Letter from the Leader special: The Party of In

nick clegg euNick Clegg today emailed everyone who had signed up to the Why I am IN campaign on the eve of the ALDE congress which takes place in London over the next 3 days. He took the opportunity to explain why he’d signed the Liberal Democrats up to the benefits changes announced by David Cameron today. The tone is very different from Cameron’s bombastic words today which seem to have confused agreed coalition policy with the Conservative desire to limit EU migration post 2015. Liberal Democrat members will no doubt want to make their views known on this. Also included in the message is news of a massive clampdown on firms which don’t pay the minimum wage, a move instigated by the Liberal Democrats. 

This week is the annual Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. Politicians and business people from across the EU will meet in London and I will be making it clear that the Liberal Democrats are Britain’s Party of In.

Let others flirt with the prospect of European exit in order to pander to the right. We remain passionately committed to staying in the EU for the sake of British jobs, security and influence in the world.

That does not mean that we are indifferent to the need to reform the EU. On the contrary, pro-Europeans urgently need to reclaim this territory. Otherwise we surrender this debate to the populists and xenophobes – the people who want to pull up the drawbridge and pull Britain out of Europe.

For that very reason I am urging all pro-Europeans to back the changes to the access European nationals have to UK benefits announced by the Coalition Government today. It is precisely because I want Britain to remain an open and outward facing nation that I am delivering these reforms.

Freedom of movement is a cornerstone of the European project and millions of Brits benefit from it every year. But years of mismanagement of the immigration system have undermined people’s confidence in it and this loss of faith must now be addressed. That is the only way to preserve this nation’s warm and welcoming nature. If we are to protect the right to move and work in the longterm, we must ensure it does not become an automatic right to claim benefits.

That is certainly consistent with arrangements elsewhere on the continent. Other countries such as the Netherlands already impose a three month residence requirement before you can access benefits like Job Seekers’ Allowance. The idea that European nationals have unfettered access to benefits across the member states simply isn’t true.

And nor should they. The EU is no longer a cluster of economically similar states, with small numbers of people crossing their borders. It has evolved into a 28-country club, with huge wealth discrepancies across its members and populations that are more mobile than ever before. It is entirely appropriate that different states impose their own qualifications and restrictions.

So under the Coalition’s changes access to out-of-work benefits will no longer be immediate. Newly arrived EU nationals looking for work will need to wait three months and they will not be able to claim housing benefit, at least until they get a job.

Benefits will not be unconditional. Visitors will be asked to show they are doing a certain amount of work, or else that they can support themselves, to stop people working just one or two hours and claiming that they are exercising their treaty rights.

In addition, benefits like Job Seekers’ Allowance will no longer be indefinite. EU nationals will only be able to claim for a maximum of six months, unless they can prove they have a genuine prospect of employment.

We are also clamping down on those who employ people below the minimum wage with a fine of up to £20,000 for every under-paid employee. That’s more than four times the fine today

The test is simple: if you saw these rules applied to Brits living abroad, would you think they was fair? For me the answer is an unequivocal yes.

These are reasonable and sensible reforms which bring the UK more in line with the rest of the EU; which build confidence in the immigration system; and which will keep Britain open to its neighbours. This is pro-Europeans taking back the debate.

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13 Comments

  • “For that very reason I am urging all pro-Europeans to back the changes to the access European nationals have to UK benefits announced by the Coalition Government today. “

    What, you’re urging people to support the changes because you think you “urgently need to reclaim” some political territory?

    Is there no chance at all of decisions being made on the basis of principle rather than political posturing?

  • Yorkshire Guidon 27th Nov '13 - 9:23pm

    Does the party want to deport rough sleepers then?

  • Stephen Donnelly 27th Nov '13 - 9:46pm

    The case that Nick makes in this letter is that the measures announced to day are really rather small and sensible. But that misses the point. It is not the detailed proposals that liberals find difficult, it is the tone of the debate.

    In recent week we have been subjected to mobile signs telling immigrants to go home, to announcements that foreigners may be denied treatment in British hospitals, and now a threat to end freedom of movement in the EU. Nick himself has ended the party’s commitment to an amnesty for illegal immigrants, and suggested bail bonds for visitor from the Indian sub-continent.

    All three main parties support these measures. and UKIP would go even further. Most liberals will somewhere have a Pastor Niemöller poster, they can be forgiven for wondering who is left in British politics to to speak out in favour of toleration.

  • “The case that Nick makes in this letter is that the measures announced to day are really rather small and sensible.”

    How are they sensible, though, even if they are evaluated by the narrowest criterion of national self interest? European migrant workers pay considerably more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Doesn’t it follow that anything that discourages migrant workers is going to be detrimental to this country?

    One might hope, indeed, that a liberal politician would judge things on a slightly less self-interested basis. But even on the basis of national self-interest this doesn’t add up. What we have, in fact, is a politician advocating measures that run against the national interest, purely because he thinks it will win him some electoral support in the short term.

  • Clegg says he’s a “whole-hearted supporter” of the proposals, and characterises the alternative as “benefits no questions asked with no strings attached indefinitely”:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/10478005/Nick-Clegg-supports-immigrant-benefit-crackdown.html

    Talk about straw men. Or does he really believe that, as he believed that the state pension was £30 a week?

  • Stephen Donnelly 27th Nov ’13 – 9:46pm
    Most liberals will somewhere have a Pastor Niemöller poster, they can be forgiven for wondering who is left in British politics to to speak out in favour of toleration.

    This poster, produced by Amnesty, used to adorn the wall of my office in Kingston Guildhall when I was Leader of the Council. Stephen Donnelly rightly describes how I now feel.

    The DOUBLETHINK in Clegg’s letter, just like that in Andrew Stunnell’s trailer earlier in the day, shows the depths to which Clegg has sunk. He is supporting Cameron’s UKIP-style racism and by default encouraging the vilification of Romanians and Bulgarians. Earlier in the month Clegg was happy to agree with the racism of Blunkett on Roma in Sheffield. He is happy to echo the rightwingTories in unjustified attacks on trade unions. Who will be next? If you are black, brown or jewish maybe Clegg will be coming for you.

  • @Chris
    One might hope, indeed, that a liberal politician would judge things on a slightly less self-interested basis

    And indeed one the great strengths of this party was to look at issues and policies in a principled way and based on the evidence rather than political dogma. On this issue and support for the bedroom tax it has utterly failed and that failure can only come from leadership – on that measure Clegg is floundering badly.

  • Nick Clegg’s scapegoating of immigrants is his most unforgiveable Tory collaboration yet
    OWEN JONES The Independent Wednesday 27 November 2013

    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/nick-cleggs-scapegoating-of-immigrants-is-his-most-unforgiveable-tory-collaboration-yet-8967617.html

  • Owen Jones in The Independent
    Clegg has now swung to indulge the Tories’ ever-more hysterical campaign on immigration, backing a crusade devised by the Australian spinmeister Lynton Crosby. The Tories know they are unable to win the next election on the basis of hope, of actually lifting the living standards of an ever-poorer electorate. So, instead, they will fight on the basis of fear and despair. Blame the immigrant, rather than the bankers, the tax-dodgers, the low-paying bosses and the politicians who have plunged this country into this mess. It is clever, it is cynical and it is grim.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/nick-cleggs-scapegoating-of-immigrants-is-his-most-unforgiveable-tory-collaboration-yet-8967617.html

  • Matt (Bristol) 28th Nov '13 - 12:24pm

    I was coming back in my car this morning listening to the Radio 4 serialisation of a biography of Mitterand. Quoted in this morning’s programme was a line attributed to Helmut Kohl in conversaiton with Mitterand in about 1988 or 1989 – something like … ‘we have the challenge to be the first [generation] to achieve peace with freedom’.

    Let’s go back to basics. Why does the EU allow movement across its borders and (what is meant to be a reasonable level of) parity regarding benefits and welfare? Because the overall aim is to bind Europe together in peaceful (relative) prosperity and democracy and prevent a) another European war and b) more European dictatorships or military governments that ride over the human rights of their members. Put crudely, we allow people to come here and give them a measure of entitlement (and by the way, enrich our culture and work productively in our economy), so that the nations they come from will share in our wealth, emulate our democracy and therefore not threaten our freedom or peace. They allow us the same for much the same reason on the understanding that even if they are impoverished now, should they imrpove in the future, our citizens would share intheir success; it should be quid pro quo.

    This core argument from the basis of the EU as a vital tool for the protection and maintenance of a collective European peace has been lost, and for all the rhetoric he spouts, I don’t hear Clegg putting this centrally in his public pronouncements. There may be room for adjustment of things like access to benefits at the edges, but this country does not and never did allow foreign citizens access to benefits to be a ‘soft touch’ or because we are ‘weak’ or ‘wooly’ or ‘financially spendthrift’. The UK did it out of hardbitten, longterm, political realism based on practical experience.

    In the 1980s, Spain had a miltary coup. In the 1970s, Portugal had a dictator. In even the early 1990s, the concept of stag dos and short-breaks in Budapest, Cracow or Kiev would have been unthinkable. Why has our reach, our experience, our opportunity for peaceful trade and enterprise expanded? Yes, because of the end of the Cold War in which other nations including the US and Russia were key participants, but also because of the EU. Why would we break up the EU witout anything to replace it? Because we are daft enough and weak enough to have forgotten what we have gained by it.

  • Matt (Bristol) 28th Nov '13 - 1:00pm

    I am now feeling that a key sentence in that last post should read:

    ‘this country does not and never did allow foreign citizens access to benefits to be a soft touch, or because we were weak or wooly or financially spendthrift, which seems to be the argument of the libertarian-capitalist right and of the tabloid press.’

    A bit worried that people would think I was putting those words in quotation marks into the mouth of Nick Clegg.

  • jedibeeftrix 29th Nov '13 - 8:49am

    @ Matt – “Why would we break up the EU witout anything to replace it? Because we are daft enough and weak enough to have forgotten what we have gained by it.”

    Fine sentiment, but which EU do you imagine we would be breaking up?

    Ever closer union presents us with a moving target:
    The pre Mastricht EEC (~1990)
    The pre euro Common market (~1999)
    The pre crisis eurozone (2008)
    The eurozone + ECB monetary intervention (2012)
    The eurozone + EU fiscal intervention (2013)
    The eurozone with taxation & spending powers (2015?)
    The EU as dominated by a post-sovereign eurozone bloc (2017?)

    Shall we join the party?
    Shall we [try to] ensure we are not marginalised as a non-euro member in a post-sovereign EU?
    Shall we leave the party?

    Arguably, the coalition is opting for #2, and I have no problem with this. What about you?

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