I have received a number of comments (positive and negative) regarding my response to David Cameron’s suggestion of a block on Greek migrants in the case of a euro exit. Thanks to all those who read the piece and took the time to comment, even if they disagreed.
A number of issues have been raised in these comments and I thought it might be useful to group the common themes in a Q&A by way of a response. This will be my last comment on the issue as I feel there is no use in dragging it out. It’s clear Cameron was saying something for domestic consumption and, as opposed to it as I am, I think dwelling on it simply breeds further division at a time we’re in desperate need for unity.
The UK is within its rights to block immigrants from another EU country
I am not an expert on EU law but from what I have read, the UK does not have the right to unilaterally block the entry of citizens from another EU member state. The free movement of people is one of the EU’s “Four Freedoms”. Article 46 of the Treaty for the Functioning of the European Union prohibits the restriction to this free movement on the basis of nationality. Article 224 of the EU treaty requires any member state to consult with the others if it intends to prevent the functioning of the common market, even “in the event of serious internal disturbance affecting the maintenance of law and order, in the event of war or serious international tension constituting a threat of war.”
What the UK has the right to do is cap legal immigration from other EU countries. This decision can be based on “grounds of public policy, public security or public health.” In fact, Britain already applies this restriction to migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, both EU members. It does so on the grounds that it believes the UK unskilled labor market to be oversaturated. These restrictions are in place until the end of 2013 but the EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor recently asked the UK to end the restriction early.
If Cameron meant that the UK would seek to limit the number, he could have stated it clearly. He didn’t. According to reports, he indicated he was considering a ban. “I am prepared to take that risk and deal with the consequences at a later stage,” he reportedly told an MP when it was pointed out that this could infringe people’s human rights. http://www.ukimmigrationbarristers.com/blog/david-cameron-permits-uk-immigration-officials-to-prevent-entry-of-greeks-into-britain/
I suggest the reason that Cameron is not talking about restrictions is that UK immigration authorities would have to indicate there was a reason to justify such a policy. Certainly in the case of unskilled labor, there is no argument to be made. But overall, there is no statistical evidence that there would be any threat to the UK from Greek immigrants. Read this, it’s illuminating: http://lolgreece.blogspot.gr/2012/07/laissez-passer-open-letter-to-no10gov.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
To adopt this stance when there is a) no evidence to suggest there would be a wave of emigration from Greece to the UK and b) no evidence to suggest that the UK’s institutions or labor market would be threatened by Greek immigrants is pure populism. Cameron is playing to the right wing of his party and has one eye on UKIP. It is a cheap shot from the leader of a country that has over the years displayed more respect for values and human rights than most.
Greece has been warned by the EU about not recognizing qualifications from abroad. Isn’t it hypocritical to accuse others of discrimination?
It’s correct that there have been EU warnings to Greece regarding to its non-recognition of some postgraduate degrees and foreign qualifications. It’s deplorable and it affects Greek people as well as EU citizens since Greece has the highest per capita rate of people studying abroad within the EU.
It is a stretch, though, to compare a total block on immigrants with a failure to recognize some of their qualifications.
Greece, though, is not the only one being warned by the EU. In April, the European Commission gave the United Kingdom two months to comply with European Union rules on the free movement of EU citizens and their families or face a court case. http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/12/417&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en
The UK is one of the most densley populated countries in the EU and should be able to limit immigration
It’s wrong to look at this as a one-way street, though. Due to the entrepreneurship and adventurous spirit of its people, Britain takes advantage of open borders and immigration policies more than most countries on earth. A public policy study conducted a few years ago found there were 5.5 million Britons living abroad (with 2,000 people leaving every week) and that the only reason the UK’s population had not fallen was due to immigration: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6210358.stm.
You can’t have it both ways, wanting other countries to accept your people with open arms while blocking those who want to enter your country, especially if they are part of a union to which you have committed to legally. By and large, the UK has achieved a good balance so far and Cameron’s comments, apart from suggesting something illegal, are not in keeping with the spirit Britain has shown over the years.
I hope that we can leave it at that now and the relations between two countries with a long history of cooperation can continue without unnecessary antagonism.