The Prime Minister made a good case for what would be a significant reformby David Goodhart / November 28, 2014 / Leave a comment
David Cameron is skilled at delivering set piece speeches. With the country getting worked up over immigration in the past few weeks—partly of his own prompting—he finally laid out his plan for reforming EU free movement in a calm and rational manner. A good days work.
His most controversial “demand” was that EU citizens should not be allowed to turn up without a job, as used to be the case until the early 1990s when freedom of movement extended from workers to citizens. Now about 40 per cent of EU incomers don’t have a job when they first arrive.
There is a danger that Britain will swing, a bit like the Netherlands did in the early 2000s, from being too open and too dismissive of public reservations about mass immigration, to having the political agenda dictated too much by a reactive populism.
But, this speech grappled constructively with Britain’s central dilemma which is how to remain an open enough society and economy, while showing greater respect for national social contracts especially in social security and social housing.
There were no great surprises—as expected he eschewed physical controls and caps, while focusing on the “fairness” aspect of free movement, in other words EU citizens like other immigrants will have to “earn” some of their social rights.
The four year wait for in-work benefits like tax credits was a bit longer than the two to three years that had been mooted by Open Europe (the key think tank in this debate) and others. But he made a sound case: an extra £8k a year for an EU citizen in a minimum wage job with two young children is a lot of money if you are coming from Bulgaria.
The unintended consequence of an employment policy designed to make work pay for British citizens, is helping make our labour market even more attractive than it already is to East Europeans.
What is being challenged is not so much freedom of movement but the principle of non-discrimination which means we cannot favour our own citizens in employment or welfare or anything much at all. It is putting certain aspects of social security and housing…