Why EU Freedom of Movement Matters
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th January, 2014
Early this morning I was interviewed on Voice of Africa radio countering some of the negative propaganda in Britain about migration from other European Union member states, notably from Bulgaria and Romania. On 1 January, the temporary restrictions on the free movement of labour from those two countries were lifted and there were scare stories in the more sensationalist newspapers — including the Daily Mail and the Daily Express — warning that Britain risked being flooded. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, stoked fears by declaring that 29 million migrants would have the right to come. Disgracefully, some Conservative politicians have also jumped on the anti-migrant bandwagon, pandering to the worst sort of xenophobic impulses. In fact, in the first fortnight of 2014 only a handful of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania have arrived on these shores, and most of those already had jobs lined up. Conservative Ministers have hinted darkly that the principle of free movement within the EU should be over-turned, even though this is one of the greatest achievements of the European single market, which benefits British workers, retirees, students and others just as much as it benefits people coming here to make a new life. Any unilateral action by Britain would be illegal under current EU laws and invite retaliation, and it could potentially jeopardise the status of UK citizens abroad. There are a million Brits living in Spain alone. Moreover, as I told Voice of Africa listeners, the impression given by the popular press that EU migrants are milking the UK’s benefits system is a distortion of the reality. Only 3% of EU migrants claim benefits such as job seeker’s allowance and as a whole they pay far more into the system than they take out. It is reasonable that there should be a period before such benefits can be claimed by new arrivals, perhaps three months — but certainly not two years, as some politicians on the right have argued. Just as Britain benefits from EU membership, in areas such as jobs, environmental protection and security, so the country gains from freedom of movement and Liberal Democrats should not shy away from championing it.