Cameron To Europe: Don’t Come Here Unless You Have a Job, Leave Your Wife at Home and Expect Workers From Asia or Africa to Get Better Treatment
Irish, Italian, French and Finnish citizens will be expected to show they have a job in Britain before travelling to the country under plans announced by Prime Minister David Cameron today.
And a German or Spaniard must prove his wife or her husband can speak English before they are allowed to join their spouses working in the UK to create a family life.
These are two of the remarkable proposals put forward by Prime Minister David Cameron today in the most direct attack on the right of all EU citizens to travel freely and work on the same basis as national citizens across the 28 labour markets of the European Union.
And if the other 27 governments in the EU do not concede his demands, Mr Cameron said ‘I rule nothing out’ about Britain staying an EU member in his proposed In-Out referendum. While other senior cabinet ministers have hinted they would be happy to see the UK quit Europe, this is the first time the prime minister speaking en clair has said it was an option he would back if he cannot get his way.
Although Mr Cameron has said he was against quotas or caps on EU citizens working in Britain his speech was riddled with name-calling Irish, Polish, Spanish or Dutch citizens as “immigrants” and describing them as spongers on Britain’s welfare system.
In fact, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, Spain, the Netherland and several other EU member states have more EU citizens living inside their borders than Britain but in his speech Mr Cameron presented Britain as an exceptional case that had far too many fellow European working and living here.
Seeking to respond to the increasing hostility of his own party to EU citizens working in Britain as well as trying to claw back voters from the separatist populist nationalist UKIP party which trounced the Tories at recent elections, Mr Cameron put forward a dramatic set of proposals which strike at the very heart of the EU’s concept of non-discrimination between its citizens.
In fact, EU citizens working in London and other cities where the booming labour intensive economy based on low pay has sucked in so many workers, would be treated more harshly than workers who arrive from Pakistan, India or Bangladesh to join the 2.5 million Muslim community in Britain.
And in a curious message to the two million plus British living and working in other EU countries Mr Cameron said he accepted that if his plans are put into practice they would face reciprocal discrimination.
In his long awaited speech Mr Cameron discarded the straw-man of imposing numerical quotas on EU citizens which Angela Merkel, Manuel Valls, and Matteo Renzi as well as other national government leaders said would never be conceded.
Instead he is proposing to discriminate against EU citizens by demanding unique British opt-outs from existing Treaty rules. In the most dramatic demand Mr Cameron put forward he said EU citizens should “have a job offer before they come here” if they wanted to work. Administering this is going to be hard. Will Eurostar officials at the Gare du Nord in Paris or Easyjet employees in Madrid have to ensure all their passengers have a job waiting for them in Britain before being allowed to board a train or plane?
At the moment low paid work in Britain is subsidized by the means of tax credits which allows employers to pay low wages in the knowledge that workers get a supplement to their pay which otherwise would not be sufficient to allow even a moderate standard of life. It is a form of negative income tax and has allowed hundreds of thousands of businesses to hire people at very low pay. Low pay workers with children also get a tax top-up to support family life.
Now Mr Cameron is proposing to deny these benefits to Irish or Spanish and other EU citizens for four years. The Prime Minister appears to be targeting only European citizens not people coming from non-EU countries.
With the best will in the world it is hard to see this as other than discriminatory and as such open to challenge in the European Court of Justice.
Poland’s Donald Tusk takes over as president of the European Council on Monday. Does Mr Cameron expect Tusk, as his first task as political head of the EU, to tell his fellow Poles they will have to accept different treatment if they work in Britain from British and non-EU citizens?
Mr Cameron’s calls for English language tests for ‘ EU migrants. Their partners can just come straight into our country without any proper controls at all.’
This implies the spectacle of a Portuguese or Greek citizen having to prove his or her wife, husband or partner can pass an English test before being allowed to form a family unit in Britain.
Mr Cameron also says EU citizens but not immigrants from Asia will face “a new residency requirement for social housing – meaning that you can’t even be considered for a council house unless you have been here for at least four years.”
This is largely meaningless as very little social housing has been built in Britain this century. Most EU citizens in Britain live in accommodation rented from private landlords. But, again, this smacks of discrimination which is likely to fail the ECJ test. The biggest consumers of social housing in recent years have been poor immigrants from Commonwealth Asian countries coming to Britain to marry cousins already living in the country.
EU leaders will sensibly not seek to over-react to Mr Cameron’s dramatic demands as none want Britain to leave the EU. But Mr Cameron’s proposals are unlikely to satisfy UKIP voters and Tory activists who complain about the numbers coming into the UK, not whether they receive tax credits or can bring in partners who do not speak English.
Employers who have consistently refused to train British workers or pay them decent wages so that tax top-up pay credits are not needed are unlikely to change their hiring practices.
Mr Cameron may have won himself the worst of both worlds. He has put forward a set of demands which clearly imply discrimination against EU citizens and that will be hard for the other 27 member states, the EU Commission and Parliament to accept. But he is not meeting the demands of his party Eurosceptics, UKIP voters who drain the Tories of their electoral base as well as the anti-EU press all of whom want a straight forward reduction in the numbers of EU citizens allowed in Britain.
Far from this speech closing down Britain’s internal EU debate it just opens a new chapter. And the clear suggestion that if he does get what he demands Mr Cameron will campaign for Brexit is the kind of bluster and blackmail that other European leaders may find to tolerate even if they will say little until the British election next May. If Mr Cameron is re-elected and holds his IN-Out referendum the odds on Brexit have just got shorter.
Denis MacShane is Britain’s former minister of Europe. His book “Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe” will be published by IB Tauris early in the New Year.