LibLink: Nick Clegg – a deal can be done on freedom of movement

Writing in the Financial Times, Nick Clegg shows how, as on many other issues, British politicians are wrongly blaming the EU for the consequences of decisions taken in Britain affecting immigration from EU member states.

Crucially, there is far more latitude for member states to apply restrictions to freedom of movement than is commonly appreciated. The Belgian authorities aggressively deport EU citizens who do not work and cannot support themselves. Under EU law, the UK authorities could do the same for EU citizens who have failed to find work after six months. Access to Spanish healthcare requires registering with the social security authorities and showing residence and identity documents. The German authorities, in an attempt to protect domestic pay deals, are tightening up access to the construction and other sectors by EU workers.

Several EU leaders have told me of their irritation that UK politicians blame them for a decision taken in Westminster, not Brussels: opening up the UK labour market in 2004 to workers from central and eastern Europe. They point out that the UK’s non-contributory welfare benefits, unqualified access to healthcare and absence of administrative residence checks, mean that the UK takes a far more lax approach than they do.

He goes on to argue that there is a deal available, offering the UK the control of immigration it demands and while in the Single Market.

There is an obvious solution: with goodwill and a little imagination, EU governments could agree an “emergency brake” on the free movement of EU citizens, allowing governments to impose quotas and work permits in response to unusually high levels of EU immigration (similar to the trigger in the Cameron package).

It is still not too late to pull back from the hard Brexit cliff edge. The circle of single market participation and reformed free movement can be squared.

For me, the government first needs to be clear what it actually wants to do with immigration, EU and non-EU. If it were to prioritise economic strength over nativist sentiment, then it should jump at this kind of deal. On the other hand if it were serious about the tens of thousands target, we should already have seen policy to achieve this with regard to non-EU migration.

Read the whole piece here.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • David Evershed 4th Jul '17 - 11:04am

    “Belgian authorities aggressively deport EU citizens who do not work and cannot support themselves.”

    Apparently this has resulted in less than 2000 people being deported from Belgium.

    There are 3m EU citizens in the UK.

  • Bernard Aris 4th Jul '17 - 11:11am

    I agree with Nick…

    Seriously, he is absolutely right.

    The Netherlands, under a coalition with both VVD and D66 (both Dutch liberal parties), in 2004 opened up our labour market to a limited degree (which was allowed under EU regulation), and we learned from the British experience; so when we had to completely open up our labour market some years later, we were able to cope better than the Blair/Brown governments (Labour!) had done.

    see for an overview of which policies each of the existing EU member countries adopted when Poland and 9 others joined the EU: .

  • paul holmes 4th Jul '17 - 11:20am

    If only Nick had ever been in a position to do something about this and so help create a more positive view of the EU among UK voters before the Referendum.

    As Deputy Prime Minister perhaps?

  • Peter Martin 4th Jul '17 - 11:41am

    Nick Clegg is partly right, but mainly wrong. Sure, we could get nasty and refuse social security and education etc to people who move here. But would we want to? What does the removal of “unqualified access to healthcare” mean? Do we let people die if they haven’t the right “qualification”? I don’t think anyone wants to see that.

    The underlying problem of the EU as far as the UK is concerned are the ‘ordoliberal’ economic policies imposed there by various treaties. This means that EU unemployment is much higher than it need be. So if we have free movement, naturally the flow is going to be highly asymmetric -unless the UK too is in a slump. This also means that the EU countries can only do well by being mercantilistic, or running very high export surpluses. The alternative is to be in deep recession.

    Either way the EU isn’t a good market for UK exports. Germany, for example, sells us more than twice as much as they buy from us.

    So fix the problem of faulty economics in the EU and both problems should ease considerably. Is their any chance of that? If German commentators on this blog, like Arnold Kiel, are anything to go by, I would say no chance at all!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Jul '17 - 11:58am

    Many of us on here and for a while , especially at meetings or in discussion, have said this more to people not listening !

    I have always liked and regularly agreed with Nick, as well as criticised him fairly too.

    Colleagues here are correct, he , and others should have done something on this issue, but it is the Blair and Brown governments , supported too often by this party, who got it wrong , applying rules that EU countries did strongly, hardly , at all in the uk.

    That, and Nick and his complacent attitude on the EU, in an otherwise good go at debate with Farage, led too many to be fed up with the complacency , the anti- EU mood thus growing.

    This country could have gone for associate membership , and could yet.

    But the EU leaders need to change.

    Guy Verhofstadt and Emanuel Macron are in one liberal camp, more closeness, the same old federal project. But at least they recognise some countries don’t want it.

    Christian Lindner is the ally of our country on this, in that he is critical of the desire for , ever closer union, and sees looser ties as possible.

    The fact is the game is not over, in the EU should change in a very original way it probably is n ‘t of the view to, by becoming more liberal, ie flexible, and democratic, ie consultative.

  • We’ve been told repeatedly by all and sundry that you cannot be in the single market without freedom of movement but now Nick Clegg says apparently you can. I don’t think he’s right.

  • @Lorenzo Cherin.
    The problem is that the Tories are not looking for compromise. It’s game over as far as they area concerned. They want no social ties with Europe and just want access to European markets. Even if the EU were to offer some sort of compromise it will probably fall on stony ground as far TM is concerned. In fact she will probably throw it back in their faces by making some sort of inane comment about it being evidence of how strong our negotiating position is.

  • Joe boiurke 4th Jul '17 - 1:08pm

    This issue of qualification for social security benefits by recently arrived migrants/job seekers has been raised by a number of countries in recent years including Austria, Germany, The Netherlands and the UK.

    … we need practical measures to address the pressures placed on our social welfare systems. Arrangements at national or EU level that allow those who have only recently arrived in a Member State and have never been employed or paid taxes there to claim the same social security benefits as that Member State’s own citizens are an affront to common sense and ought to be reviewed urgently.

    Cameron’s emergency brake was focused on deterring companies from using in-work benefits as wage subsidies for the overseas recruitment of minimum wage workers.

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Jul '17 - 2:07pm

    Theresa May is highly damaged goods and the Tories will not go into another General Election with her in charge.. Her main obsession appears to be getting away from the ECJ. I am pretty sure this obsession is not shared by the major City donors the Tories rely on.
    Everyone it seems including even David Davis is now accepting there will have to be a transitional deal. The most obvious such deal will be continued membership of the Single Market, including Freedom of Movement in a form which certainly not lead to net migration in the tens of thousands. My prediction is that the next election will be fought on whether we extend that transitional deal..

  • Richard Underhill 4th Jul '17 - 2:15pm

    As usual the word “deport” is used when inappropriate. This is about current circumstances. Barring someone from returning indifferent circumstances in the future is not intended. “Administrative removal” is implied. A ministerial decision is not implied. Please watch your language!

  • Sue Sutherland 4th Jul '17 - 3:05pm

    Peter at the moment we are letting people die if they don’t have the “right” disability and I’m ashamed to say this began in Coalition. Is it any wonder that people react by resenting immigrants? We have to help people who’s worse nature has been let loose by Brexit not just blithely carrying on telling them they’re illiberal.

  • Andrew T,
    We do require to sign up to the Freedom of Movement pillar, but this does not mean “unrestricted immigration”, despite some (many?) using these as synonymous

  • Bill le Breton 4th Jul '17 - 4:59pm

    I am sorry but this article was systematically pulled apart by @SimonFRCox in a 19 tweet thread this morning: Here they are:
    Clegg put all the myths abt UK’s options for harsher treatment of EU cits in one article. No EU leader cares 1/
    Myth 1: Belgium “deports EU citizens aggressively.” There’s no evidence for that 2/
    Belgium issues deportation orders. But nil evidence of how many are enforced. 3/
    But what matters is “what difference does Belgium issuing orders make?” Does it change migration patterns? Zero evidence that it does 4/
    Myth 2. Actually, this is deception. Germany is restricting *posthed workers* i.e. Employed in say Poland & contracted to DE 5/
    Myth 3. UK doesn’t check EU cit residence for welfare. In fact, UK benefits authorities impose much stricter requirements than in EU27 >6/
    EU27 auths accept registration cert / permit issued by migrn officials. In UK, benefits auths require up to date proof of right to reside 7/
    Clegg is right: our NHS & no ID cards *are* different from EU27. So what? Are we to change them bc of 1/2% of population? Daft. 8/
    Biggest deception: that EU would allow UK to have a “migration brake” that would satisfy UK nationalists & racists. 9/
    EU27 can’t agree what the EU Treaty doesn’t allow. If they try, an aggrieved worker will get the Court of Justice to strike it down. 10/
    EU law forbids economic protectionism. No “emergency brake” can deliver that. But that’s exactly what British nationalists want. 11/
    Cameron’s last “emergency brake” went down like a lead balloon with his right wing 12/
    UK’s basic problem: it can’t show EU27 migration causes *any* problems that normal Government tools can’t fix. 13/

  • What this clearly shows is that there is no political will from any political party to get those with the wherewithal to fast track into employment. if you really want to get rid of resentment one of the best ways would be to:

    a) Make it government policy to target unemployment down to 2%
    b) To effect that by essentially making work coaches in job centres do their jobs by acting as agents for the unemployed with perhaps financial targets
    c) to get rid of petty nonsense like the unemployed having to pay for stamps, fares upfront for job centre advertised courses
    d) giving NI holidays for all companies that take on people with a `plan for action` with perhaps a well-monitored 6 month job placement at NMW or above
    e) stating that the low corporation tax rate is also conditional when companies of over a certain size are compelled to take someone suitable from unemployment work coach lists

    This is a very difficult issue for Liberal Democrats as it would mean a) intervening in their psychological/political approach to borders ie putting British workers first or rather tearing down the barriers to personal sovereignty by matching jobseekers to the slack that’s already there b) effectively stating that being an aspirational or any other jobseeker in a top ten global economy with `relatively` low unemployment means something in the idea of the `enabling state`.

    It’s politically unsustainable and, in my opinion, immoral and illiberal to argue for an effective open border with the prejudice that ALL migration is good all the time without having a radical, innovative and pragmatic plan for action to get EVERY single unemployed person, all things being equal, into work within six weeks of signing on.

    If necessary sideline the civil servants and bring in the agencies.

    At the moment `work coaches` are no more than penpushers that sign people on. The JCP system is not fit for purpose as it doesn’t actually get people into jobs.

  • Bill le Breton 4th Jul '17 - 5:35pm

    And here is tweet 14 onwards:
    Queues at the doctor, or for school? Happens because *British* people move. Solution (say EU27) more Gov money for that doctor/school. 14/
    Every EU27 country is affected by emigration, immigration & internal migration. Country > city. In… Out… They cope. UK copes. 15/
    To use EU brake, UK wd have to show – to CJEU on a legal challenge – that despite it’s other tools, it can’t cope with migration. 16/
    Gov shd know brake is probably unusable. Clegg shd too. “Brake” is a sop, a trick, for nationalists & those who think they’ll compromise 17/
    Nationalists won’t compromise. Concessions are fuel on their fire, not water. Legalistic tricks feed their narrative of being lied to. 18/

    He concludes: “Clegg, stop playing games. Tell it like it is. Single Market means free movement. SMexit means serious harm to UK. That’s the choice 19/19”

    You all should have been warned by now that Nick has a weakness that this exposure of his argument reveals yet again.

  • Tony Dawson 4th Jul '17 - 7:07pm

    “Nick Clegg – a deal can be done on freedom of movement”

    I had always presumed Nick was very shortly to be free to move to the House of Lords. despite his propensity to make exaggerated and insubstantial arguments as highlighted by Bill le Breton.

  • Little Jackie Paper 4th Jul '17 - 9:49pm

    Bill le Breton – The basic problem is that the free movement we have lacks reciprocity. Put another way, if it was realistic for 2m+ young un/underemployed UK people to head to the A8 for wages/housing/benefits then we’d likely just have had a 95% IN vote.

    In the referendum REMAIN came frighteningly close to saying that the economic dislocations were a price worth paying because property-rich grannies can go for a sangria retirement. It may be that EU migrants (in aggregate) pay more in tax – so what? That’s like arguing that the workshops are going to Romania, but not to worry because French bankers will chip in on the benefits bill.

    As it is the migration is hopelessly asymmetric and the EU’s view seems to me that on welfare/healthcare etc the tail should wag the dog i.e. design everything around free movers at the cost of the locals if need be. It’s a classic case of when you are a hammer everything tends to look like a nail.

    Registration systems and the like are well and good but in themselves they don’t address the lack of meaningful reciprocity that is the core of the problem here.

  • Little Jackie Paper 4th Jul '17 - 10:03pm

    ‘Under EU law, the UK authorities could do the same for EU citizens who have failed to find work after six months.’

    This seems to be cropping up again and again – it’s nowhere near as straightforward.

    See also the below on Dano

    As I understand it the Belgian scheme is about more strongly enforcing their registration scheme (very happy to be corrected) rather than removing people.

  • We are fooling ourselves if we think some minor tweaks to the implementation of FoM rules would swing it. Most EU citizens here are workers or students and their dependents. The people who are angry about EU migration are angry about the core groups. Talking about implementing FoM rules more strictly validates such Leavers’ concerns without assuaging them. We need to make the case that FoM is good full stop.

  • Bill le Breton 5th Jul '17 - 8:38am

    LJP – I am sure you are right.

    And you also sum up well, ” it’s nowhere near as straightforward.”

    My purpose for chipping in on this thread was to give a warning about Nick Clegg’s “propensity to make exaggerated and insubstantial arguments” as Tony D precisely summed it up.

    People who want easy solutions to difficult problems fall for this time and time again.

    It is the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin and we Liberal Democrats are the distraught parents of Hamelin. 5 million of our 2010 voters locked in the mountain somewhere.

    There is no doubt that the principle strategy of our 2017 General Election campaign stemmed from the policy of the Party’s Spokesperson for Brexit. Tim Farron’s great mistake was to keep following the Piper when he had a mandate from the Leadership Campaign of 2015 to lock up the Piper and throw the key away.

  • Bill le Breton – An interesting list of critiques, the notable absence is the key one, specifically, the situation (the UK is in with respect to free movement) is primarily a result of decisions made at Westminster by a ‘sovereign’ government.

    However, what is also interesting, is that as we pull apart the “free movement” chestnut, and take account of “the UK’s non-contributory welfare benefits, unqualified access to healthcare and absence of administrative residence checks”, it would seem the UK implemented ‘free movement’ much more in the spirit of the original founding pillar than many other members and thus with Brexit (and the untangling of the results of free movement) we are experiencing something that other member states wouldn’t experience because they aren’t so far down the road…

    So Nick is spot on and given T.May has had 7 years (she was first appointed home secretary in May 2010) to do something about EU and non-EU immigration – specifically make our board controls and associated migration management and control systems fit for purpose, we do have to seriously ask just why can’t T.May and her government be clear about just what they are going to do about EU and non-EU immigration.

  • Bill Le Breton 5th Jul '17 - 11:01am

    Roland. These are the critiques of Simon Cox, which I note Joe Otten refers to in at least one of his own tweets, so he must be a worthy authority.

    “Primarily the results of a sovereign government”. Indeed Mr Cox is making this exact point. We shall not get the deal Nick Clegg refers to because the 27 will say, you don,t need a deal … It all results from your own decisions.

    Which is why he concludes that Nick Clegg knows this and needs to admit that it is either Single Market or Exiting Single Market. There will be no changes to the rules and regs of the Single Market. Such a deal is not possible. I don’t think Mr Cox is wrong.

    And one might have thought that Nick Clegg knows Mr Cox is not wrong too, so why say in terms ‘a deal is possible’ other than to try to infer that one is possible but other people are just too incompetent to achieve it.

    This is an approach that Nick Clegg always seems to rely on. Only he sees clearly … The savant leader. The Lib Dems were blind to their opportunities. Only he could lead them to the promised land.

  • Peter Martin 5th Jul '17 - 11:52am

    “we Liberal Democrats are the distraught parents of Hamelin. 5 million of our 2010 voters locked in the mountain somewhere.”

    They are more likely to have been at Glastonbury last week cheering for Jeremy Corbyn. But never mind maybe Vince will get an invitation next year and the crowd will be going wild for him instead!

    It sounds silly, but you’ve got to aim for something like that to have any chance of getting back to where you were in 2010.

  • Tony Dawson 5th Jul '17 - 1:14pm

    @Bill l Bredon:

    “It is the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin and we Liberal Democrats are the distraught parents of Hamelin. 5 million of our 2010 voters locked in the mountain somewhere.”

    As one who has been reminding Lib Dems of echoes of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” since 2012, I must draw readers to the present parallels with the tale of “Rip Van Winkle”. The Party has only been ‘sleeping under the mountain’ for nine years or so, not 20, but the extent of cognitive dissonance if we are prepared to wake up is still severe. Hopefully, it will be addressed urgently post-hibernation.

  • David Evershed 6th Jul '17 - 10:49am

    I would normally avoid comment about personalities. However, Nick Clegg was overheard on an airplane journey commenting on David Laws supposed lack of emotional intelligence so here goes ………..

    Nick Clegg is always worth listening to, makes interesting points, is articulate and is a caring person.

    However I have observed he has two weaknesses:

    1. Poor numeracy

    2. Fanatical about the EU to the point of having a blind spot

    In 2014 Nick had two lengthy TV debates with Nigel Farage about the EU. After the second debate a YouGov poll gave Farage 68% and Clegg 27%, a big increase on the lead in the first debate, broadcast which Farage won by 57% to 36%.


    So I add a third weakness for Nick …….

    3. Failing to read the writing on the wall.

  • David Evershed “Nick Clegg was overheard on an ‘plane journey commenting on David Laws’ supposed lack of emotional intelligence so here goes ………..”

    Oh no he wasn’t. He was referring to Chris Huhne. (The Independent in 2008)

    He also had a crack at Steve Webb. Very revealing about where he (Clegg) positioned himself: He reportedly said of Steve Webb, his energy and climate change spokesman: “He’s a problem. I can’t stand the man. We need a new spokesman. We have to move him. We need someone with good ideas. At the moment, they just don’t add up.” But he added: “We need to keep him in the cabinet. As a back bencher, he’d be a pain in the arse, a voice for the left. And we can’t move him before the spring.”

    It was the same Clegg N.W.P. who said to Cameron D.W.D. “If we keep doing this we won’t find anything to bloody disagree on in the bloody TV debate.”

    The electorate aren’t daft. They remember things like that.

  • “It is still not too late to pull back from the hard Brexit cliff edge.” – actually, it is still not too late to reverse Brexit!

  • For me Nick can do no wrong. He is right on the EU and as a liberal party we need to explain the truth and attack the Conservatives. We do not attack enough. May was home secretary for years and although we check passport data coming into UK we do not have a record of those that leave. Its thanks that we are not in Schengen that allows us to check passports. However May never controlled our borders. In addition to this we can use existing rules to deport people who are not self sufficient or in paid employment. Again the government did nothing about this. Instead it allowed the Daily Mail to set the political agenda of this country and blame its own failings on the EU. Nick speaks so much sense and so unfortunate he is not around to lead this party who have failed in tapping into a centralist mandate this country needs.

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