LibLink: Nick Clegg: Slam the door on EU migrants and it is Britain that will get hurt

There are many Liberal Democrats, myself included, who feel distinctly uneasy about the changes that the Coalition has made to EU benefits changes, agreed to by Nick Clegg. My personal view is that while these changes save the country a very small amount of money, tackling a problem that doesn’t really exist, we lose a lot more by ceding ground to UKIP and the Tory right.

From Nick’s point of view, though, he feels that he’s agreed to it to make the system fairer and acceptable to British taxpayers in the current climate. He’s fine with free movement around the EU, but wants each country to be able to set its own limits on what people are entitled to if they fall on hard times.

He’s written an article in today’s Sunday Times in which he talks through the changes, why he’s agreed to them and why he will go no further.

First of all, he tackles the idea of ceding ground to the right. We are not like them is the undercurrent of what he’s saying:

Occasionally in coalition both parties want to do the same thing, but for polar opposite reasons. Tightening the access EU migrants have to UK benefits is one of those instances. Many in the Conservative party support these reforms because they want to edge out of Europe. My party, the Liberal Democrats, does so because we want to stay in.

More specifically, we do so because this is the surest way to protect an open European single market, which will be critical for the UK’s prosperity and growth. The ability of Europeans to come and work here — and equally of Britons to move abroad — is a defining feature of our modern, outward-facing economy. But, as they stand, the arrangements are open to abuse and have lost people’s trust.

He’s trying to forge a unique Liberal Democrat identity on this like he tried to do on the thing we’re not supposed to call the Bedroom Tax. There has never been any doubt that Lib Dems and Tories have different motivations on that. Liberal Democrats look at it as making sure that the families who are cramped into social housing that’s too small for their needs can have a chance of somewhere bigger. Tories don’t have that level of understanding or caring, viewing the bottom line alone. It is difficult to defend something that many consider indefensible in principle, though.

But back to his piece. This is what he says about why he signed up to the benefit changes:

These are sensible and reasonable reforms that will help preserve the UK’s open and welcoming nature. They may be supported by anti-Europeans, but in my view they are pro-European, bringing us more in line with our neighbours. Countries such as Holland already impose a three-month residence requirement before some benefits can be accessed. And it is entirely appropriate that states impose their own qualifications and restrictions. 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 among its members, and populations that are more mobile than ever before.

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

And then on to his line in the sand:

But this is where we draw the line. Talk of arbitrary caps on the number of EU nationals is as pointless as it is distracting. For a start, it would be illegal. And I hardly think the millions of British citizens living in other parts of Europe would thank the British government for starting this kind of tit-for-tat retaliation. What would we say if the Spanish government tried to set an equivalent cap on the many Britons living within its borders? Who would get to stay and who would be kicked out?

He paints a grim picture of what would happen if we set too many limits:

What would happen if tonight every European living in the UK boarded a ship or plane and went home? Are we really that keen to see the back of German lawyers, Dutch accountants or Finnish engineers? Do we want the NHS to fall over and the City of London to grind to a halt?

He concludes by saying that the debate in British politics is polarised not by right and left, but by isolationist and internationalist. He puts the Liberal Democrats firmly in the internationalist camp.

The biggest dividing line in politics today is not between right or left, government or opposition. It’s a decision about whether our country is open or closed. I believe this country is at its best when it faces outwards and remains engaged in the world. We have been a trading nation for centuries and our openness remains the key to our prosperity. A strong and leading Britain does not pull up its drawbridge. To ensure things stay that way, we are striking the right balance between rights and responsibilities in the EU.

He’s taking a risk here. The people who are most likely to vote for us may well have preferred if he had drawn the line a bit more on the internationalist side. I think that the case he’s setting out is coherent and clear, but my view is that if someone is without work and needs a temporary bit of help from the state to feed and house themselves, then they should have it regardless of where they come from. Some of you will think that’s unreasonable and that I’m just being a bleeding heart liberal.

It has not been easy for Nick to forge a credible, distinct line on these issues in the face of a hostile media and political culture. Time will tell whether he has done enough to keep us, and with us an internationalist, outward-looking perspective, in the game.

You can read the whole article here. (£)

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in LibLink.
Advert

41 Comments

  • “… my view is that if someone is without work and needs a temporary bit of help from the state to feed and house themselves, then they should have it regardless of where they come from. Some of you will think that’s unreasonable and that I’m just being a bleeding heart liberal.”

    Some of us may actually think that migrant workers from the EU are of economic benefit to this country, and that to enable them to survive while they seek work is an act of enlightened self-interest. Conversely, discouraging migrant workers by raising the prospect of them being starved back home if they can’t immediately find work, may not “save the country a very small amount of money” at all, but may lose the country money.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 22nd Dec '13 - 10:24am

    Well, I think both I in my article and Nick in his draw attention to the facts that so called “benefit tourism” is rare and that immigrants benefit us – and, logically, if they weren’t there, it would harm us. So, I’m not quite sure what your point is.

  • And am I the only person who is uncomfortable with the racial and social characteristics that Nick Clegg has chosen to highlight the ‘desirable’ side of immigration – “German lawyers, Dutch accountants or Finnish engineers”?

  • This is an absolute classic illustration of why Nick Clegg has a tin ear as far as political discourse goes in this country. And I say that as someone who overall is a big defender of him as leader. Where we have lost voters most of all has been in the lower income groups. This is precisely where this notion that EU immigration is good for the UK has zero traction, in fact it is box office poison.

    “The ability of Europeans to come and work here — and equally of Britons to move abroad — is a defining feature of our modern, outward-facing economy.”

    And this free flow of workers into the UK is main reason why there is a crisis in terms of lack of wage increases and a collapse in living standards, especially at the lower end of the skills spectrum, because of a massive and continuing increase in the supply of labour at the going rate. Employers don’t need to increase wages because they can get all the workers they want without doing so.

    Nick, sorry, but you’re in a deep hole on this one and digging yourself and the party deeper into it. One reason why the party polling rating is so low is that we’ve not only lost supporters to Labour, but also, according to polling, we’ve lost around one in ten of our 2010 voters (2-3% of our 23%) to the Tories. I should imagine a lot of this is due to questions where we’re seen as being too soft, like on immigration.

    “Are we really that keen to see the back of German lawyers, Dutch accountants or Finnish engineers? Do we want the NHS to fall over and the City of London to grind to a halt?”

    For God’s sake, Nick. Can’t you see that lower income British people in the North, the South West and Wales don’t give a proverbial flying one about these people?

    Once again, Nick Clegg is getting the mood music all wrong and in adopting the tone he does, is going to be putting off millions of potential voters all across the country. Being seen as being soft on immigration is just the wrong kind of distinctive position for the party and drives even more of our voters towards UKIP.

    Meanwhile, while taking a stand on the rights of citizens of other countries, we are ignoring the needs of our own as food banks expand and the bedroom tax goes unmodified. Why haven’t we taken a stand on these questions instead? This plays right into the hands of Labour.

    And then we wonder why we are at 9% in the polls and keep on getting kicked in local by-elections.

  • Stuart Mitchell 22nd Dec '13 - 11:03am

    If the Lib Dems are opposed to “arbitrary caps” on immigration, why did they agree to the Tories’ non-EU cap?

  • Caron

    I’ve just given it some thought, and I don’t actually see how I can express myself any more clearly than I already have. Let’s hope other people don’t have the same difficulty understanding it.

  • The reason Wages have been kept down is the same reason Unemployment has been kept down. Essentially Employers have offered their Workers a choice between Wage Freezes & Redundancies the Workers have mostly chosen The Freeze. You could call it Solidarity, spreading the misery thin rather than dumping it all on a few.
    A lot of people beleive that Immigration has held wages down but that doesnt make it true.

  • @RC – the “free flow of workers into the UK” is largely due to the inflow of non-EU workers, not EU ones. Statistics show that, of the “top 10” countries for immigrants to the UK, only 3 EU member states – Ireland, Poland & Germany – appear in that list (and constitute the bulk of EU immigants here). In other words 7 out of the 10 are non-EU countries.

    If we look at figures for 1971 (pre-EU) and compare, the net immigration inflow from these 3 EU states has been roughly 300 thousand (a 1/3 increase). By way of contrast , total immigration (both non-EU – the majority – and EU – the minority) has increased by 4.6 MILLION (a 250% increase).

    It is UK policy which has determined the number of non-EU immigrants here, not EU policy. Indeed, under EU rules, the UK is only supposed to admit non-EU workers if there are no EU citizens available WITHIN THE (ENTIRE) EU – not just the UK – to do the work. Clearly, the UK has not followed those rules.

    This is a domestically generated issue arising from UK decisions not EU ones.

  • Paul Pettinger 22nd Dec '13 - 1:34pm

    Finally Nick Clegg is arguing the case for immigration – not as effectively as Vince Cable – but like the Queen pushed in front of TV cameras in 1997 when Princess Diana was killed, Nick Clegg is actually doing it. The free movement of people, goods and ideas is vital for the advancement of humanity – it is area where we should attempt to lead public opinion because it is important and right to do so. So that we don’t seem like head in clouds Liberals however, esp to working people threatened by increased competition in the labour market, it would be helpful if, more generally, we combined our defence of immigration with calls for a much greater tax shift from work onto unearned income, as well as increased home building.

  • @ Paul R

    Well how about these figures for National Insurance numbers issued?

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/233032/nino-statistical-bulletin-aug-13.pdf

    Figure 1.2 clearly shows how we issued over 550,000 National insurance numbers in 2012/13 to incomers to the UK. In 2010/11 the number reached over 700,000.

    The latest figures for 2012/13 show almost 400,000 of these 550,000 NI numbers were issued to people from the rest of the EU. The number of NI numbers issued to EU workers not from the recent accession countries increased by 22% to 176,000. Since these are almost certainly not are not coming from Northern Europe where unemployment is high, they are almost certainly coming from countries like Spain, Italy and Greece where unemployment has rocketed.

    To quote from the report: “Outside of the European Union, annual registrations to all world areas have fallen to the lowest levels since the reporting period began”, which flatly refutes your point.

    To conclude, the figures clearly show that there is a massive flow of workers coming into the UK, increasingly from southern Europe. The argument that this is not going to have an impact on the UK labour market in general and wages in general is unjustifiable in terms of any economic theory.

  • @ Paul Pettinger

    “The free movement of people, goods and ideas is vital for the advancement of humanity”

    We seem to be “advancing the humanity” of the citizens of other countries, while trashing the interests of many of our own citizens.

    That’s why we’re losing voters in their droves.

  • “Since these are almost certainly not are not coming from Northern Europe where unemployment is high”

    Correction: “where levels of employment are high”

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Dec '13 - 1:52pm

    I like both the decisions to restrict benefits for EU migrants during their first three months and to defend free movement against further Conservative Party attacks.

    I’m unsure about the open versus closed economy and party of in stuff, which is kind of contradicted by our halfway house on EU migrant benefits, but if there is a binary choice then I think open is better than closed and in is better than out.

  • I’m not sure which is more out of touch with reality. Nick Clegg’s support for poor Dutch accountants, or Caron’s desire that we go through a £50 paywall, to read the full text of the dear leaders, ‘pearls of wisdom’?

  • Chris Manners 22nd Dec '13 - 3:35pm

    Fair play to Caron, for criticising Clegg here.

    He ought also to separate himself from Cameron’s rubbish about blocking the accession of Serbia (7m). This is the man who was evangelizing for Turkey’s membership (75m) with no new restrictions.

    I don’t have much time for Clegg’s politics at all, but he’s made his rightwing bed. One area he needs to distinguish himself is as a credible internationalist who doesn’t make it up as he goes along.

  • Chris Manners 22nd Dec '13 - 3:39pm

    “We seem to be “advancing the humanity” of the citizens of other countries, while trashing the interests of many of our own citizens. ”

    Aren’t all those extra workers good?

    If not, maybe you shouldn’t be banging on about the record numbers in work.

    Nor, if the benefits agree disproportionately to the rich, have cut the rich’s income tax.

  • Chris Manners 22nd Dec '13 - 3:48pm

    “To conclude, the figures clearly show that there is a massive flow of workers coming into the UK, increasingly from southern Europe. The argument that this is not going to have an impact on the UK labour market in general and wages in general is unjustifiable in terms of any economic theory.”

    http://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/trouble-with-teaching-macroeconomics.html

    Looks like a few people don’t think it’s unjustifiable.

    ” There seems to be a common finding that immigration lowers wages a little at the bottom of the income distribution, but raises them at the top.”

    Happy with that top rate tax cut? Why don’t you get the minimum wage increased? Or start doing something about workers’ bargaining power instead of banging on about Falkirk?

  • @ Chris Manners

    He’s not saying there isn’t an impact, is he?

    “There seems to be a common finding that immigration lowers wages a little at the bottom of the income distribution, but raises them at the top.”

    In fact, he’s saying there *is* an impact. He acknowledges exactly what I have said. People at the lower end of the income spectrum are suffering seriously at the moment, because of rising food and energy prices and even greater competition in the workplace. However, none of this is to do with government policy.

    But in the stance Clegg is adopting, going on about Finnish engineers and Dutch accountants, he is getting this whole thing totally wrong and sounding completely out of touch with ordinary people’s concerns. If there’s a lack of Dutch accountants in Redcar, Manchester Withington or any of the other constituencies we are going to lose in less than 18 months’ time because of switching working class votes, then I don’t think anyone is going to be that fussed about it.

  • Paul Pettinger 22nd Dec '13 - 6:45pm

    RC wrote “We seem to be “advancing the humanity” of the citizens of other countries, while trashing the interests of many of our own citizens.

    That’s why we’re losing voters in their droves.”

    People at the bottom of the labour market may lose out, but immigration enriches society overall. You also can’t stop EU citizens coming to the UK and also have the single market (which, I agree with Cameron, should be extended in the service sector).

    We have lost voters in droves for a range much more uncomfortable reasons! Liberals welcoming immigration – who’d have thought it.

  • @ Paul Pettinger

    “People at the bottom of the labour market may lose out, but immigration enriches society overall.”

    Try going to a white, working class neighbourhood in the UK and selling that message on the doorstep and see what response you get.

  • Max Wilkinson 22nd Dec '13 - 7:47pm

    If you want to know what has lost us voters ‘in droves’, look at where the poll spikes happened. It has little to do with immigration and lots to do with trust in those at the head of the party.

  • Paul Pettinger 22nd Dec '13 - 8:20pm

    RC wrote:

    ‘“People at the bottom of the labour market may lose out, but immigration enriches society overall.”

    Try going to a white, working class neighbourhood in the UK and selling that message on the doorstep and see what response you get.’

    Sorry – I wasn’t clear – I think most people at the bottom of the labour market will gain, but am conceding that most people isn’t everybody. Like most people are better off for automated looms and threshing machines.

  • The biggest single issue against immigration is not unemployment, if you actually listen the one thing said by most against immigration is “they come over here and take our houses, where are my kids going to live”
    Inside most people understand that without immigrants the UK would struggle, but they cannot get past the housing problem, which successive governments have ignored, now when we can least afford to rectify the problem the next couple of governments are going to have to find the will to do just that.

    We need social house building on a scale we have not seen since the 50s, temp housing will not fix the problem it will just cause more unrest among the populace, we need the local authorities to be given the money and told to build proper homes for the people, private affordable housing is not affordable to a third or more of the people.

    Sort the housing crisis and things like HB will drop… we need to bite the bullet

  • John Whitney 23rd Dec '13 - 9:23am

    I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that the Lib Dems must stop Cowtailing to the tories and even worse to UKIP.

    We have social democratic principals and I was very encouraged by Vince Cables comments yesterday on the Andrew Marr program More please! maybe Vince Cable for Party Leader at last!

  • Jayne Mansfield 23rd Dec '13 - 11:22am

    @ Chris,
    No, you are not the only one who is feeling discomfort at the racial and social characteristics of ‘desirable’ immigrants that Nick Clegg has chosen to highlight.

  • Michael Parsons 24th Dec '13 - 5:03pm

    juedibeeftrix
    Quite right: the whole argument about “ending immigration” is bogus: no-one (not even UKIP) wants to end all immigration: the objection is to the open borders, loss of population control, the “come one, come all” policies that allow the criminal financial elements to batter down living standards here, overload our social services (we are the most densley populated country in Europe) and betray immigrants by using them to weaken labour bargaining and raise rents and profits with no regard to the longer-term social and political well-being of our society. Marching people from country to country to make a profit out of them regardless( disguised though it is as “development”, “progress” “recovery” etc) is the triumph of market inhumanism and Orange Bookery.

  • Paul In Twickenham 24th Dec '13 - 5:52pm

    @Michael Parsons – the UK is not the most densely populated country in Europe. A quick glance at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Area_and_population_of_European_countries shows that (excluding the very small territories such as Monaco) we are some way behind Belgium and the Netherlands and only fractionally ahead of Germany. However if you mean to say that the South-East corner of England is horribly overcrowded then I couldn’t agree more.

    I accept the notion that free movement of labour means that when skilled workers move to the UK from other countries then that other country is losing and we are gaining. Once while on vacation in South Africa I had the good fortune to be able to attend a Parliamentary debate in Cape Town where the subject of imposing restrictions on the right of medical professionals to work abroad was being debated – the argument being that they had been schooled at the expense of the South African state but were then regarded as an exploitable resource by the rich nations of The West.

    How should we as Liberals respond to that argument?

  • jedibeeftrix 24th Dec '13 - 7:45pm

    if you look at England alone it pretty much is.

  • Malcolm Todd 24th Dec '13 - 11:59pm

    “if you look at England alone it pretty much is.”

    So what? If you were an advocate of English independence from the UK that point would have an echo of relevance, but I’m pretty sure you’re a fan of Britishness so you can’t hide behind that. England isn’t a state, the UK is. If you want to compare England with other places in Europe then you’d better drill down below the top level of those other states too.

    If England, as part of the UK, is overcrowded in comparison with the rest of the UK then that isn’t a problem of immigration it’s a problem of the UK’s internal population management.

  • jedibeeftrix 25th Dec '13 - 12:54pm

    i see where you are going, but my answer is a perfectly justifiable clarification to michael Parsons original point, that unrestricted immigration is a problem because it will:

    “overload our social services (we are the most densley populated country in Europe)”

    we do not force a fixed quota of immigrants to settle in wales and scotland proportionate those nations relative landmass.
    no, they pool disproportionately in the south east and centre, and you try telling someone from Boston, Dover, Fenland and Rugby, that they do not live in an overcrowded country and they’ll likely be furious.

    Michael is 110% correct when he says:

    “Quite right: the whole argument about “ending immigration” is bogus: no-one (not even UKIP) wants to end all immigration: the objection is to the open borders, loss of population control, the “come one, come all” policies”

  • Mick Taylor 25th Dec '13 - 1:39pm

    We don’t have open immigration. Outside the EU any potential immigrant has to apply and many if not most are turned away. There is free MOVEMENT of Labour inside the EU. But that applies just as much to Brits as anyone else and as I have posted before some millions of Brits live, work or are retired in other parts of the EU.

    There’s a lot of sloppy thinking and writing on this topic and we Lib Dems should be crystal clear as to what we mean and not join in the deliberate fudging of issues.

  • “if you look at England alone it pretty much is.”

    Still lower than the Netherlands according to this analysis:
    http://leftoutside.wordpress.com/what-have-immigrants-ever-done-for-us/is-the-ukengland-the-most-densely-populated-country-in-the-world/

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Dec '13 - 4:05pm

    @ Michael Parsons
    I was under the impression that the Netherlands was the more densley populated country in Europe,, even when using the tactic of comparing England rather than the Uk.

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Dec '13 - 4:09pm

    @ Michael Taylor
    Yes I agree. I am as guilty as the next person of using sloppy language too, referring to every newcomer as immigrants when some are immigrants and some are migrants.

  • Malcolm Todd 25th Dec '13 - 6:47pm

    “we do not force a fixed quota of immigrants to settle in wales and scotland proportionate those nations relative landmass.
    no, they pool disproportionately in the south east and centre”

    Have you got any statistics to back the implied claim that overpopulation in the southeast (accepting for the sake of argument that it is overpopulated) is due to immigration and nothing to do with internal migration?
    Perhaps the overpopulation problem in the southeast would be ameliorated (though it would hardly be cured) by restricting immigration. It seems likely that it would only make the depopulation problem in other parts of the country worse.

  • Paul In Twickenham 25th Dec '13 - 7:44pm

    On a different thread I recently posted a link to the excellent (and concise) 1964 Liberal Party manifesto “Think For Yourself”. http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/lib64.htm The section “THE FUTURE OF BRITAIN” is introduced by stating “The skills and potential wealth of Britain will not be fully used if people continue to drift to the south-east.”

    Immigration may have exacerbated an existing problem, but given that this document dates from 1964 it is self-evident that immigration is in no way the source of the problem of population pressure in South-East England.

  • jedibeeftrix 25th Dec '13 - 9:30pm

    I mentioned those four towns above for a reason, Malcolm, funny you should mention it:

    http://m.huffpost.com/uk/entry/3544727

  • Malcolm Todd 25th Dec '13 - 9:51pm

    Thanks for the link, Jedi. Very little support for your argument, as far as I can see. And absolutely sod all to do with my point. But thanks, anyway.

  • jedibeeftrix 25th Dec '13 - 10:09pm

    no problem, for I am only replying out of courtesy to your rather wondering point on the importance of over crowding in what can be reasonable said to be an over crowded island.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 5th Jun - 2:22pm
    A lovely piece from the ever cheery Mary, no reasoning in trying to justify being encouraging and life affirming, we need it now, am doing...
  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 5th Jun - 1:07pm
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Lee We were repeatedly warned, but what, in practice could we do?
  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 5th Jun - 1:04pm
    Frank West 5th Jun '20 - 9:00am Please go back to the circumstances in which a British Conservative government said that 'Hong Kong is a...
  • User AvatarFrank West 5th Jun - 1:00pm
    I would not write Trump off yet, he seems to bounce back from imminent disaster and Americans are much more flexible in their work than...
  • User AvatarJohn Probert 5th Jun - 12:57pm
    Thank you Larry for revealing the true cost of Dominic Raab's beau geste, offering British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong the right to...
  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 5th Jun - 12:55pm
    The tag "No recourse to public funds" has recently been raised at PMQ and Boris Al Johnson appears to be unsympathetic. He and his Home...