Andrew Stunell MP writes…Keep free EU movement and end the dodges

I signed up to the ‘European project’ a decade before I joined the Liberals. It was an instinctive reaction to working on refugee resettlement schemes in Germany and Austria. Even in the early ’60s there were still a million “displaced persons” living in camps in western Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. That should remain a stark reminder to complacent euro-sceptics that spending time grizzling about straight bananas risks a lot more than a million or two British jobs and our country’s shrinkage to a world micro power. That’s what makes being the Party of “In” a patriotic duty.

But it would be just as complacent for Liberal Democrats to say either that the EU and its institutions are perfect, or that they have always kept up to speed with the changing relationships within it. And sometimes its one-size-fits-all clearly doesn’t fit all. That’s certainly the case with welfare systems, where the UK has a different starting point to anyone else. So tweaking the rules to make sure that the effect of the free movement of peoples for an English person claiming benefits in Holland, say, are the same as for a Dutch citizen coming to England is sensible and I am pleased that there is now full Coalition agreement on how to do that.

Today’s announcement, of course, had to be dressed up by Cameron to suit the Tories’ desperate scramble to defuse UKIP’s ticking electoral time-bomb. But I think Nick Clegg got it right when he said:

Anyone who believes we are better off as an outward facing nation should support these changes.If we don’t get to grips with these issues, pro-Europeans surrender the debate to the UKIPs of this world.

Making sure the welfare rules are even-handed, and that dodges like phoney jobs of ten hour working weeks at notional wages to justify benefit claims are ended, are a better way of safeguarding the right of free movement of labour across 28 countries in the long term than turning a blind eye to such abuses, however rare (Liberal Democrat view) or common (Daily Mail view).

As an embarrassing matter of fact EU migrants are much less likely to claim than UK citizens, and the ones who work, mostly work harder. And there are 10,000 Brits claiming benefits in Germany. But that’s another story!

I’m proud to be a member of the only ‘Party of In’ when it comes to Europe. But we are in with our eyes open, not trying to la-la-la our way past the critics. These announcements show we mean business, thank goodness, and live in the real world where elections are fought and won.

* Andrew Stunell is the Liberal Democrat MP for Hazel Grove, was a member of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into electoral conduct and is a former communities minister.

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12 Comments

  • jedibeeftrix 27th Nov '13 - 12:42pm

    “Anyone who believes we are better off as an outward facing nation should support these changes.If we don’t get to grips with these issues, pro-Europeans surrender the debate to the UKIPs of this world.”

    Clegg is on the money with this.

    “As an embarrassing matter of fact EU migrants are much less likely to claim than UK citizens, and the ones who work, mostly work harder.”

    Leaving aside the controversy of how one decides to present the statistics, this is irrelevant; the british taxpayer is not obliged to accept a collective burden regardless of origin.

    I don’t doubt that immigrants might claim less and work harder, I am married to one, but so they should if they want to be accepted into the community in which they live.

  • Andrew says –
    Today’s announcement, of course, had to be dressed up by Cameron to suit the Tories’ desperate scramble to defuse UKIP’s ticking electoral time-bomb.
    But I think Nick Clegg got it right when he said: Anyone who believes we are better off as an outward facing nation should support these changes.If we don’t get to grips with these issues, pro-Europeans surrender the debate to the UKIPs of this world.

    Hmmm. Orwellian DOUBLETHINK or what?

    I have a lot of time for Andrew Stunnell, if only because he went to the same state school as me ( he is still 5 years older than me even now!). I am not sure if Orwell was a set text in Andrew’s time.
    I recommend to Andrew and everyone else – ‘Why I write’ by George Orwell, still on sale in Penguin Books, Great Ideas series and only £4.99 if the Coalition has already closed your local library.
    On the cover of my copy it says, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

    Most people have some sort of idea about Orwell’s ‘1984’. Although I now wonder how many people have actually read the book.
    The following extract may be applicable to Andrew’s defence of the party leader today;-
    ” … in reality he is not omnipotent and the Party is not infallible. there is need for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts. The key word here is BLACKWHITE. … … Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as DOUBLETHINK. ”

    So as long as you believe that what Cameron has said and done on this issue is different from what Clegg has said and done on this issue, you can believe that they have both said and done the same thing. In fact, they have said and done the same thing, but as long as Party members believe that they have said and done something different, well that’s all that matters.

    So repeat after Andrew –
    WE ARE IN FAVOUR OF FREE MOVEMENT – WE ARE AGAINST FREE MOVEMENT
    WAR IS PEACE
    FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
    IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

  • Richard Church 27th Nov '13 - 12:45pm

    James, did you even bother to read the article? Here’s one big fact it contains “As an embarrassing matter of fact EU migrants are much less likely to claim than UK citizens, and the ones who work, mostly work harder.”

    A clear statement of the benefits of immigration and hardly pandering to racists.

  • Richard Church 27th Nov ’13 – 12:45pm

    Richard, you know that it is quite possible for Nick Clegg, or any other political leader,to make a long and detailed statement to cover his back in case he is criticised later, whilst ensuring that the headlines put across a point that will be transmitted and repeated over the media and will reach a much wider audience than the original statement.

    James Graham 27th Nov ’13 – 11:44am
    James Graham’s accusation of “pandering to racists” is difficult to deny. That will be the impact of the headlines, not the footnotes or contextual niceties.

  • “And there are 10,000 Brits claiming benefits in Germany. But that’s another story!”

    Surely it’s very much the same story.

    If for political reasons the Tories and their trusty Lib Dem backers crack down on EU nationals claiming benefits here, and other EU countries retaliate, all this posturing could have consequences in the real world. How would it be if those 10,000 – and comparable numbers from the other 26 EU countries – were claiming their benefits in the UK instead?

  • Stephen Donnelly 27th Nov '13 - 10:37pm

    Andrew it is sad that you have convinced yourself that we can face both ways at once on this issue. We cannot give political cover to an announcement that ‘ had to be dressed up by Cameron to suit the Tories’ desperate scramble to defuse UKIP’s ticking electoral time-bomb’ without becoming part of the problem.

    By supporting the tone of these attacks on foreigners we have given Cameron the political space to make them. We are no longer the party who unfailingly speaks up for the minority. We have started to abandon the liberal high ground.

    A very sad day for a liberal party.

  • William Nigel Jones 28th Nov '13 - 10:56am

    I agree with Andrew Stunnell on this one, but hope that our position is stated loudly and clearly. This is that we do not entirely agree with David Cameron (on amending the free movement of labour) and that it is not true that abuse of our welfare system is a major issue (that the number involved is very small indeed as Andrew Stunell says). However, if it is technically possible to stop the small amount of abuse then why not do so ? Noone can disagree with the enforcement of rules, wherever it is possible and sensible to do so.

    There are a number of ways in which we have abandoned the Liberal high ground and this is partly because our leaders and MPs have not made it clear when decisions made by the coalition are compromises (for example their support for the so-called bedroom tax and the bad changes to council tax benefit). I do not think the position on this one, as stated above, is one of these.

  • If Germany changes its policies for all EEA citizens, it will do so due to its own internal politics and the attitude of its own voters to claimants there (presumably the British press know about these 10000 Brits and others because this is already being discussed in German-language media) the and not as revenge for us failing to look after unemployed Germans in the UK.

    Certainly in Slovakia benefits (including to locals) are paid out as a percentage of your average salary for the last 2 years. If you have been there paying in for shorter than 2 years you are counting zeros for the missing months. Does the existence of this system provoke the UK to take revenge and have a special regime for Slovaks unemployed in the UK? No it does not, because things don’t work that way.

    “EU migrants” are not one single mass of people, and those who come to the UK to get on in life are probably among the people least likely to support paying benefits to those who work some minimum qualifying time with the intention of stopping afterwards.

  • I think there are two related issues being deliberately (?) confused in the political scramble for media attention.

    Firstly we have the free movement of people within the EU, which on the whole can be regarded as a success, to rephrase a key sentence from Andrew’s article “As an embarrassing matter of fact … migrants are much less likely to claim than … citizens, and the ones who work, mostly work harder.” I think you will find that this applies in practically any country, hence why the US for many years had a generally favourable policy towards immigration. The second is the issue of welfare and benefits and who is entitled to what, from whom and who pays, which can have an influence and potentially distorting effect on the movement of people. Hence I think it is right to open up the current EU welfare and benefit system to public scrutiny and debate, because we want people to move around Europe for reasons that are generally beneficial to the (EU) community.

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