get on the housing ladder. But will you have a job with which to pay the mortgage every month?
· A “British” model – response of a Brexiteer to Miliband asking on QT what kind of model we would have if we left. A response not an answer, but lost in the applause that followed such a statement of British supremacy The uber optimistic think we can somehow retain free movement of goods, services and capital – but not people. I read a good analogy of this – unfortunately as I cannot recall where I shall have to steal it without referencing the source. This blinkered view is akin to resigning from your job with the expectation that you’ll be able to negotiate it back for the same or higher salary, but without all the pesky bits you don’t like. Why would your employer (or the EU) agree to this especially when it’s likely to lead would lead to colleagues (other member states) demanding the same treatment?
‘They need us more than we need them’.
While stats indicate we import more from the EU than export to it in £ terms, as a percentage of GDP, the situation is quite another. Our exports to the EU are 13% of our GDP, whereas EU sells is 3% of its GDP. So a trade war is likely to hit UK harder as actually, we need them more than they need us.
Without the EU we have a spare £350 million a week – it says so on the Brexit bus!
Such a bald-faced lie, it’s incredible that anyone is falling for it. Dirty politics - say something enough times and that’s all people will remember.
Say you and I were in a business relationship where I gave you £100 a month and you gave me £66 a month. Would it be right for me to think oh if only I could get out of this relationship I’d have a spare £100 a month, or would getting out of the relationship leave me with only £34 extra a month?
Some leavers find this too confusing to think through. It really isn’t.
Furthermore, ask yourself, have those who are claiming we will have a spare £X a month if we leave committing to where exactly they will spend the money? Will they continue to subsidise British farmers the way the EU does? Yes we could spend more money on NHS, schools, housing. But will we?
Do you trust the politicians who reduce poverty simply by redefining it? Under whose watch we have seen so many divided families, bedroom tax, cuts in legal aid, NHS nearly brought to its knees, steep rise in homelessness and use of food banks. Be wary of handing even more power to those who have not proven themselves to be trustworthy.
Australian-style points based system
If I had a penny every time I heard this! Tell me more. What is this system? How would it work? How is it different to the points-based system we already have? Is it different?
The points-based system’s general premise is to allow the bringing in of skilled migrants only – so doctors, nurses, IT professionals etc. This is essentially an extension of what already have…but the purpose would be to stop EU workers who are ‘unskilled’ or even skilled, albeit not in the areas we’re wanting more people in, from coming into the UK.
Some thoughts on this:
1) Who will do the ‘unskilled’ work if only skilled migrants who pass the Australian style points based system are allowed in? British citizens - really? We want to live in a country where the roles requiring fewer qualifications, paying lower wages, are reserved for Brits because the only migrants we allow in are skilled migrants who are naturally not going to jump through hoops to get here with their professional qualifications, simply to work as cleaners, shop assistants?
2) If the goal is to create a level playing field for all, we are essentially replacing EU citizens who come in under free movement, with a combination of EU and non-EU migrants under the points-based system, simultaneously also making it harder for British citizens to migrate elsewhere – will this reduce net migration by very much if at all, especially as leavers say an exit allow us to let in more Commonwealth citizens.
3) Will we adopt the Australian system for families of British citizens? No income requirement at all to sponsor a foreign spouse/partner; a clear method to sponsor a parent/grandparent. If not, what will our family immigration policy look like?
4) In cutting net migration back down to below 100,000, which migrants will UK not let in and how will more of those settled here, including British citizens, be ‘encouraged’ to leave?
British Members of European Parliament are elected by voters in the UK – so claims that EU is not democratic is false. There is a commissioner from every member state, including the UK. Yes this commissioner isn’t elected by the people, but then neither is the British Prime Minister, and 50% of our Houses of Parliament is unelected – the House of Lords.
Much is said about the EU imposing laws on us. Our MEPs get a say in whether legislation is passed or not; if they don't turn up to vote, we cannot blame the EU. But just as MPs don't always get their way in Westminster, neither can they in EU. That is democracy.
And for those still not happy with UK having to comply with EEA legislation - which laws do you not like? Which do you like? Is it worth having the ones you don't like for the ones you do?
The purpose of the above is to request you please take further what we have politicians claiming – think ahead of what it means, what the consequence are, and how the claims on both sides, can be achieved.
Free movement is to be celebrated; a glorious option for British citizens to live, work, study, retire in any other member state - in the aim of reducing other people's rights are we really prepared to give away our own rights? Free movement and the EU, for many readers of this blog, has been a lifeline when Westminster didn't think we had a right to live with our family. EU is a safety net in many other aspects - you may just not have come across them yet, but one day, we or someone we love, may well need this safety net when the political short-termism of Westminster politicians tries to create more havoc in our lives, just as they have done with UK family immigration rules.
All said and done though, whichever way you are leaning, please do vote June 23rd.