EconoMatters

Cameron To Europe: Don’t Come Here Unless You Have a Job

The UK Prime Minister also wants you to leave your spouse at home.

Credit: Frederic Legrand - Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Cameron’s speech was riddled with name-calling Irish, Polish, Spanish or Dutch citizens as “immigrants.”
  • It is hard to see France or Germany, in their election year of 2017, agreeing to a new EU Treaty to please Cameron.
  • Cameron falsely presents Britain as an exceptional case with far too many fellow Europeans working and living here.
  • Under Cameron’s plan, workers from Asia or Africa can expect to get better treatment from the UK than Europeans.
  • Cameron proposals strike at the very heart of the EU’s concept of non-discrimination between its citizens.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has dramatically upped the ante regarding Britain’s debate about its future in the EU. He is now demanding that his fellow 27 EU heads of government agree to changes in the EU Treaty, so that Britain can discriminate against European workers in the UK.

That is going to be a very hard sell. But that doesn’t seem to faze Britain’s Prime Minister. Under his just announced plan, Irish, Italian, French and Finnish citizens will be expected to show they have a job in Britain before traveling to the country.

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.

Cameron’s proposals are a direct attack on the right of all EU citizens to travel freely and work on the same basis as national citizens across the 28 labor markets of the European Union.

Cameron, the bully

And if the other 27 governments in the EU do not concede to 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 has said it was an option he would back if he cannot get his way.

After his speech, Mr. Cameron also helpfully explained that his proposals would require changes in EU Treaties – or a specific UK opt-out.

It is hard to see any EU leader, and certainly not France or Germany in their election year of 2017, submitting a new EU Treaty to ratification, including by referendums, just to please the Tory leader.

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.” He also liberally described them as spongers on Britain’s welfare system – not that it is known to be particularly generous in the first place.

Get your facts straight, Mr. Cameron!

It’s not only that which makes Cameron’s most recent advances almost bizarre. Germany, Ireland, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands and several other EU member states have more EU citizens living inside their borders than Britain.

Despite this undeniable fact, Mr. Cameron presented Britain as an exceptional case that had far too many fellow Europeans working and living here. Never mind that all these people came here in response to the Tories’ very own economic model – which relies on a booming labor-intensive economy based on low pay.

Of course, Mr. Cameron’s real motivation was primarily political. He wants to respond to the increasing hostility of his own party to EU citizens working in Britain. And he is also trying to claw back voters from the separatist populist nationalist UKIP party, which trounced the Tories in recent elections.

In short, it is purely for reasons of domestic UK politics that Mr. Cameron put forward his dramatic set of proposals that strike at the very heart of the EU’s concept of non-discrimination between its citizens.

In fact, viewed in a global context, the only bright side in Cameron’s package of measures is that, as it stands, EU citizens working in London and other cities would be treated more harshly than workers who arrive from Pakistan, India or Bangladesh to join the 2.5 million Muslim community in Britain. Finally, an act of positive discrimination for the global south!

The boat is full

In his most dramatic demand, Mr. Cameron said EU citizens should “have a job offer before they come here” if they wanted to work. Administering this is going to be hard.

Think about that: Will Eurostar officials at the Gare du Nord in Paris or Easyjet employees in Madrid really have to ensure all their passengers have a job waiting for them in Britain before they can be allowed to board a train or plane?

As if to prove his moderation, Mr. Cameron is proposing to deny these benefits to Irish or Spanish and other EU citizens just for four years.

Cameron: Get lost, you Poles!

Poland’s Donald Tusk takes over as president of the European Council on Monday. Does 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?

EU leaders will sensibly not seek to over-react to Mr. Cameron’s dramatic demands. None of them actually want Britain to leave the EU. But in an EU context, the ice Cameron is standing on is getting thinner and thinner.

All of this is all the more puzzling as Mr. Cameron’s proposals are unlikely to satisfy UKIP voters and Tory activists. Moreover, British employers — who have consistently refused to train British workers or pay them decent wages — are unlikely to change their hiring practices.

A trap of his own making

Mr. Cameron may have put himself into 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 really meeting the demands of his party Euroskeptics, UKIP voters who drain the Tories of their electoral base as well as the anti-EU press. All of them broker no tinkering at the margins. They want a straightforward reduction in the number of EU citizens allowed in Britain.

Far from what Cameron may have hoped – that this speech would close down Britain’s internal EU debate – he has just opened a new chapter.

And the clear suggestion that, if he does not get what he demands, Mr. Cameron will campaign for Brexit is the kind of bluster and blackmail that other European leaders may find hard to tolerate, even if they will say little until the British election next May.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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