Christopher Howarth is a senior researcher working in the House of Commons. Prior to this he worked for Open Europe, as a Conservative Foreign Affairs Adviser and senior researcher to a Shadow Europe Minister
David Cameron’s contract with the British people prior to the 2010 election stated:
“Controlled immigration benefits Britain. Uncontrolled, open-door immigration does not…. we will reduce net immigration to tens of thousands a year, instead of the hundreds of thousands” It then added in a readable size 68 font: “If we don’t deliver, kick us out.”
Since then, if you believe the statistics (which we probably should not) net migration has barely ever been under 200,000 and last year gross EU immigration was 257,000. Migration at this level over long periods is a major driver of UK population growth putting pressure on housing, hospitals, roads, schools and the voter’s patience.
For this reason, the Prime Minister knew that he could not avoid action on EU migration during his EU negotiations.
It all started promisingly. In mid-October 2014, it was reported that Cameron was considering an “”emergency brake” on the number of European jobseekers after promising MPs a “game-changing” new immigration policy.” There was every reason to imagine this could work: not only are the flows to the UK exceptional, but the other three of the EU’s ‘four freedoms’ are either not complete (i.e: services) or have emergency get out clauses (i.e: capital controls applied by Cyprus): why not free movement of people?
Yet it all quickly went wrong. Sir John Major was dispatched the following month to make a case to Angela Merkel’s CDU and received short shrift. By 26 November, 48 hours before the Prime Minister was due to make his major immigration speech, in the face of German opposition and with UK think tanks unwilling to back it, he buckled and the “emergency brake” was removed from the speech.
Without the emergency brake, Cameron risked going into an election with nothing to say about EU migration – thus was the deception of the Government’s EU welfare policy born. The plan was simple: to argue that EU migrants come to the UK to claim welfare. Therefore, ergo, without welfare they would not come, therefore a policy to reduce EU migrant’s access to welfare would reduce migration.
Problem solved: the Prime Minister could now go into the last election promising that “changes to welfare to cut EU migration will be an absolute requirement in the renegotiation” – a policy so tame that even German Europhiles would agree. But the problem with David Cameron’s EU welfare policy is that there is no evidence to back up its central contention that migrants come to the UK to claim welfare. They don’t. They are driven by the availability of jobs in the UK, economic failure in parts of the Eurozone producing youth unemployment over 50 per cent, and simple wage disparities between the UK and Eastern Europe. Tax credits are not the talk of the town in Poznan – or were not until the Prime Minister explained to the European media how generous they are.
The deception was ramped up after the election with a twin policy of suppressing the actual level of welfare claims among EU migrants and manufacturing new bogus statistics. In November 2015, the Number Ten press office briefed newspapers that “almost half” of EU citizens claim tax credits – a completely bogus figure that earned the Government a rare rebuke from the UK’s statistics authority.
We now know, after a lengthy campaign by MPs, to force the Government to release the real figures, that the only 23 per cent of EU migrants claim tax credits over their first 4 years in the UK – far less in the first year. This is not a surprise as most EU migrants on arrival are single and/or childless (a point eloquently made by David Davis on this site).
If EU migrants do not claim tax credits, then tax credits cannot be a cause of migration and removing them cannot be said to reduce migration. But it is still possible that the Prime Minister’s deal has merit judged on other criteria. So here it is:
The agreement is for the first four years after an EU migrant arrives in the UK the Government can reduce their amount of “in-work” benefits. This policy can last for a maximum of seven years. It is unclear which UK benefits will be classed as “in-work”: some are exclusively for workers, some not: i.e child tax credits and housing benefit. The amount of reduction is phased out over the four years.
It is difficult to see that there is any utility in this measure, which is all as well since it may never come to pass.eAs I explained yesterday, to come in they require EU secondary legislation, the permission of the European Council, Commission, Parliament and Court. They may seem content for now, but are not a party to the deal and on June 24th they have no reason to help.
Besides, opposition to the measures may come from within the UK. Will the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords agree? Will adapting the Department of Work and Pensions computer be possible, or perhaps even cost more than the amount saved – as one Minister believes.
It is clear that the EU we may be trapped in on 24 June will be one where the UK will have no control over EU migration, even in an emergency. This is highly risky: we do not know whether the Eurozone crisis will continue or even intensify – with youth unemployment running at over 50 per cent in some EU states it is no surprise people have decided to move. We also do not know whether the over a million asylum seekers who arrived in continental Europe last year will stay there, once (after 5-10 years) they have EU passports. Nor do we know whether the UK economy can sugar the pill by continuing to produce jobs at the same rate and type as over the last years.
Cameron’s whole EU renegotiation, as far as migration is concerned, is based on bogus statistics. There will be no reduction in migration as a result of his renegotiation – he knows it, and the other EU leaders who hold the state building concept of free-movement to be sacrosanct know it too.
The only way to control current EU migration and protect ourselves and our democracy from ever larger and sudden flows is to vote to leave.