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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Why Cameron should stay clear of an 'emergency brake' on EU free movement

David Cameron's 'immigration speech' is expected to take place very soon.

As we have noted several times, one of the options that he potentially could go for is an "emergency brake" - the ability to impose temporary restrictions on the number of EU migrants who come to the UK.

We can see why this would be appealing politically - but we fear that if Cameron does announce something like this, without having a clear vision for how it would work exactly in practice, it could turn into another net immigration target. Sounding very good in an election manifesto - but ineffective in practice.

We've made this point a few times but to elaborate, here's why:

An emergency brake would be targeted at flows of new EU migrants not the existing stocks. UK Ministers have previously spoken about the need to manage “destabilising flows” – however, this remains a vague term that could mean many different things. Pinning down what would constitute a destabilising flow could prove incredibly tricky. For example, the graph below shows that current flows are not proportionately higher than previous flows and remain small as a share of the workforce (relevant for their impact on wages). In general, if the bar is too high, the mechanism will never be used. If too low, the brake would become a long-term rather than temporary measure – a de facto limit – and be tremendously hard to negotiate in Europe.

Source: ONS
It is very difficult to codify objective criteria for pulling an emergency brake – particularly any that apply to the UK’s current situation. The UK economy is booming, unemployment is falling, EU migrants have high employment rates and the UK takes less EU migrants per head than several other EU member states. All these most obvious criteria won't work for the UK. It's hard to claim to be the best performing economy in Europe and simultaneously claim to have a 'crisis' so bad that special treatment is required. It would also be impossible to predict all the future challenges migration could pose.

Source: Eurostat
Possibly the most compelling argument the UK could use at the current time is that certain local areas are facing high pressures on public services and housing supply. However, restricting EU migration to certain areas of the UK would be very difficult to administer in practice, while national restrictions would be a disproportionate response to local problems. The impact of migrants is also hard to discern in exact terms given other domestic policies regarding housing and local services.

What the UK would effectively be asking for is a ‘time out’ from EU migration – which is largely a result of understandable political pressures. However, this necessarily makes the criteria for pulling the ‘emergency brake’ politically arbitrary – and in turn tougher to negotiate in Europe. There's not a government in Europe, it now seems, that doesn't have a populist challenge. Should Spain be granted dispensation too?

It's also difficult to sell at home. There are precedents in EU law for restricting either free movement of persons or the other EU freedoms. So in that sense, an emergency brake wouldn't be completely out of character for the EU. All of the existing 'brakes', however, are policed by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice – would a domestic audience be happy with such an arrangement? Furthermore, at the very best the brake is likely to be temporary and may only delay flows rather than actually reduce them. It would have to be activated for a very long time in order for it to really reduce net flows in the long-term.

In addition, if ‘cost of living’ is to be cited as a reason for pulling the emergency brake, it means accepting that there is a ‘cost of living crisis’ – a move that would any UK Government would be politically loathed to make in public.

If someone can come up with a criteria for how to capture all the potential variables, then we're open to suggestions. But it would be foolish to announce such a big policy on such loose grounds. As we've argued repeatedly, writing the headline first, and the policy later, rarely works.


Anonymous said...

Let's make it a permanent brake. Get out of the EU.

The British people have never voted to have their country colonised by millions of European immigrants. They never voted to join, or remain a member, of the EU.

Anonymous said...

We should leave the EU immediately, I and all my friends and family agree with the former post, we did not vote to have our Country colonised by millions of European Immigrants. How much more can this country take when its Government slags its own people off, branding them lazy, while our streets are full of East European beggars and Pick Pockets. The country has been ruined and is not the same country it was. Which is the reason UKIP is doing so well. Some areas are full of Polish shops, why are councils allowing this to happen, this is supposed to be Britain. I could go on and on, just like everyone I meet does, people are sick to death of it and it is only a matter of time before something happens as we are at bursting point.

Denis Cooper said...

"However, restricting EU migration to certain areas of the UK would be very difficult to administer in practice"

At least as far as "workers", paid employees, are concerned it would surely also be vulnerable to legal challenge, given that Article 45 TFEU says:

"1. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Union.

2. Such freedom of movement shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment.

3. It shall entail the right, subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health:

(a) to accept offers of employment actually made;

(b) to move freely within the territory of Member States for this purpose ..."

When a test case was brought before the eurofederalist lawyers on the ECJ, as it would be, I think it would be difficult for the UK government to justify a policy of allowing British workers to move freely around the UK, as well as to change their occupations, while attempting to restrict each worker from another EU member state to a certain occupation in a certain location.

R Davis said...



Average Englishman said...

Rather than describing Dave's wafflings as a possible temporary brake, I think that a comparison to a temporary dam would be more apt.

We all know what happens to flood waters when a temporary dam is removed and given the EUSSR's lamentable economic policies there is no reason to suspect that the flood waters will subside in the foreseeable future. So, a short term dam or brake is of no real use and a long term one would not be permitted by the commissars in Brussels (and it would appear, many of the UK's 'friends' in Eastern Europe such as Poland and the Czech Republic). So it follows that the only way to stop the flood permanently and for Dave to keep his job is for the UK to leave the EUSSR altogether and the sooner that Dave finally works that out the better.

christhai said...

David Cameron and his cowardly false Conservatives and Ed Miliband and his confused Labourites will NEVER - as in NOT EVER - do anything which may cause the EU Commission to open its vaults and expose the extent of their compromise.

That the UK will leave the EU is a given.

It is not in doubt.

But it will be the people of the UK - sick and fed up with EU Controlled Political Parties like Labour, Conservative and the despicable Libs - who will take it out.

It is why UKIP exists.