Opinion: EU court gives lie to Cameron’s free movement scaremongering

It’s probably fair to say that the European Court of Justice is unused to tabloid adulation. But this week’s ruling in Luxembourg on the case of a jobless Romanian woman in Germany led even the arch-anti-EU Daily Express to hail ‘a rare outbreak of common sense’.

The judgement by the EU’s highest court that the right to free movement does not equate to a right to free access to benefits was warmly welcomed all round, including in Germany – which has higher rates of migration than the UK. Even David Cameron called it ‘good news’.

On that point I agree with him. Although the ruling won’t come as news to anyone who has actually read the EU’s free movement rules – originally laid down in the treaties we signed up to in 1973 – the confirmation that EU law already prevents ‘benefit tourism’ is welcome.

More importantly though, the ruling gives the lie to Cameron’s own false narrative on free movement, where hard-working EU citizens ‘swamp’ Britain and our towns and villages are ‘under siege’ from well-educated migrant taxpayers.

It also undermines his obsession with ‘renegotiating’ our EU membership and in particular the free movement rules. If the rules already do what we want them to do, what exactly are we supposed to renegotiate?

Moreover, the ruling comes hot on the heels of the latest evidence that citizens of other EU countries living in the UK contribute massively and disproportionately to our economy – to the tune of £20bn in the last ten years.

Combined, the two stories have finally injected some much-needed balance into Britain’s disingenuous immigration debate, warped as it is by the twin threats of Ukip’s populism and the Conservatives’ opportunistic response.

But don’t think it’s over yet. The rise of UKIP has seen David Cameron driven in desperation to ever more untenable positions, both on immigration and the EU. He is heading down a blind alley. Let’s make sure he doesn’t take Britain with him.

* Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England.

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11 Comments

  • Steve Comer 13th Nov '14 - 5:12pm

    Well said Oliver.
    I believe the actual wording in the treaties talked about free movement of WORKERS (ie not claimants). All the ruling has done has cleared up a grey area. Another grey area is what exactly constitutes ‘self employment’ no doubt a further court ruling, may be necessary to clarify that one.

    Cameron clearly has a problem with his party. At heart I think he probably now is is a ‘one nation’ Tory at ease with the modern world, but many of his backbenchers are post Thatcherite authoritarians, and some have a very similar view of the modern world to that of UKIP. They know that the coalition has meant their occasional rebellions have little impact, in ,much the same way that Campaign Group rebellions never threatened Tony Blair’s big parliamentary majority in 1997-2005.

    UKIP’s anti-Europeanism in itself is not an electoral winner outside of Euro elections, but what they have done is tie in their core support with anti-immigration, in this they have been aided by the collapse of the BNP and others on the far right as an electoral force. As someone who first joined the Liberal in the 1970s this is familiar territory, Liberal were falling behind the National Front in 70s by-elections, and then Tory leader talked about people’s fears of being ‘swamped’ by immigrants. (Dog whistle politics is not new).

    Liberal Democrats need to continue to be the ‘party of in’, but also arguing for reform of EU institutions to make them more Democratic and accountable, just as we do for Westminster and Whitehall. The CBI are clearly worried by Cameron’s pandering to anti-EU forces, we need to remind business and their workforces that depend on us being in the EU that Liberals and Liberal Democrats have been the only force in politics that has been pro-EU since its inception.

  • Enjoyed your article, and it’s great knowing we are behind Germany for having new residents.

    It’s great you mention that the UK has benefited by £2 billion per year can you make the same point that people who earn below average have actually seen any of this £2 billion

    I understand the figure is nett and I assume that tax paid less money paid say tax credits housing and health school costs are deducted, so that’s great. Does that nett figure include costs on a per head basis for building schools hospitals the costs a resident who is not able to see a GP and has a loss of pay because they are ill and can’t see the GP.

    If a person is benefiting from our increased population then they will see it as positive, if the person now shops at discount supermarkets because earnings have dropped do you think they will feel positive

    My comment is not intended as criticism but asking you also look from the side of those who are adversely affected by the numbers arriving specifically in such a tight time scale.

  • Jocky McLean 13th Nov '14 - 11:20pm

    Some points:

    ‘welcomed all round, including in Germany…’ Err seeing as Germany was the winning party in the proceedings, that ‘including’ sounds like spin. Of course they welcomed it cause they won.

    ‘won’t come as news to anyone who has actually read the EU’s free movement rules’ Funny it needs an ECJ ruling interpreting 2008 detailed guidance on an unclear 2004 directive on the 1957 Treaty. But sure, no news.

    ‘gives the lie to Cameron’s own false narrative on free movement’ How? Which follows your claim that ‘the rules already do what we want them to do’. How? The rules, nor this judgement, don’t prevent workers coming in. That’s exactly what Cameron wants to limit.

  • It is good to see points made that I have not seen so clearly expressed elsewhere.

    My first thought on hearing the ruling was that it leaves Cameron with even less to negotiate. This is a problem because he still has to find something and even lacking anything to negotiate he still maintains that there has to be a referendum in 2017.

    The issue is spreading to benefit rules: child benefit in particular. Many temporary migrants leave their children behind but take tax relief in the form of child benefit. Cameron is proposing that the only entitlement is that applying in the country in which the children live. The obvious consequence will be that more of the children will coe to the UK, which increase the cost to the UK.

    Steve Comer is correct: UKIP’s anti EU campign does not get the traction that they want, however taking over the mantle of BNP’s anti immigrant message has proved much more successful. Many of the anti EU UKIP (and Tory right) headbanger tendency are actually little fussed by immigration: they have a notion that a purely free market can get on without regulation. The result is a party that whilst vigorously pandering to racism, indignantly objects to accusations that it is racist.

  • “More importantly though, the ruling gives the lie to Cameron’s own false narrative on free movement, where hard-working EU citizens ‘swamp’ Britain and our towns and villages are ‘under siege’ from well-educated migrant taxpayers.”

    Sorry I don’t see the logic that lead to this statement.
    What is clear from the ruling is that whilst it up holds the free movement of people within the EU, it also upholds the principle that EU members don’t have to provide for these people. So what it does enable is governments, such as the UK’s, to change rules around social security, healthcare and other benefits, which I suspect many will welcome as it enables these rules to be ‘tightened’ – whilst the numbers may be small (both in terms of claimants and monies paid out), it does serve to lance the boil created largely in the media about benefits.

    The issue of floods of immigrants from the EU, particularly to the agricultural areas of the East Midlands and East Anglia is different; although a reduction in benefits might change the economics of employment.

  • “Moreover, the ruling comes hot on the heels of the latest evidence that citizens of other EU countries living in the UK contribute massively and disproportionately to our economy – to the tune of £20bn in the last ten years.”

    One of the things missing from the various reports on immigration has been the consideration of what our emigrants are doing. I suggest that things being equal, the people who migrate fro the UK are of a similar demographic as those who immigrate and hence the actual overall impact of EU free movement, given the roughly equal numbers of UK nationals working in Europe and Europeans working in the UK, is near zero. However, free movement within the EU isn’t a zero sum game and I suspect that this movement of workers actually generates more economic activity than would otherwise be the case.

  • Bill le Breton 14th Nov '14 - 10:09am

    As Steve intimates, Cameron has a huge problem with his party. The desperate call to John Major to make that speech yesterday was indicative of how worried the grandees must be. His message wasn’t ‘please cut some slack for Britain’, it was ‘please cut some slack for Britain or the Conservative Party will split’.

    That has implications for us, as I foreshadowed in an article for the last edition of Liberator. The chances of there being a party of National Independent Conservatives and a party of Liberal Conservatives by 2018 grows each day. It would be interest to know where the big money donors go over the next three years.

    Well that is what I saw through John Major’s glasses when I saw him on the news last night.

  • John Critchley 14th Nov '14 - 11:11am

    Reading the ‘free movement rules’ link (above) begs the question: why have we not applied the rules to restrict benefits earlier? I thought it was because our welfare system is non-contributory and had to apply to residents and migrants equally, but actually that appears to not be the case, even before this ruling.
    If I read all this correctly we could say that migrants have to be working here for a year before gaining any access to our welfare system. Would that help? We could also say that to our own residents of course.
    I’m not really affected by immigration to the UK and only know what I read. Even though we are often told there’s an overall benefit to the UK it does seem that there’s pressure in some areas on services, housing etc, and probably employment.
    I certainly get the feeling that any party that doesn’t want to deal with immigration at all won’t get far.

  • Andrew Colman 14th Nov '14 - 2:26pm

    This issue is particularly relevant 25 years ago when the Berlin wall came down.

    At that time, the right wing were united in opposing what the Berlin wall stood for, denying freedom of movement to millions behind the iron curtain. They all rightfully celebrated when the wall came dowm.

    How attitudes have changed!

    Now the right want to turn the English Channel into a new Berlin wall, denying the contribution immigrants have made throughout history to the Brish way of life and prosperity. The British empire was not built on intolerance and denying freedom of movement, but the reverse. If UKIP get their way, their policies will bring economic and cultural disaster to the UK.

  • Andrew Colman 14th Nov '14 - 2:29pm

    This issue is particularly relevant exactly 25 years after the Berlin wall came down.

    At that time, the right wing were united in opposing what the Berlin wall stood for, denying freedom of movement to millions behind the iron curtain. They all rightfully celebrated when the wall came dowm.

    How attitudes have changed!

    Now the right want to turn the English Channel into a new Berlin wall, denying the contribution immigrants have made throughout history to the Brish way of life and prosperity. The British empire was not built on intolerance and denying freedom of movement, but the reverse. If UKIP get their way, their policies will bring economic and cultural disaster to the UK.

  • John Critchley – I think part of the problem is the embellishments that seem to be added to anything from the EU as it passes through the UK government, which then get blamed on Brussel’s…

    We saw this with the whole weights and measures bun fight, manufactured by the UK government and I expect we will see it again with the revisions being proposed to road signs. [The intent is for them to display both imperial and metric measures – as if they don’t contain enough information already and currently it is very simple: When in the UK you drive on the left, distances are in miles and speeds are in mph. When on the continent you drive on the right, distances are km’s and speeds in kmph.]

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