Pledge to rejoin EU needs to be matched by EU Impact Fund

Tim Farron has rightly pledged we should campaign to take Britain back into the EU in the next general election. Should the election take place earlier than expected, we may still be an EU member, and should propose to withdraw from the Article 50 process.

In either case, it would not be politically credible to advocate reinstating or maintaining EU membership without proposing major domestic initiatives on immigration. The overall Remain campaign failed to a considerable degree because it did not factor in concerns, whether real or imagined, about immigration. The voices of the, largely, English hinterland must be heeded. Any Lib Dem call to rejoin or remain in the EU should therefore be accompanied by proposals to alleviate the perceived and in many cases, real, impact of immigration.

Pressures on housing, education, health and other social services can only be attributed in part to immigration. Ageing, internal migration, austerity and underinvestment together are often the more salient causes. Free movement from the EU accounts for just under half of all net migration and is the price of access to the Single EU market. Ending free movement within the EU (including from Ireland and returning UK nationals) will therefore not substantially reduce immigration, a point of mine which Dan Hannan MEP agreed during a referendum debate. If the diagnosis of our problems is wrong, then the prescription of leaving the EU will not cure them. 

Even though immigration benefits our economy in aggregate, measures to curb its differential impact are needed. High immigrant concentrations in parts of the country (e.g. Boston, Castle Point and Thurrock) or areas and sectors which have been affected by EU policies (e.g. fishing, construction) can place disproportionately high pressure on local employment, social services, and housing. Rather than being ignored by politicians, most affected areas should qualify for increased funding for local services. They too should share in the benefits of EU membership – that they haven’t means none of us now will.

A fund modelled on the £50 million Migrants Impact Fund, scrapped in 2010, should be reinstated and funding should be substantially increased. I therefore propose that if we advocate rejoining or remaining in the EU, this should be accompanied by a pledge to create an EU Impact Fund to match our net EU Budget contribution of £8.5 billion, effectively adding a penny or two in the pound of higher rate tax payers. Additional funds from the EU Social Fund might be available. More investment in education, health, and housing could stimulate ‘left behind’ local economies, reduce unemployment and help reduce fears about immigrants taking away ‘British jobs’. Those who benefit from the EU should demonstrate solidarity with those who perceive they don’t.

Other measures which might be undertaken include reviving proposals for making contributions mandatory in order to qualify for benefits as in some other EU member states. A law could be introduced to prevent the advertising of UK-based jobs only outside the UK. Border management could be made more effective by counting people both entering and leaving the UK. Lastly, the 125,000 foreign students who generate £2.27 billion per annum for the UK economy and 19,000 jobs, should be taken out of net immigration statistics as most are temporary residents. It is only through implementing such policy measures at Westminster that we can start to delink the  immigration ‘threat’ from the vastly greater macro-economic benefits of EU membership which we are now set to lose.

* Nick Hopkinson is South East representative, Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG) and a former Director of Wilton Park, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office policy forum.

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  • What? Free movement in the EU means wonderful opportunities, for all of us. It’s not something we have had thrust on us unwillingly. And stop, really, once and for all, accepting the dishonest narrative the problems caused by the economy and the government’s management of it are the fault of migrants.

  • Leave The EU 29th Jun '16 - 6:14pm

    “Should the election take place earlier than expected, we may still be an EU member, and should propose to withdraw from the Article 50 process.” – your transparency appreciated.

  • David Allen 29th Jun '16 - 6:32pm

    Good article. What Britain needs is a solution which will bring together the two warring halves of a fractured country. If we can show that we will really reach out to help our angry dispossessed who voted Leave – while a discredited bunch of Leave campaigners drown in lies and racism – we can win this back.

    We can control immigration, and get it down substantially if we want to – Inside or outside the EU. Nick Hopkinson gives several ideas. On top of those I would suggest – Tax the employers who bring in cheap overseas labour, and make them pay for the EU Impact Fund. Offer those same employers incentives to take home-grown labour from the Jobcentre instead. After all, doing that will reduce the State benefits bill, so it makes sense to pass on part of that saving to the employer. We will then see fewer employers looking overseas for their workforce. It isn’t racist to reduce the demand for new immigrant workers. But it will show angry put-upon Leave voters that we have listened. Boris, who has happily told us he didn’t mean it when he said he’d cut immigration, has not listened.

  • Should the party also announce that this is an absolute red line issue and they will promise that, they will not take part in any coalition government or Confidence and Supply agreements, which does not agree to put us back in the EU or withdraw from article 50?
    Will we see signed pledges??

  • I have always understood that free movement between this country and the Irish Republic was agreed as part of the independence deal in 1926 (?) and as such is in no way related to whether or not we are part of the EU.

  • Derek Campbell 29th Jun '16 - 8:46pm

    Interesting, and I agree that if the diagnosis is wrong it will be difficult to apply the right prescription. However, some interesting polling information provides evidence that we need to deal with perception and attitudes as much as reality. If feminism and the green movement are regarded as forces for ill, simply “reaching out” and/or boosting funding isn’t going to cut it.

    I believe that we have a complex mix of factors at play and that probably requires a sophisticated response. Perhaps being seen as the thinking person’s political party is worth a punt?

  • Stephen Donnelly 29th Jun '16 - 10:12pm

    Can we ‘withdraw from article 50’?

  • and should propose to withdraw from the Article 50 process.
    My understanding is that once started there is no early exit from the Article 50 conveyor.

    Lastly, the 125,000 foreign students … should be taken out of net immigration statistics as most are temporary residents.
    Because the number of foreign students coming to the UK and leaving on completion of their studies is reasonably consistent year on year, their contribution to the annual net immigration statisic’s is negligible.

  • Mark Goodrich 30th Jun '16 - 1:57am

    I agree wholeheatedly with the article. It is not right to say that it denies the benefits of free movement. It recognises them but also that the benefits are not spread equally. Some don’t benefit at all and may even suffer (academic research is not entirely clear). In any event, the perception is real enough and those areas which perceive they suffer are seriously deprived so the money will be well spent in any event. But money is not enough.

    We need to think differently about poverty and deprivation. I would urge thinking about deprivation more in terms of Amaryta Sen’s capability approach ( Deprived areas in London and the big metros offer so much more opportunities to people and that was apparent in how they voted.

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