I’ve got a radical idea on how to amend EU free movement in the UK: let’s use the conditionality that already exists!
Despite many Leavers insisting that the referendum was about sovereignty and taking back control and not immigration, it appears that the only thing that Theresa May’s government believes people want to take back control over is EU free movement. All you Leavers out there who disagree with the government on that and e.g. think the Single Market is important; you’re being AWFULLY QUIET.
Now it appears that many in the Labour Party and even one former Liberal Democrat MP, Dr Vince Cable (who fought against illiberal/ideological immigration policy while Business Secretary in the Coalition government) agree with the government that EU free movement has had a negative impact on the UK (evidence that even Migration Watch can’t produce, see below), and has to change or be scrapped. So UKIP’s view on EU free movement (EU migrants are to blame for EVERYTHING!!) now appears to be shared by others, despite the lack of evidence, which is quite frankly A DISGRACE.
But what NONE of these converts to the anti-free movement cause mention is that there is considerable conditionality to EU free movement that the UK HAS NEVER BOTHERED TO USE. And No Vince I'm not talking about transitional controls when new countries join the EU.
This is one reason David Cameron struggled to persuade other EU leaders that the UK needed special conditions for EU free movement. That and his utter failure to unearth ANY evidence whatsoever that free movement had a particularly negative impact on the UK. Even the anti-immigration pressure group Migration Watch when asked to help Number 10 could only come up with one local newspaper article about pressure on a hospital in Corby! (see article here and scroll down to the paragraph “evidence what evidence?”: http://www.politico.eu/article/why-we-lost-the-brexit-vote-former-uk-prime-minister-david-cameron/).
So here is the conditionality that EU law already allows countries to implement (except the UK doesn’t):
- Allow EU citizens to freely circulate in the UK only for 3 months and then require them (should they want to stay longer) to show they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student or have sufficient resources (pension, savings) to support themselves and comprehensive sickness insurance e.g. valid European Health Insurance Card enabling the NHS to claim back the cost of treatment or private health insurance.
Link to the official text on Free Movement: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/atyourservice/en/displayFtu.html?ftuId=FTU_2.1.3.html
It can’t be that bloody difficult given that other EU countries manage to do this! So Vince Cable, Keir Starmer, Andy Burnham etc, stop pandering to UKIP/anti-immigration sentiment and instead make some suggestions as to how existing free movement conditionality could be implemented in the UK.
Addendum: How Free Movement is managed in Belgium*
- Any EU citizen intending to stay in Belgium longer than 3 months has to register with their local council.
- The local council will only allow you to register if you meet the conditions outlined above about being in work/being able to support yourself and having sickness insurance. (I showed my employment contract and my registration with a Belgian mutual health fund).
- Without being registered, you’re not in the Belgian system, so ineligible for social security, unable to get any credit, unable to sign a rental lease etc. etc.
- After an initial 3 month residence card, you go back and get a six month card (assuming you can still prove you’re working/can support yourself etc.) and after six months you can get a five year residence card. Once you have a five year residence card, then you’re pretty much treated as a Belgian.
* I lived and worked in Belgium from 1998 to 2009 (long before I was an MEP) so I have personal experience of this process.