Brexit and EU workers’ freedom of movement

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Many pro-EU British seriously blames German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policies for strengthening the Brexit vote. Practically as well as logically speaking, it is indeed ludicrous. The UK government long criticised that the wave of xenophobia was the result of the UK’s own administrative ineptitude.
In her recent speech to the Conservative Party conference, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced that tough new immigration controls will be introduced against Europeans wishing to come to the United Kingdom in the future. They may even have to apply for a visa to make a tourist visit to Britain. European integration experts seriously warned that if this proposal is really put into practice, all hopes of the UK maintaining access to the EU Single Market will die as the indivisible four EU freedoms of movement, for goods, capital, services and citizens, is non-negotiable.
According to Denis MacShane, the former UK’s Minister for Europe, what this most recent incident shows is that UK authorities and politicians have an ill-conceived idea of how to deal with migration issues. They truly show themselves off as “Little Englanders,” ignominiously, and highly ironically, signaling the same fears as Kaczynski’s Poland does.
Among Brexiteers, but also serious UK-based analysts, this rather paranoid mindset manifested itself first when German Chancellor Angela Merkel was blamed for strengthening the Brexit vote in the June 2016 referendum. Her decision in September 2015 to let in one million refugees fleeing murderous conflicts, oppression and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa is supposed to have opened the floodgates for Brexit.
Denis MacShane adamantly argued that, that is pure fiction. He noted that undoubtedly, the main factor in swinging the Brexit vote was it gave white English men and women their chance to vote against immigrants.
Xenophobic politics, a key driver of the Brexit result, is caused by xenophobic politicians in one’s own country. Denis MacShane stated that just remember that, 50 years ago, a racist but very senior Tory politician, Enoch Powell, said Britain was “mad, literally mad, as a nation” to allow immigrants into the country. Powellism sunk deep roots very fast, even if at the time it was rejected by the Conservative Party’s leaders of the day. In recent time, this xenophobic spirit has manifested itself most virulently in the British tabloid media.
What hardline Brexiteers like Iain Duncan Smith, Torry MP, consistently overlook is that the problem of “too much” inward migration was by no means induced by the EU. It is entirely of the UK’s own making, due to misguided political calculations and an inept administrative practice.
Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group asserted that Brexit was triggered by UK arrogance. According to him, part of the problem stems from the UK government’s decision in 2004 not to impose tough restrictions on workers potentially arriving from the eight new EU Member States of Eastern Europe. It was a matter of grandstanding.
Mujtaba Rahman noted that the UK wanted to underscore its openness and deliberately did not follow the practice of other countries which is entirely consistent with EU law to restrict the freedom of movement for those countries for up to a 7-year transition period.
In this regard, Germany acted much more circumspectly. Jim O’Neill, a well noted economic analyst stated that Germany was one of the countries that put such restrictions in place, though with plenty of loopholes. Other countries gave up as EU citizens able to travel freely just came and got jobs. And yet, today Germany has 1.7 million Poles living and working in the country and a total 6.1 million EU citizens. These are twice the figures of Poles and other EU citizens living and working in Britain.
According to Jim O’Neill, where Britain did go wrong was not to copy Germany and other EU member states in managing these new arrivals right after 2004. The most telling episode in all this was then-Prime Minister David Cameron pleading with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to stop the arrival of Europeans in Britain. As he argued, they were putting big pressure on the UK’s housing market, schools and health services.
Chancellor Angela Merkel asked him to send her a list of how many EU citizens there were in the UK and where these problems could be examined. German is still waiting to this day. According to Anna Soubry, a pro-European Torry MP, there is a very simple reason for that: Neither Cameron nor his successor, Theresa May, knows how many EU citizens there are in Britain.
This is where the UK’s administrative laxness or ineptitude enters into the equation. Mujtaba Rahman noted that unlike all other countries on the European continent, the UK does not register new arrivals to have an Identity Card or require them to register themselves with the authorities in the UK or to apply for such a status. Mujtaba Rahman further noted that in fact, it was Mrs. Theresa May of all people, then acting in her capacity as Home Secretary, who abolished an embryonic Identity Card system in 2010. Thereafter, she also did away with the EU worker registration system that allows all other EU member states to count the numbers accurately.
Jim O’Neill noted that as the UK manages the difficult road to avoid a hard Brexit, it is not too late. At the Paris Motor show, both BMW and Jaguar Land Rover said they would relocate to Europe if they lost single market access. If Prime Minister Theresa May does insist on preventing Europeans from travelling to, or living and working in Britain, then a very hard Brexit lies ahead.
Finding EU law-conforming ways to restrict the freedom of migration to channel migration smartly, and in the UK’s national interest, the UK does not have to leave the EU. All that the UK needs to do is to take over the best measures from other EU member states.
As Jim O’Neill stated it clearly, properly managed, that is, managed at all in the UK case, labor mobility adds value to any national economy and its people. There is nothing to be feared from immigration per se. After all, in Europe’s richest nation, Switzerland 26% of the population is foreign-born.