Daniel Kawczynski is the Prime Minister’s adviser on the Central and Eastern European Diaspora in the UK, and is MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham.
In every opinion poll, immigration is cited by the British people as a major issue for the Government to resolve. The British people are sending a strong message to the Government that they believe there is too much immigration coming from the European Union (EU). The implication of this message is that they want the Government to negotiate a change from one of the core EU principles – namely, the free movement of people within the Union. How far this will go only time will tell. For now, we can say at least that our people are giving David Cameron a mandate to raise this issue with his fellow leaders in the run up to the election and, if re-elected, beyond in the renegotiations that will take place prior to the promised referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2017.
Let me be clear that I fully support the Prime Minister in taking a tough stance in his negotiations with the EU and wish him every success. However, we need to spend a lot more time explaining the benefits of free movement both into and out of the UK. I believe we must challenge some of the stereotypes that UKIP and some in the media like to conjure up and exaggerate – such as that of the benefit scrounger coming here to abuse the system.
The reality is that the vast majority of EU immigrants are here to work and earn a living. What must be highlighted is the large number of very hard-working people who have come to the UK from Eastern Europe. They have an incredible work ethic and do some of the most back-breaking and demanding jobs in industries such as agriculture and tourism. We all know of the Polish plumber, but there are also many highly skilled technicians, architects, doctors, nurses and accountants, to name but a few.
I had the pleasure of meeting with the Polish Professionals in London Association recently and learnt first hand about some of the tremendous contributions being made by young, highly skilled and educated people working in the City and beyond. Many of these people have had their education and University fully financed by the Polish state and are now here in UK working and paying their taxes.
However, while it is important to highlight the benefits of a successful, open economy, it is absolutely vital that we protect our welfare system from abuse, and I am delighted that the Government has taken decisive action to do so. All European Economic Area (EEA) jobseekers now have to wait three months before they can claim benefits, ensuring that only people who have a clear commitment to the UK and plan to contribute to the economy have access to the system. These benefits will now be cut off after those three months if they do not have a realistic chance of getting a job.
In addition, a more robust Habitual Residence Test has been introduced and new migrant jobseekers from the EEA are no longer able to receive Housing Benefit. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has made clear that welfare reform will be an absolute requirement in any renegotiations with the European Union. Furthermore, under Conservative proposals, EU workers will not get any in-work benefits or access to social housing until they have been in the UK for four years. Crucially, they will not be able to receive Child Benefit or Tax Credits for children living elsewhere in Europe, no matter how long they have paid taxes in the UK. As part of this, EU jobseekers will no longer be supported by UK taxpayers and will be removed if they are not in a job within six months.
Together with other measures, this will deliver the toughest system on welfare for EU migrants anywhere in Europe. For those that doubt the viability or legality of these reforms, the European Court of Justice has recently backed Germany in its restriction of benefits to new migrants. So this can be done, and this decision supports the Conservative view that people should not be able to come to this country for the purpose of claiming benefits – unlike the free-for-all we saw under the previous government.
We will always be a magnet for skilled workers in the EU, especially given how well our economy is doing compared to the rest of the EU: strong economies are always going to attract others. In addition, we are one of only two countries within the EU where English is spoken as the main language. Our Polish friends are attracted to this country because we have exported this language internationally and they learn it at school and understand it.
They also view us as a very sophisticated, decent and fair society. We should be celebrating some of the tremendous contributions these people are making to our country and taking on those who seek to fan resentment over immigration. It is worth noting that Poles have set up over 26 thousands companies in the UK. In previous years I have spoken about the Polish 303 Squadron which performed so exceptionally in the Battle of Britain. I have also spoken of the Polish code breakers at Bletchley Park who helped break the Enigma codes. Today we can speak of a new generation of Poles helping the UK in different ways whether it is on the farm, in banks, hospitals, construction sites or law firms.
For me, the free movement of people within the EU is very important because I do not want to see any restriction posed on our own citizens. Over two million British citizens have decided to leave our country and move to many different countries around the EU. They are not only retiring to Spain, but in increasing numbers many young Britons are emigrating to new emerging countries in EU and setting up companies there.
Any fundamental change in the free movement of people could have an impact on these Britons being able to move within the EU – and that would be a very retrograde step. Only the Prime Minister has the platform and authority to share these important principles with the British people and he needs to start as soon as possible. This is an argument we can win by leading with a positive message. Whilst I am pleased and remain hopeful that the majority of the British people strongly oppose those who seek to pull us out of the EU, I am equally sure that we will only start to build a genuine consensus of the importance of staying in when the Prime Minister explains in detail what the advantages are.