The Prime Minister David Cameron is to “get tough on immigration”. That, at least, is his claim. In reality, net immigration is at 318,000, of which a significant proportion derive from the free movement of EU workers.
The problem for the government is that in order to reach the PM’s promise of lowering immigration to the “tens of thousands”, they may need to somehow limit the number of EU citizens migrating to the UK. To do that, there will need to be a change to the free movement of workers rules that are central to the EU Treaty.
However, when we read what David Cameron said in his immigration speech (delivered 21st May 2015) we can see that he does not intend to change the free movement rules of the EU. In fact he said:
“I support free movement. It allows over 1.3 million Brits to live abroad; our students to study at great European universities; our business people to tap into new markets; our pensioners to retire to their place in the sun and it allows Europeans to come here – working in our NHS; teaching in our schools; setting up businesses and creating jobs.”
So, if he supports free movement across EU member state boundaries, what is his beef? Well what he also said was that:
“… I am not alone in arguing to change the system or wanting to allay those concerns, here and in Europe, that under the free movement rules, national welfare systems can provide an unintended additional incentive for large migratory movements.
That’s why I and many others believe it is right for us to reduce the incentives for people who want to come here. I set out the clear steps in our manifesto that need to be taken with respect to welfare. Changes to welfare to cut EU migration will be an absolute requirement in the renegotiation.
And once we have negotiated that settlement, we will put it to the British people before the end of 2017 in an in-out referendum.”
In reality, the Prime Minister is trying to hoodwink the electorate. He is doing so because, he is aware that the European Court of Justice, in the case of C-333/13 Elisabeta Dano, Florin Dano v Jobcenter Leipzig, have ruled that:
“The right of EU citizens to live and work in other member states – the principle of freedom of movement – did not stop states passing legislation of their own excluding migrants from some non-contributory benefits available to their own citizens.”
This ECJ case (involving Germany) makes clear that there is no need for the UK to re-negotiate a new EU Treaty to give the UK government power to legislate on the so called ‘benefit tourism’. The UK government already has the power to legislate.
The words of the Prime Minister may be designed to appease the electorate on immigration. He may think that ‘talking tough’ will fool some people into feeling content that he is making an effort to tackle his ‘achilles heel’ of immigration. However, his words are unlikely to convince the more informed European sceptics of UKIP, or the Conservative MP’s sitting on the back benches.
The truth is that the Prime Minister may fool some of the people, for some of the time. What he cannot do is fool all of the people, for all of the time.