Tag Archive: immigration

Brexit: 4.7+ million lives at stake

Brexit will directly or indirectly influence 65 million people in the UK, but it will fundamentally affect the lives of 4.7 million people: the 3.5 million European Union (EU) citizens in the UK and the 1.2 million Britons in the 27 EU countries. This is more than the population of 9 of the 28 countries in the EU, namely Malta, Luxemburg, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Croatia and Ireland. There are a lot of lives a stake. In fact, the numbers involved are much larger. For example, I am a Briton in Germany but my family are German, so do not count among the 4.7 million. There will be many cases of mixed nationalities, so the true number of lives affected is higher.

4.7+ million is a statistic. People´s families, hopes and futures are not. Brexit puts lives at stake.

The epitome of personal freedom: gone with the wind

These people migrated to the UK/EU in good faith. There are four fundamental rights at the heart of the EU. Of those, the freedom of movement of people to work, travel, study, retire, etc. anywhere within the 28 countries of the EU is fundamentally important. 4.7+ million EU/UK citizens migrated in good faith, created new lives for themselves and put down roots. In doing so, they automatically acquiring the same rights as their fellow citizens in the countries that they are living in.

It is the epitome of personal freedom across 28 nations. 508 million people currently have this right and nothing of the sort exists anywhere in the world. But a year ago, 52% of eligible British voters voted to unilaterally turn their back on this and the other fundamental freedoms of the EU (i.e. freedom of moment of goods, services and capital).  To be fair, only 37% of eligible voters voted Leave, which means that 63% of eligible voters did not vote to leave the EU. It is a pity that the government chose a simple majority, rather than setting a higher threshold for a decision with enormous implications. I was not one of the voters and many other adult Brits living in other EU countries were similarly denied a vote because of the so-called “15-year rule”. As I have previously written, “Britain has taken away my right to vote (and I want it back).”

Is it fair and reasonable to simply cut-off 4.7+ million from all the rights and benefits that they are currently entitled to because of a margin of 2% of the eligible British voters decided that they “wanted their country back” and were willing to play fast and loose with the rights that the EU confers? Can we reasonably expect people to simply pack-up and “go home”? What about the uncertainty, stress and distress involved for them, some of whom have been informed by the Home Office to prepare to go home at the same time as it makes it as difficult and complicated as possible to apply for UK citizenship?

We are talking about ordinary people who legally took-up their rights and who are now uncertain about their homes, jobs, education, pensions, health provision, families and indeed their futures.

Brexit before People

Small wonder then, that the EU has prioritised sorting out the future of these 4.7+ million people who are caught in the cross-fire of Britain´s decision to leave the EU supposedly in order to control their own border, laws and destiny.

Only, it is not just its own destiny that is affected by Brexit.

It is also the destiny of people who had no vote (both EU nationals in the UK and Britons like myself) and no say on their own future. A Conservative government called an unnecessary EU Referendum primarily in a calculated and cynical effort to save its political skin from the threat of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Its gamble backfired, delivering political chaos and threatening the long-term economic decline of the UK. This humongous miscalculation has the potential to divide the Conservative party and consign it to the dustbin of history. It has already split the country asunder at multiple levels and a very uncertain future awaits the country as a result.

The EU has made it clear that it has three absolute priorities before it is anywhere near being ready to negotiate the only thing that really seems to matter to the UK government, namely a trade deal. These include the Brexit financial settlement, the Republic of Ireland / Northern Ireland border and the rights of EU/UK citizens. The EU Guidelines for Brexit Negotiations makes it clear that the rights of citizens matter above all else:

“The right for every EU citizen, and of his or her family members, to live, to work or to study in any EU Member State is a fundamental aspect of the European Union. Along with other rights provided under EU law, it has shaped the lives and choices of millions of people.  Agreeing reciprocal guarantees to safeguard the status and rights derived from EU law at the date of withdrawal of EU and UK citizens, and their families, affected by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union will be the first priority for the negotiations. Such guarantees must be effective, enforceable, non-discriminatory and comprehensive, including the right to acquire permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence. Citizens should be able to exercise their rights through smooth and simple administrative procedures.”

The nationalities most affected are Britons (about 1.2 million) and Poles (about 900,000). Needless-to-say, it should be the UK´s absolute priority to regulate the situation of so many British lives living in EU countries ASAP. Only it is not.

Theresa May and her merry band of Europhobic Brexiteers have chosen to play fast and loose with people´s lives. For over a year, they have made a point of perpetuating the uncertainties. They have chosen to play a coy game of waiting and seeing, using the lives of 4.7+ million people like so many pawns to be positioned and/or sacrificed in their callous and atrociously incompetent game of Brexit chess. Shameful is the word that readily springs to mind.

Interestingly, Mr George Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and now Editor of the Evening Standard, has just alleged that, in fact, the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, had tried to settle the issue of EU citizens’ rights unilaterally immediately after the EU Referendum. However, this was vetoed by one member of the cabinet. This person was none other than the ex-Home Secretary, as it enhanced her prospects of becoming Prime Minister. We are, of course, talking about none other than Mrs Theresa May. If true, this indicates that she thought nothing of toying with people´s lives in order to better position herself to become Prime Minister. The list of wooden, robotic, crude, calculating, incompetent and downright cruel decisions keeps growing. At some point, bad luck or circumstance can no longer account for the black marks. They cast an increasingly unflattering light on her past, present and future legacy as a politician, if not as a person.

The official Brexit negotiations finally got going on the 19 June 2017, though the emphasis was on “talks about talks” and the UK´s wishful thinking was immediately exposed. On the 23 of June 2017, Mrs May travelled to an EU summit in Brussels and presented her opening offer on EU citizen rights, having let the issue hang for so long. What did she come-up with? Was it perhaps to do the simplest thing to put an end to the uncertainty for 4.7+ million lives by matching the EU offer? Not on your nelly. Why would the British government immediately end the uncertainties hanging over the future of 4.7+ million people, 25% of whom are Britons, in one fell swoop when it can continue to play politics with so many people´s lives?

Unfair and Unserious

Our beloved Maybot chose instead to continue to play the immigration card and prolong the uncertainty for short term political gain: at least she is strong and stable in this respect. She presented her vision of a “fair and serious” offer to protect EU citizen rights by offering them a new “UK settled status” for EU migrants who had lived in the UK for five years with rights to stay and access health, education and other unspecified benefits, subject to the EU27 states guaranteeing Britons the same rights. Rather than determining whether these would also apply to dependents and setting the date at which the 5 years qualifying starts, she chose to be vague about this (sometime between March 2017, when Article 50 was triggered and March 2019, when the 2-year period of Brexit ends), thereby creating another source of uncertainty for many people who have been in the country for less than the qualifying period. Furthermore, she circumvented the EU´s position that EU citizens´ rights be enforceable by the European Court of Justice, which is a sticking point among Europhobes.

This falls well short of the EU´s negotiating position which is basically that EU citizens living in the UK should retain all EU rights in perpetuity, with the same applying to Britons living in the EU27. This is a simple, transparent and fair position that people can relate to. This is what fair and serious looks like as compared a British government persisting in using EU citizen as bargaining chips in Brexit negotiations.

The EU was quick to point out that EU summits are not the place to initiate negotiations. The British Prime Minister does not appear to understand that two teams have been selected with the mandate to negotiate the terms of Brexit. Various EU, German and French politicians have stressed that the so-called fair and serious offer was “below expectation”, but a “good start” even if “no breakthrough” and that “there was a long way to go.” In other words, the offer was not taken to be either fair or serious and crashed like a lead balloon. It could have been predicted, had Mrs May and the Europhobes not been so isolated and deluded. The official UK offer will be presented on 26 June 2017; we all await it with bated breath.

Grown-up Politics Overdue

The Maybot and the Europhobes continue to try to be “bloody awkward”, rather to focus on normalising the lives of 4.7+ million people. So here are three questions for the UK government:

  • What is so difficult about understanding that millions of people are fearing for their homes, families, livelihoods, education, health arrangements, pensions, etc.?
  • Are you blind to the stress, frustration, disappointment, resentment and anger caused by the uncertainty?
  • Are you incapable of feeling empathy for such people 12 months after the Brexit vote?

4.7+ million lives are not so many bargaining chips to be used to try to extract EU concessions.

4.7+ million lives call for adult politics and truly fair and serious solutions.

Tomorrow, I expect my government to stop mucking about and sort it out.

By that, I do not mean begrudging, half-hearted solutions but the real deal.

We and our families are entitled for the rest of our lives to whatever rights existed before the EU Referendum unilaterally threatened to take them away from us.

We entitled to no more and certainly no less.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2017, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


Brexit post-Article 50: between a rock and a hard place

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I strongly supported Remain in the lead up to the Referendum on whether to remain or leave the European Union (EU) on 23 June 2016. However, a very small majority (52% of the 72.2% of the electorate that voted) was in favour of leaving the EU. I have accepted that Brexit will happen and, indeed, that it should happen.

I am neither a Remoaner (a blend of remain and moan) nor a doomster in terms of the UK´s economic prospects post-Brexit, but I do remain as convinced as ever that the future will not be as bright outside the EU and could turn out to be catastrophic for the country. Whether the UK should remain a part of the Common Market, Customs Union, etc. was not debated in the lead-up to the Referendum. The British electorate was not asked whether it preferred to be better/worse off because of the specific Brexit route selected by the government.

The British Parliament has now passed the Brexit Bill and the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has signed the notification to leave the EU and triggered Article 50 on 29 March 2016, about 9 months after the outcome of the EU Referendum decision. So, it is worth pausing to consider the next stage of Brexit, following the official notification to leave the EU.

Below, I review the UK´s and the EU´s respective negotiating position before the political horse trading begins.  The starting pistol for the official part of the Brexit process has stated, but it is increasingly evident that Britain is between a rock and a hard place.

Stage 1: The Negotiation Positions

UK Position (after 9 months)

Prior to the 29th of March, the UK´s position was strangely vague. For far too long, it amounted to little more than facile slogans, such as Theresa May´s “Brexit Means Brexit” and that Britain wanted to secure a “red, white and blue” Brexit.

I have previously argued (“Brexit and the Politics of Wishful Thinking” and “Muddling Through Brexit”) that the British government, led by Theresa May and her merry band of Brexiteers (David Davies, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox) were totally deluded in imagining that they could have their Brexit “cake and eat is at the same time”, namely that the deal to be negotiated with the EU would be “at least as good as the current situation” and that “a bad deal would be worse than no deal at all”. Instead:

The likelihood of actually securing a deal that is at least as favourable as the status quo is nigh on impossible (though the EU is first and foremost a political construct and since politics trumps everything else, the possibility cannot be completely excluded). The prospect of the UK having its Brexit cake and eating it at the same time appears to be a load of wishful thinking and delusion. Everyone but the Brexiteers can clearly see the writing on the EU wall… in capital letters, underlined and bold.”

We have witnessed about 9 months of the Conservative Party primarily holding an internal discussion between its two main factions (Eurosceptics and the rest), while paying close attention to the editorial views of the more conservative right-wing press. This has been in stark contrast with the half-hearted efforts that the government has made to listen to the concerns of the 48% that voted to Remain, as well as the Scots and Northern Irish, let alone paying heed to the clear and consistent messages emanating from its EU negotiating partners.

Therefore, it was a relief that the letter sent by the Government on 29 March 2017 officially invoking Article 50, had a semblance of reality about it.

It insisted that Britain was the EU’s “closest friend and neighbour”, which raised a few eyebrows, and stressed multiple times that the UK government seeks “a deep and special partnership” with the EU, something that most observers could be forgiven for thinking had previously existed but that Brexit was intending to achieve the very opposite. But the letter showed that the government has also backtracked from the more nonsensical positions that has been floated:

  • Away from curtailing the freedom of movement of people (while seeking the opposite for the perceived good bits, such as freedom of movement of goods, services and capital) before from 29th March 2017 rather than from 2019;
  • Away from maintaining that a bad Brexit deal is better than no deal at all, suggesting some appreciation of the damage that would be wrought on the UK´s economy from the “falling off the cliff” scenario.

It still left open the possibility of a “transitional agreement” or “implementation period” being negotiated if no trade deal is struck within the short period of time available: there are only 12-18 months of negotiations, followed by 6 months required for its ratification by “super qualified majority” representing 72% of member states and 65% of the EU’s population.

It was also judiciously silent on areas which has been subject to much speculation in the UK, such as:

  • The role of the European Court of Justice in the future, which will almost certainly be needed in a future trade relationship or if a transition agreement/implementation period is needed, even if the Eurosceptics insist that it must go as soon as possible;
  • The Brexit bill for leaving the EU (i.e. the divorce settlement), which the EU estimates to be in the region of Euro 60 billion, but which the hard Brexiteers insist should be close to zero or even involve a refund to the UK. Like all divorce settlements, it could be an explosive issue.

But the document only partially reflects reality. The muddled, wishful thinking in the UK´s negotiating position continues in some important respects, such as:

  • An ongoing lack of recognition that access to the EU´s internal market requires accepting all four freedoms of movement, including of people;
  • An ongoing belief that it is possible to negotiate sector-by-sector deals, such for the financial and automotive sectors;
  • A continuing call for negotiation everything in parallel, which would represent a risk. If the aim is to do everything at the same time, it is possible that nothing will be agreed at all;
  • A strong linkage of Britain’s security responsibilities towards the rest of Europe with its desire to attain advantageous economic / trade terms. This aspiration was a political miscalculation that was immediately and comprehensively rejected by the EU, forcing the UK government to backtrack very fast from this particular “negotiation position.”
EU Position (more or less from the beginning)

Upon receipt of the official British letter, the President of the European Council of 27 national leaders, Donald Tusk, counteracted with its own draft negotiating guidelines. It showed that the EU 27 could move at least as fast as the EU 1 (UK). There is a consultation exercise at present involving all 27 Parliaments, which demonstrates the extend of the democratic process which the EU is following, as compared with what the British government sought to do, before being forced by the British courts to seek its own Parliament´s approval for Brexit.

This degree of unanimity combined with the speed of the EU 27´s response is an ominous sign for the UK, but is hardly surprising given the remarkably consistent messages emanating from the EC, Germany, France and every other EU head of state since June 2016. The most important elements of the EU´s draft Guidelines for Negotiation are:

  • The EU 27 insists upon the rights of EU nationals being fully respected until April 2019 or until any future transition arrangement comes to an end;
  • The EU 27 insists upon the European Court of Justice maintaining its role until April 2019 or until any future transition arrangement comes to an end;
  • The EU 27 will not tolerate a UK attempt to divide and conquer through individual approaches to EU member countries;
  • There must be a phased approach to the negotiations, rather than everything in parallel;
  • The UK must agree to the Brexit bill, at least in broad terms, before other discussions begin;
  • The negotiations must prioritise the future of the EU residents in the UK and vice versa;
  • The negotiations must avert a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, something which is easier to say than to do;
  • The UK can forget pipedreams such as cherry picking what it likes and ditching the rest;
  • The EU 27 will prepare itself for the possibility that the negotiations might fail.

In a nutshell: no sector-by-sector deals, no bi-lateral negotiations, no negotiations until the Brexit divorce bill is agreed, full freedom of movement during negotiations and any transition arrangement and no trade deal until the end of the Brexit negotiations (though I imagine the latter position may change).

These positions have been stated repeatedly and the discussions over 9 months carried out by May, Johnson, Davies and Fox should have made it abundantly clear what was in store, whatever the messages they may have been putting out to their own party, the right-wing media and country.

The only element which seems to have caught the UK government by surprise is the EU´s position towards Gibraltar. The guidelines say: “After the United Kingdom leaves the union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.” which, roughly translated means that Spain will have a strong role in deciding the treatment of Gibraltar.

But should this part of the draft negotiation guidelines have come as a surprise? The facts are: we live in a post-colonial world; Gibraltar is a geographical part of the Spain (though this does raise the issue of Spain´s own bits of North Africa, namely Ceuta and Melillia); the UK is well on the way to being an ex-EU-member, which results in a repositioning on the issue of Gibraltar; not surprisingly, the Spaniards have been lobbying behind the scenes, just as Britons have; and the EU cannot be expected to continue to maintain a neutral position towards Spain/UK in relation to Gibraltar.

Let there be no uncertainly about this: from now on, if the EU must choose between the UK and Spain, Spain it will be. ´Twas ever thus is an expression that Britons should be familiar with, despite the ludicrously injudicious sabre rattling by Michael Howard, a hard Brexiteer Conservative MP who suggested that the UK might go to war over Gibraltar in the same way as it went to war over the Falkland Islands. This is not just nonsense. It is irresponsible, dangerous tosh. The EU and British government moved quickly to dampen this explosive development, but the tension has just started.

The European Parliament has also had its say on the matter. On 05 April 2017, is voted overwhelmingly in favour of its own red lines for the Brexit negotiations, which amounted to a tough negotiating stance on Brexit. By a large majority, it voted to:

  • Back the EU 27 position of “phased negotiations” in the Brexit divorce proceedings, rather than exit talks and discussions of a future trade arrangement to happen in parallel;
  • Oppose any piecemeal economic relationships based on sector-specific deals, such as a special deal for the City of London;
  • Insist that any transition arrangements to cushion the UK’s departure, such as tariff-free access to the single market, can only last a maximum of three years;
  • Stress the importance of securing equal and fair treatment for EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in the EU;
  • Open the possibility that UK citizens might be able to individually apply to keep the rights they currently enjoy, etc.

The European Parliament will have to approve any agreement regarding the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and will check whether its red lines have been complied with. Again, there is a bit of a contrast between how democratically the EU is treating the issue of Brexit as compared with the British government. For all the talk of a supposed EU democratic deficit, this seems like a pretty good process to me, unlike the UK being forced, kicking and screaming, by the British courts to allow Parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit. It is still unclear whether the UK Parliament will be given the opportunity to accept or reject the final Brexit deal.

Of Rocks and Hard Places

The empty internal talk within the Conservative party, the delusions of its Brexiteers over the last 9 months and the substance of much of the official letter sent by the British Government invoking Article 50 have been stripped away by the EU 27 and European Parliament.

The dynamics of the relationship between the EU and the UK changed the moment May came out with “Brexit means Brexit” and it is far from evident that we will witness a “red, white and blue” Brexit. It is as plain as day that the UK is the one with the cap in hand, asking for EU favours, just as it was in 1973, when it finally joined the EU, having had its application vetoed twice by the French. The UK was in a weak position joining the club and is in an even weaker position leaving the EU.

The British government is now between a hard rock and a hard place in respect to Brexit, even if it is a situation of its electorate´s own choosing.

Internal rocks

The UK rocks that need to be circumnavigated are ones with the Brexiteers have placed themselves. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • An insistence to the public that Brexit will be painless: all the evidence before the government shows the opposite. During the Referendum, the much-maligned experts were derided by the Brexiteers for concluding that the country would be poorer because of Brexit. The experts are almost unanimously of the view that Britain will be even poorer if a hard Brexit takes place (i.e. without a trade deal with the EU and dependence on World Trade Organisation rules), something which is a distinct possibility;
  • An insistence that Brexit will save money: the distortions and downright lies about spending the annual contribution to the EU on the NHS were broken immediately after the Referendum. Worse still, no one mentioned to the electorate that there would be a whopping Brexit bill. This will not go down well, especially with prominent Brexiteers insisting that Britain will not pay a penny more and might even get a refund from the EU;
  • A suggestion that immigration will be controlled: the idea of an immigration points system was shelved by the leading lights of the Leave campaign shortly after the Referendum (just like the NHS dividend). Now, as it becomes increasingly apparent just how reliant the NHS and various other segments of the private and public sectors are on EU migration, the Brexiteers have already started to beat a retreat. Only it will be hard, if not impossible, to put the tiger that they have unleashed back in the cage. It will not be a pretty sight when the racist and bigoted segment that voted for Brexit (I am not suggesting that this is all, let alone most those that voted Leave) realise that their dreams of splendid nativist isolation will not be brought about by Brexit;
  • Restive Eurosceptics: The Conservative party has a working majority of 17 Members of Parliament but a boat load of Eurosceptics who would like nothing better than a cathartic, hard Brexit. These MPs have been a thorn on the side of the Conservatives since the John Major days and they will continue to push Theresa May towards the exit door until the bitter end. Any compromise (after all, to negotiate is to compromise, especially if all the cards are staked in the favour of the EU) will be seized upon and the slim majority in Parliament will be threatened;
  • British Parliament: the government has had to accept the courts´ rulings that it cannot initiate Brexit without scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament. Parliament has voted the Brexit Bill through but it is not likely to be so amenable once the final terms of Brexit are known. There will be growing pressure to allow Parliament to take the final decision on Brexit and if it happens, no one can predict how the voting will go;
  • The most complex negotiations since World War II: there is agreement that the scale, complexity and multi-dimensionality of Brexit represents the greatest challenge since WWII. However, all the indications are the British are unprepared. The PM is new, the Brexit ministers relatively inexperienced and the Brexit and Trade ministries are understaffed and underqualified in terms of trade, as the past 9 months show. This does not exactly inspire confidence;
  • Fair weather press friends: the influential diehard Brexit bloodhounds (Times, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Sun and Express) will be sniffing around for any signs of slacking by the UK government in the negotiations. They can be relied upon to whip-up a nationalist fervour and to viciously turn on Theresa May´s government at the first sign of perceived weakness;
  • A disunited kingdom: the Scots are insisting on a second independence Referendum, once the terms of the Brexit divorce are known. The Brexiteers´ arguments to justify Brexit will come back to haunt them: sovereignty, control of own borders and all the rest will be used against The Union and it is hard to see the counter arguments to avert a break-up, other than the economic one. Scare tactics worked in the first Scottish Referendum but failed to stop Brexit and will almost certainly fail to prevent Scotix (Scottish exit) second time around. This is especially so because the Spanish government´s confirmation that it would not veto a Scotland application for EU membership. It could also lead to the same development in Northern Ireland (Irexit), since a bad Brexit deal could spur the reunification of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Unlike Scotix, Irexit would lead to automatic EU membership of the EU, since the Republic is already a member. I will not speculate about Wales or Gibraltar for now, but the prospect of a rather DisUnited Kingdom emerging cannot be entirely discounted.

So there are, to put it mildly, quite a lot of potential internal Brexit rocks for the Conservative boat to circumnavigate, even if the Labour Party is shamefully incapable of presenting any sort of meaningful opposition in Parliament at present.

External hard places

The external or EU Brexit hard places have been well-known since mid-2016. These include the following:

  • The house always wins: it is the EU 27 that will determine the rules of negotiation (draft Negotiation Guidelines and Red Lines). Moreover, the EC (Jean-Claude Juncker), the EU Council (Tusk) and the Parliament (Guy Verhofstadt) must agree to the terms of Brexit and/or a future trade deal. Not only that, but there will also be multiple opportunities for EU member states (Sangria anyone?) to derail any potential deals, not to mention the quirky regional parliaments, such as in Belgium, which almost scotched the EU-Canada Trade Deal. Whatever the Brexiteers may imply, the UK really has much more to lose from the failure of negotiations than the EU. There is no doubt whatsoever that the EU holds all the aces in this Brexit game of cards;
  • United by Brexit: for all the Eurosceptic allegations that the EU is fragmented, incapable of action, sclerotic, etc., one thing is clear: there is absolute unanimity in respect to the stance on Brexit. This is coupled with a steely determination among the EU 27 not to allow the UK to divide and conquer, not to allow the UK to cherry pick what it likes and drop the rest and not to allow the UK to secure anywhere as good a deal as that conferred on its club members. The Brexiteers and their right-wing press buddies will undoubtedly foam at the mouth, rant and rave as the negotiations get underway, but this will only foment even greater division in the UK itself (48% voted to remain and this chasm in British society can only grow and become more bitter), as well as between the EU and UK. It will be of no use: the EU 27 will remain united and firm in its resolve. Anything else would be tantamount to the end of the EU itself;
  • A hard deadline (12 – 18 months): there is very little time to agree the terms of Brexit: the French and German elections will result in delays and when the real negotiations start, the EU will insist on settling the key issues first, including the Brexit divorce bill, status of EU national in the UK and vice versa and the Northern Ireland border. Any of these could result in significant delays before the real horse trading begins, let alone trade negotiations. It will take 6 months for any deal to be ratified. The longer the Brexit negotiation game goes on, the stronger the EU cards will become. This does not bode well for the UK´s ability to have its Brexit cake and eat it as well;
  • EU members are more important than outgoing members: the EU appears to have handed Spain a big stick to beat the UK with. This is not just the apparent Gibraltar veto, based on the draft negotiating guidelines. Even if this is negotiated away (something that the British government will go all guns blazing for, as it were), the Spanish Parliament will have to approve the overall Brexit deal. This is a pretty large stick to beat the UK into submission with. Many national and regional government have the same capacity. Put simply, if they wish to, they have got the UK over a barrel;
  • Experienced and hardnosed negotiating team: The EC´s Chief Brexit Negotiator is the highly experience Michel Barnier, combined with his Deputy, Sabine Weyand, a trade expert and behind them stands Jean-Claude Juncker. The EU Council have the highly experienced ex-Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk. And finally, the EU Parliament have an old hand at negotiations, namely Guy Verhofstadt. This amounts to a formidable team of EU negotiators. By contrast, UK has Theresa May, David Davies, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson. There is no UK civil servant that is of the same calibre or experience in trade matters as the EC officials. Which side would you bet on to get the best Brexit deal?

Brexit Countdown

The UK has 12-18 months to agree Brexit and a trade deal (highly unlikely) with the EU.

The countdown has started and there is very little time, given the multiplicity, multidimensionality and complexity of the issues involved. The process of EU accession can take 10 years. The process of EU divorce will be a lot faster but after 44 years, whether the Brits realise it or not, the EU is interwoven into the very fabric of British life, economy and law.

The Brexit clock is ticking louder by the second. Any disagreements, delays, posturing, prevarication, haggling, intransigence, etc. in the negotiations favour the EU 27, rather than the soon-to-be-ex-EU 1.

This means that it is likely that the UK will have to repeatedly compromise or risk “falling off the cliff edge” of a hard Brexit, since it cannot count on any extensions in the timetable, unless the EU 27 agree to it. This is not likely to be achieved unless the EU 27 feel that sufficient progress is being made and, even then, is likely to be limited to 3 years.  Trade deals can last a decade to hammer out.

On the other hand, the UK has become decreasingly influential in the EU. It has either voluntarily removed itself from active engagement or was not able to engage because it is outside the Eurozone. Following Brexit, this has reached a point where the UK is irrelevant to the future of the EU, except in the short-term context of the Brexit divorce settlement. It was not even part of the recent low-key celebration of 60 years of the Treaty of Rome.

This is the new reality for Britain and for Britons in Europe. The British government is caught between a rock and a hard place. So are British citizens and the rights and benefits accumulated over almost half a century, whatever the UK government may claim about preserving them.

No matter how often the letter triggering Article 50 repeats the desire for a “deep and special partnership” with the EU, that was in the past. The future is nothing of the sort and may deteriorate further, once the serious negotiations start in earnest. This will be doubly so, once the hard Brexiteers and the English right-wing newspapers begin to see their long-held delusions crushed between the rock of EU determination that ex-EU members cannot have the same benefits as current EU members and the hard place of ensuring that Britain does not fall off the Brexit cliff edge.

The outcome of this dreary process will be the final Brexit. The jubilant Eurosceptics will have regained the prize of the UK´s sovereignty and full control over the island. It will come at a heavy price to the rest of society and the economy. But they will undoubtedly consider it a cost well worth paying.

The only crumb of comfort (if such it is), is that the UK government will thereafter no longer be able to pin the blame for anything and everything that is wrong with Britain and its welfare state on “Europe”, the whipping boy of choice, or EU immigrants, the scapegoats for all the UK´s long-standing social policy failures.

What happens next is certain to be interesting, but it will not be a pretty sight.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2017, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


Brexit and the Politics of Wishful Thinking

It has been a little while since I last posted something on the AngloDeutsch Blog.

The reason is simple: the UK´s referendum decision in favour of Brexit was not entirely a surprise but it still came as a shock that the majority of my fellow Britons voted to leave the European Union (EU), a club that they had been part and parcel of for over four decades (Britain joined in 1973), even if it has always been a less than wholehearted member.

Since 23 June 2016 I have observed the unfolding UK-EU divorce while trying to come to terms with that it means for Britons, for Europeans and of course for me personally, a Briton who has lived in various parts of the EU and is a resident of Germany.

I remain as shocked as ever but unlike many Remainers who retain dim hopes that Brexit might somehow be averted, that Parliament could override the outcome of the referendum or that a second referendum could be held when the actual terms and conditions of Brexit have been negotiated, I am expecting Brexit to occur. Not only that, but I do strongly believe that having voted for Brexit, it must happen. The referendum was a democratic process, the decision was clear and democracy would be undermined, perhaps fatally, by anything other than Brexit.

Slow-burning Brexit fuse

This is not to say that I think Brexit is a good thing for either the UK or the EU, as I have made clear in my blog. I remain as convinced as ever of the opposite, even if a growing number of people are jumping on the bandwagon to claim that there has been no crisis post-Brexit. This is hardly surprising since Article 50 triggering the process of withdrawal from the EU has not yet been invoked, Brexit has not yet happened and the Bank of England has been very active in pre-empting a possible crisis by launching an aggressive “sledgehammer” stimulus package. The real Brexit impact will be medium- to long-erm in nature; it will have a slow burning fuse but it will eventually be more keenly felt in terms of investment, jobs, real wages and wealth.

The most notable thing about the three months since the referendum is how little progress has actually been made in terms of defining what Brexit actually means. Since there have been no notable decisions made, investors have not had anything substantive, positive or negative, to react to and are keeping a watching brief on what happens. This in itself is a negative, albeit not one that the Brexiteers would acknowledge.

The extent of the current policy position of the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, boils down to a political soundbite: “… Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it.”

Beyond this, very little is clear about the British Government´s Brexit position in respect to fundamental issues such as:

  • When Article 50 will be triggered to officially start the Brexit negotiations (sometime in 2017);
  • Whether Parliament will have a vote on Brexit;
  • If the aim is to stay in the common market or not (hard vs soft Brexit);
  • When Britain will actually leave the EU;
  • How long it will take to sign new trade agreements with the EU and other countries;
  • What the rights and responsibilities of the EU citizens living and working in the UK;
  • What does Brexit mean for Scotland and Northern Ireland;
  • The same for the Britons living in EU countries, etc.

The only firm policy position is that the UK will not accept one of the EU´s fundamental requirements, namely the freedom of movement of people, and insists upon taking full control of the borders in terms of who is let into the country. These are non-negotiable for the government.

Wishful thinking

Theresa May said in advance of her first cabinet meeting as Prime Minister: “So we will not allow the country to be defined by Brexit; but instead build the education, skills, and social mobility to allow everyone to prosper from the opportunities of leaving the EU.”

However, Brexit will undoubtedly define her government´s work for the current political term. Not only that, it will involve nigh on Herculean efforts to unpick over 4 decades of close legislative, economic, trade, cultural, financial, environmental and other ties. Without a doubt, Brexit will define the next 2-3 UK governments´ policy agenda and thus the country´s destiny. Whatever the Prime Minister may suggest, Britain has already been defined by Brexit, certainly for the other 27 countries, and this will only intensify in period until 2019 when the divorce proceedings are likely to conclude.

The wishful thinking does not stop there.

The Eurosceptic knives are out and being sharpened; the Government already stands accused of not doing enough to bring about Brexit, as if it such a complex and critical issue in terms of Britain´s future economic wellbeing is something that could be decided upon at the drop of a hat. The Brexiteers may have gone into the referendum in a blithe manner in terms of their complete lack of post-referendum plan but at least they are being consistent.

The headlong rush towards Brexit is irresponsible. To be sure, Britain has the right to unilaterally withdraw from the EU at any point of its choosing but there is broad consensus that this would be disastrous for all concerned. The default position is thus the negotiated route to Brexit, despite the unrest among the hard core Brexiteers. However, choosing to enter complex Brexit negotiations without adequate analysis, preparation and forethought in respect to Britain´s long term interests would be the equivalent of tying both Britain´s metaphorical hands behind its back in the forthcoming marathon negotiations with the EU. Just as in the case of unilateral withdrawal, there would only be losers from such a process. The Brexiteers have won the debate, so whatever their ideological desire to head for the exit door host-haste, they will just have to rein their horses in the interests of their country.

There is a school of thought that Mrs May has made a strategic mistake by offering key ministerial positions to leading Brexiteers as Boris Johnson (Foreign Office), David Davis (Brexit Negotiations) and Liam Fox (International Trade). I think it has actually been a strategic masterstroke on her part. The political onus has been neatly shifted to the Three Brexiteers, who must now take responsibility for preparatory work, negotiations and whatever outcome Britain is able to negotiate with the EU. The Brexiteers cannot claim to have been undermined by the Remainers if the critical political posts are all held by the Three Brexiteers.

Row, row your boat…

The advantages of this approach are already becoming evident. Among the chaos and obfuscation (which might be characterised as Project Lies or Project Fear, depending on which side of the fence you sit on) evident during the referendum campaign, there were a few concrete promises made by the Leave Campaign, though the Brexiteers are busily rowing away from them:

  1. GBP 350 million per week will be invested in the NHS: Nigel Farage (UKIP) admitted that it was a mistake to make such a claim and that the NHS would not get the extra funds.
  2. Article 50 to leave EU will be immediately triggered: Liam Fox (Conservatives) has admitted that Britain is nowhere near being prepared to begin negotiating Brexit and that this will take time.
  3. Brexit is a relatively straightforward process that can proceed quickly: David Davis (Conservatives) admitted that the Brexit negotiations may be the most complicated negotiation ever and that they will start sometime in 2017, followed by two years of negotiations.
  4. Introduction of a points based immigration system to take back control of the borders: Boris Johnson (Conservatives) has abandoned the plan for a points based immigration system promised during the election campaign stating that what matters is taking control of the borders.
  5. A favourably UK-EU free trade agreement will be negotiated as the EU has more to lose than the UK: David Davis (Conservatives) admitted that it might not happen and that the UK might exit without a trade agreement, thus having to revert to less favourable WTO tariffs instead.

The above can be interpreted in one way: the loud and clear sound of retreat can be heard and the buglers are none other than the Three Brexiteers.

For her part, Theresa May is keeping her cards close to her chest, holding bilateral preparatory meetings with the French, Germans, EU, etc. and repeating her “Brexit means Brexit” mantra. The three leading Brexiteers are the ones having to do all the running, carry the weight of political expectation and toil under the pressure to come up with a coherent plan for Brexit.

They are not giving the impression having much of a clue about what they are doing, let alone being capable of coordinating the process among themselves in a manner which inspires confidence about an outcome that will be at least as much in Britain´s interest as is the case today. Their fellow Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party are increasingly restless and if the current state of affairs continues, Mrs May might just be tempted in the future to relieve the Three Brexiteers of their duties. If she were then to appoint more capable replacements, whether Brexiteers or not, that might not be such a bad outcome and the Brexiteers would only have themselves to blame.

Choppy waters ahead

It takes two to do the Brexit tango, so how is the EU preparing for it?

Firstly, the rest of the EU insists upon Article 50 being triggered as soon as possible for the simple reason that an indeterminate period of uncertainty can only be negative for Britain and for the other EU countries. Ironically, the EU is pushing much harder for a quick Brexit than the Three Brexiteers and the rest of the government. However, since it cannot do anything about it, the rest of the EU is resigned to the likelihood that the UK will not invoke Article 50 and enter the negotiation phase until sometime in 2017, possibly later 2017 once the French and German General Elections are safely out of the way. Furthermore, the EU is firm about the fact that it will not start Brexit negotiations, formal or informal, until Article 50 is triggered by the UK. The hard core Brexiteers must be as bitterly disappointed about this likely delay as the rest of the EU, but at least they have finally one thing in common.

Secondly, it is not feasible for Britain to remain in the Common Market or join the European Economic Area (assuming the existing EEA members do not veto the UK from joining this club – the early indications are that these relatively small countries might not appreciate the prospect of being joined by what would become the dominant country, resulting in very different political dynamics) unless freedom of movement of people is guaranteed. Since this is a Rubicon that will not be crossed by the Brexiteers and/or the British Government, this option appears to be out of the question. The EU is inflexible on this fundamental issue, as illustrated by its handling of the Swiss referendum and the failed attempt to restrict freedom of movement while remaining in the EEA / common market. The omens are not good and the implication would be “hard” Brexit – leaving the EU and single market altogether without a free trade agreement with the EU.

The EU members are also unusually strong and consistent on other important issues.

Firstly, to make the UK divorce too easy would be to encourage other EU countries to consider leaving the EU club. Put simply, this is the very last thing that the other leading EU countries want. The negotiations will not be a stroll in the park, whatever the Brexiteers may claim. This is wishful thinking on their part and is misleading to it.

Secondly, it is entirely out of the question for the UK to expect to have its Brexit cake and eat it too. In other words, whatever is negotiated with the UK cannot possibly be as good as the current situation as a full and (formerly) leading member of the EU, something that the three Brexiteers continue to imply. Forget that sort of wishful thinking; it simply does not add up. If you join a club, you pay your membership fees, live by the rules and reap the benefits. If you choose to leave the club, you do not pay the fees, do not abide by the rules but do not get the benefits either. Period.

Thirdly, Angela Merkel has made Germany´s view unusually clear by stressing that Brexit is irrevocable (a one way ticket and Britons cannot expect otherwise) and that it is not feasible for the UK to be part of the common market without the EU´s four freedoms, one of which is freedom of movement. She has also stressed that Brexit negotiations cannot be a “cherry picking exercise” of keeping the good economic, trade and finance bits and ditching the rest. For someone renowned for mincing her words, this is as clear a statement as the Three Brexiteers will ever hear; not that they are paying any attention in their delusion.

The British government will also wish to factor in other important considerations in securing a Brexit deal. Whatever it turns out to be good, bad or indifferent, it can be vetoed by any of the remaining 27 countries. Any marginal hopes that Britain might harbour to somehow remain in the Common Market while avoiding the freedom of movement of people can and most probably will be vetoed by Visigrad nations such as Poland.

Loaded dice

There is thus a whole series of pitfalls to be avoided and the reality is that it will be very hard for a deal to be agreed within the maximum prescribed period. The negotiations are loaded in favour of the EU due to the time limit to finalise negotiations once Article 50 is triggered. Two years (unless there is a unanimous agreement by 27 nations to extend the negotiating period) does not sound like ample time to complete “…the most complicated negotiation ever” (David Davis) and do so in Britain´s favour while also securing a qualified majority of the EU leaders and the 27 Parliaments across the EU (as well as the European Parliament – see below).

As if that little lot was not enough to give the Three Brexiteers and their ilk food for thought, the EU has just appointed its team of Brexit negotiators and no one can claim that the intention is to give the UK and easy ride. The European Commission (EC) has put a Frenchman and former EU commissioner, Michel Barnier, in charge. The UK media was pretty clear about the possible implications. The Sun branded him “anti-British” and the Evening Standard called him the “scourge of the City”, with important implications given the significance of the financial sector and the sensitive issue of the UK retaining financial “passporting rights” without which a chunk of the financial sector concentrated in London could shift to Frankfurt, Paris and other EU cities.

Furthermore, the European Parliament has selected the MEP and former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt as the lead Brexit negotiator, since any deal agreed by EU Leaders will have to be ratified by the European Parliament, an institution which has often been in the crosshairs of the leading Brexiteers. The media immediately branded Verhofstadt a “diehard European federalist,” the worst possible insult that could ever be levelled by a Brexiteer. Without approval by the majority of the European Parliament, there will not be a Brexit deal. Perhaps Nigel Farage was a little unwise to gloat about Brexit at the European Parliament while still holding on to his seat and salary as a MEP (17 years and counting). Some might have concluded that Brexit was mission accomplished, but obviously not our Nigel.

Dream on

So the Brexit battle lines are being drawn.

It is evident that the EU´s position is a lot clearer than that of the UK, where pretty much everything is still up in the air, other than the intention to control its borders (despite being an island and not being part of the Schengen area) and avoiding freedom of movement of people (despite having almost as many Britons living in other EU countries, benefiting economically from EU migration and receiving the majority of its immigration from non-EU countries such as the Commonwealth).

The UK has yet to come up with the semblance of a cogent Brexit plan (“soft” or “hard” for a start), let alone one which unites the leading Brexiteers (a substantial minority of the Conservative Party) while also satisfying the majority Remainers in the same party. This is going to be tricky in the extreme: the Conservative Party has a slim overall majority of 16 in Parliament and UKIP will continue to breathe down the Conservatives´ political neck (the Labour Party is even worth mentioning, given its ongoing chaos and disarray).

Britain will need uncommon diplomatic and negotiating skills (eh hem! – yes, I am thinking of our Foreign Secretary), as well as a hefty dose of luck in navigating through the choppy waters coming up in 2017 and still coming out of with a Brexit deal, let alone a favourable one, whatever the Three Brexiteers and the British government may claim.

The likelihood of actually securing a deal that is at least as favourable as the status quo is nigh on impossible (though the EU is first and foremost a political construct and since politics trumps everything else, the possibility cannot be completely excluded). The prospect of the UK having its Brexit cake and eating it at the same time appears to be a load of wishful thinking and delusion. Everyone but the Brexiteers can clearly see the writing on the EU wall… in capital letters, underlined and bold.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


The Brexiteers vs The Establishment: a very tall tale

And so, with less than a week to go before the EU Referendum scheduled of the 23 June 2016, the Leave (or Brexit for British Exit) campaign took a lead in the opinion polls for the first time, quickly followed by other polls showing that everything is to play for. Such polls are not an exact science: they have not known for their accuracy in the UK. In the last referendum they were predicting that Scotland would choose to divorce from the UK. More recently they did not predict a majority for the Conservatives in the last General Election. Still something is happening which might result in the unimaginable: Britain could soon find itself heading out of the European Union (EU).

A theme which becomes more and more apparent in recent polling is that a shift has occurred and it is connected with particular social groups representing the working population pushing for Brexit. The reason has probably little to do with the EU itself, which is generally not that well known (in itself is an on-going problem and not just in the UK). Rather this seems to reflect be a groundswell of concerns, anxieties and fear which go beyond EU immigration:

“… the EU referendum debate has opened up a Pandora’s box of working-class anger and frustration… I would argue that the referendum debate within working-class communities is not about immigration, despite the rhetoric. It is about precarity and fear … For them, talking about immigration and being afraid of immigration is about the precarity of being working class, when people’s basic needs are no longer secure and they want change. The referendum has opened up a chasm of inequality in the UK and the monsters of a deeply divided and unfair society are crawling out. They will not easily go away no matter what the referendum result.”

This analysis rings true to me and hence my fear that the EU Referendum could swinging towards Brexit, whatever the merits of the Remain case. The Leave campaign has detected and tapped into this sentiment, and is now milk it for all it is worth. By contrast, the utter failure of the Remain campaign to articulate a strong case for remaining, as opposed sketching gloom and doom Brexit scenarios, has an alarmist and thus false ring to it.

Instead, the Brexiteers have positioned themselves to pander to these fears and anxieties, while at the same time offering them a golden opportunity to giving a bloody nose to the toffs representing the British Establishment / Elites that would preserve the status quo (i.e. remain in the EU) at all costs and against the best interests of ordinary Britons.

Austerity has  undoubtedly intensified the sense of precarity in British society and this is being exploited by the Brexiteers. However, the issue is what exactly is the motivation of the leading Brexiteers and their backers? Should Brexit occur, would they prioritise dealing with these legitimate concerns upon Brexit or are the Brexiteers spinning a very long tale?

The Noes

The “Noes” camp is led by Boris Johnson and his band of merry men such as Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Priti Patel, etc. (all Conservatives). Nigel Farage (UKIP) is ploughing his own furrow. The others consider him to be “toxic” to the Brexit because of his focus on the issue of EU immigration,  most recently demonstrated in UKIP´s intemperate use of the refugee crisis, though in reality the immigration theme is one which the rest of the leading Brexiteers have increasingly latched on to.

They are joined by those well-known supporters of democracy and transparency who only wish Britain well for the future, such as Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. All are encouraging Britons to Brexit, thus freeing the UK from the clutches, if not shackles, of the EU.

They all stress the need to regain control of the borders (i.e. stop EU immigration), stop EU benefit tourism, stop EU heath tourism, stop housing being taken up by EU foreigners, stop school places being taken-up by EU migrants´ children,  stop the loss of British sovereignty, stop EU enlargement, stop payments flowing to the EU, etc. (follow the links for an alternative analysis of the causes and the solutions). The grand plan is to stop anything and everything emanating from the EU because it is self-evident (to them) that all of Britain’s problems stem from being in the EU. This has the simplistic ring of pure populism and we all know what that has led to in the past.

The Brexiteers have few ideas about what they would do upon Brexit. The plan is basically to stop the EU, regain full sovereignty, regain control of the borders, reduce immigration through an Austria style points system, sign-up new trade deals and plough Britain´s EU financial contribution into public services. Britain will soon thrive upon Brexit. Apparently.

The possibility that most of the key problems in Britain (housing, health, education, low productivity, infrastructure, massive public and private sector debt, etc.) are the direct result of Britain´s own systemic policy failures and would cost a few zillion pounds more that the EU annual contribution seemingly does not cross their mind.

The EU is to blame for everything and the British Establishment / Elites (i.e. pretty much anyone daring to challenge the Leave arguments, especially experts) with it.

The Ayes

On the other side of the fence is a very long list of those calling for Britain to Remain in the EU because it is in Britain´s present and future interest to do so, including:

  • The majority of the Conservative Party, including the Prime Minister and Chancellor:
  • The majority of the Labour Party, including the leader of the opposition (officially);
  • The Social Democrats;
  • The Scottish National Party;
  • The Greens;
  • Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton;
  • The Treasury;
  • The Institute of Fiscal Affairs;
  • The Federal Reserve;
  • The World Bank;
  • The World Trade Organisation (WTO);
  • The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD);
  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF);
  • The other 27 EU nations;
  • The trades unions;
  • The great majority of established businesses;
  • The great majority of health professionals, NGOs and similar;
  • Almost all economists (since there are almost as many differences of opinion as there are economists, the fact that about 600 have united behind Remain is remarkable).

This is an overwhelming group of institutions that favour Remaining in the EU.

Such an incredible array of opinion would normally sway public opinion.

But the reality is that they are cutting little or no ice with the social groups previously discussed.

Instead, the Brexiteers have gained momentum and could well win the day.

The Anti Establishment Band?

The Brexiteers are putting-up a fight – an increasingly bitter one at that (as was the previous Brexit referendum in 1975).

They stress that they are fighting the British Establishment / Elite, pointedly alluding to the wealthy toffs such as David Cameron and George Osborne.

They emphasise that the Establishment prefers the status quo, rather than what is right for Britain.

They maintain that the Establishment from abroad (USA, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, etc.) should butt-off and allow Britons to get on it, as if we are not all interconnected in this globalised world where whatever Britons decided affects all other EU national, as well other countries.

They dismiss international organisations for being stuffed full of overpaid and under-taxed bureaucrats that simply trot out what the EU and the Establishment wants to hear. They do the same with any other experts, Britons or not, for all being in the EU´s pocket.

Since the economic and trade case for Brexit is non-existent, except in their own imagination, they increasingly contrast themselves with the Elites / Establishment, while they uphold the interests of ordinary working class Britons by braving political correctness and speaking out against current EU immigration as well as immigration from future accession countries such as Turkey and Albania.

They point out that, unlike them, the Establishment has lost contact with ordinary, working class voters, who are suffering from the consequences of the EU.

And they insist that they are not racists, they are not nativists, they are not isolationists and they are not Little Englanders. They just want what is in the best long-term best interests of the UK.

There is an element of truth in some of the above; there has to be a veneer of it in order to connect with people.

But there is a very tall tale at the core of it too, which is what I would like to emphasis in this post.

Question: when is the Establishment not the Establishment?

Answer: when you belong to the leading Band of Brexiteers

Maybe it is possible that all the British and other institutions previously listed are not in cahoots in a someMachiavellian national, European and global  conspiracy to get Britons to vote for something that would be detrimental to their own future.

Maybe ending EU membership will not miraculously cure Britain´s structural problems, which are the main reason that the key British public services are in their current state.

Maybe Britain´s austerity, which has nothing to do with the EU, is the driver of all the angst.

Maybe Brexit might actually accentuate the problems, not least the massive and growing public sector deficit, in the short, medium and long-term.

And maybe, just maybe, the Brexiteers are themselves deeply embedded in the very bedrock of the Establishment / Elite which they are so dismissive of.

Consider the following:

  • Boris Johnson: Eton, Oxford University, ex-Mayor of London, Cabinet Member;
  • Michael Gove: Robert Gordon´s School, Oxford University, Cabinet Member
  • Iain Duncan Smith: St. Peter´s RC Secondary School, Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, ex-Cabinet Member;
  • Nigel Farage: Dulwich College, ex-city trader, Member of European Parliament.

Put in these terms, and not even alluding to their likely personal wealth, the band of leading Brexiteers dismissing everyone else for being the British Establishment / Elite could be construed as a good case of “the pot calling the kettle black,” to use a quaint but fitting British saying.

The most prominent Brexiteers did not exactly grow-up in a council housing estate, attend a public school, let alone go around waving a flag of St George or driving a white van, to use some of the usual terminology which the media and politicians now use to denote the white, working class social groups in England (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland remain solidly for staying in the EU).

I doubt that Boris Johnson and his band of merry Brexiteers are to be regularly found at the local pub, quaffing a celebratory pint of ale after a football match to wash down their bacon butties (unless TV crews are present, of course). I exaggerate, but the point is that all the leading figures of the vote Leave campaign appear to have done rather well out of being an integral part of the British Establishment /Elite. You can be confident that their children and grandchildren are likely to do well out of being part of the same social group.

Therefore, for this set of people to be tapping into the palpable angst among working class Britons in order to further their own political ambitions grates with me. They are seeking to mobilise working class sentiment to achieve an ideological objective which, in the long-term, may very well work against those same voters while, at the same time, propelling BoJo and his band of merry Brexiteers ever further up the greasy pole of British politics and Establishment positions.

The fact is that the leading Brexiteers are not exactly committed to protecting the average person.

In a recent televised debate, Boris Johnson said that the Leave side is determined to protect the workers after Nicola Sturgeon quoted something he once wrote: “The weight of employment regulation is backbreaking. We should get rid of the collective redundancies directive, the workers’ directive, the working time directive and 1,000 more.”

Yet these are the very things which are protecting British employees from having their rights undermined by such British developments as “zero hour contracts”.

Nigel Farage has been widely reported for calling for a move away from a state-funded NHS.

Gove is the architect of educational academies that is not only flawed but may well be damaging education while also increasing inequality.

Iain Duncan Smith is the author-in-chief of the austerity drive which has cut out billions from the welfare state, thus impoverishing the lives of the non-working population of the UK, while also dismantling various parts of social security safety net for low income workers.

The sad fact is that the leading Brexiteers and Brexit, which is definitely on the cards likely, may actually accentuate the fear, insecurity and precarity that is driving the recent trends in voting intentions in relation to the forthcoming EU referendum. When they no longer need to take the EU into consideration, further deregulation and labour market flexibility will lead to even more winners and losers. Your guess about who is likely to be on the losing side is as good as mine: the very people that might vote for Brexit as the outlet of their frustration and anxieties?

The EU Bashers

The band of Brexiteers is far from being alone in the aggressive fight for Brexit.

There is a strong anti-EU bias at the core of the British Establishment. A recent study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that the British press coverage of the EU Referendum is “heavily skewed in favour of Brexit”. It is not just any newspapers that are anti “Europe” but specifically the ones which just happen to be most influential in terms of the social groups turning towards Brexit, as well as having massive circulation compared with the pro-remain newspapers, as illustrated below.

Pro Leave Circulation Pro Remain Circulation
Sun 1.800,000 Mirror 809,000
Mail 1.700,000 Financial Times 198,000
Telegraph 472,000 Guardian 164,000
Express 408,000 Independent 55,000
Times 404,000
Total 4,784,000 Total 1,226,000

 

In other words, much of the British reporting (printed and online coverage) has a strong anti-EU spin and they are not particularly concerned about such trivialities as balanced argument and truthful reporting. The fact is that the Brexiteers are not exactly in their own: they are strongly and systematically aided and abetted by the most influential newspapers in terms of circulation and readership by social groups which are turning against remaining in the EU. The “drip drip” effect clearly works.

Billionaire Brexit Backers (BBB)

The Brexit backers are not restricted to a few billionaire newspaper tycoons such as Rupert Murdoch, Barclay Brothers, Lord Rothermere, Richard Desmond, etc. A simple internet search of the backers of the UKIP / Leave campaigns reveals that quite a few multi-millionaires / billionaires are bankrolling Brexit. These are mainly financiers of various sorts, as well as property tycoons, ICT and retail magnets.

This is not to suggest that the Remain campaign does not have über-wealthy supporters but to illustrate the sort of people that are funding the Brexit campaigns. If these über-wealthy individuals are not, like the leading Brexiteers, and much of the British media, not part and parcel of the very essence of Elite / Establishment, then I do not know who is. If these sorts of individuals not extremely well-placed to take advantage of the opportunities that might arise post-Brexit, not least from the turmoil that might be caused in the property and financial markets, then I do not know who is.

These are not the sort of individuals who are likely to take much notice of the concerns of working people in relation to jobs, wages, housing, social services, etc. It is a safe bet to suggest that protecting British workers´ rights upon Brexit and thus counteracting the drivers of the recent referendum polling trends is not likely to be at the top of their post-Brexit agenda. Take an illustrative quotation from one of the billionaires bankrolling Brexit. Peter Hargreaves has acknowledged the insecurity that would result from Brexit and stressed that: “It would be the biggest stimulus to get our butts in gear that we have ever had” … “We will get out there and we will be become incredibly successful because we will be insecure again. And insecurity is fantastic.” Maybe a billionaire stockbroker truly believes this but I doubt that the average Briton will see perceive insecurity in quite the same manner. This very insecurity is what is driving part of the trend in the possible Brexit vote.

Picking-up on the earlier quotation, for once BoJo is correct: the fact is that millions of the currently working-class people are actually protected by the common rules applied throughout the EU designed to create a single market. The protections include:

  • Anti-discrimination rights;
  • Written terms and conditions;
  • Maximum 48 hour working week, rest periods/breaks;
  • Paid annual leave;
  • Improved health and safety protection;
  • Maternity rights;
  • Parental leave rights;
  • Equal pay for equal work between men and women;
  • Fair treatment of part time, fixed term and agency workers;
  • Rights for outsourced workers;
  • Collective rights such as human rights, collective bargaining, information and consultation, etc.

Source: UK employment rights and the EU

These are not the sort of things to give-up lightly… unless you are so well-off that you do not need them. The people that are feeling the consequences of austerity most certainly do benefit from these labour market protections.

Wolves in Sheep´s Clothing?

 

Don´t be fooled by the über-rich advocating for Brexit on behalf of the ordinary working (and non-working) class British citizen. The great majority of the journalists / media advocating for Brexit stem from the same privately educated, Oxbridge elites. Whatever they may imply, protecting the average working (and non-working) person in Britain from the angst that plagues many of them is not their beer.

What many of them seek is a future where Britain can continue unimpeded down the path of deregulation and maximum labour market “flexibility” such as zero hour contracts.

A lot of Britons are anxious and angry. They have seen a few do very well indeed while austerity and the poor economic performance since 2007 has taken a chunk off their disposable. They know that we are certainly “not all in it together”. They have seen politicians such as David Cameron saying one thing to them and doing another himself. They have seen public services steadily deteriorating and that the future for people that depend on them is anything but rosy. This the result of decades of lack of investment in public services due to lack of political prioritisation. But during the EU Referendum the media and the Brexiteers point to the EU and EU immigrants and ordinary Britons fear that there will be even greater competition for a perceived smaller share of the social and economic pie.

But Britons are nothing if not fair and sensible: they know that when things appear to be too good or too simple to be true, they usually are. They know that pointing to the EU and EU immigrants (and who else post-Brexit?) is a simplistic solution to a complex set of British problems which will not be solved overnight and may well be accentuated by Brexit, especially if the economy takes a turn for the worse. The EU budget will not make much of a dent on the needs.

I grew-up in a council housing state in inner London.

I went to a low achieving secondary school and I was in the tiny minority that lucky enough to get to university.

I worked my way up my profession without the benefit of old boy networks.

I stumbled into an international career which has taken me throughout the EU member countries, as well as all the Candidate Countries knocking at the EU door.

My friends and family count among the people that are suffering from the angst that afflicts Britons.

So I feel able to say this: by tapping into the anxieties and frustrations of ordinary working Britons, the leading Brexiteers, their Oxbridge educated journalist buddies and their billionaire backers are spinning a very tall tale so as to tap into the legitimate concerns of ordinary Britons.

They are doing this knowingly, manipulatively and without the least intention of doing something about those concerns, should Brexit occur. Quite the opposite: their privileges and advantages are likely to be reinforced once they no longer have to look over their shoulder or deal with the bright glare of the other 27 countries of the EU.

Brexit will undoubtedly lead to winners and losers.

You can be certain of which side the leading Brexiteers, their über-wealthy and well-connected friends funding the campaigns and writing the misleading newspaper articles will be on.

But can you be so certain that your employment rights, wage levels, social benefits, etc. will be protected, let alone improved, upon Brexit?

I´m not. Not in the least.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


EU Enlargement: Lies, Damn Lies and Brexit

The European Union (EU) referendum to decide whether Britain will remain in the EU is less than a month away and the “Brexiteers” (those in favour of leaving or “British Exit”), complain that their opponents, the “Remain” campaign, are making every effort to scare the electorate (“Project Fear”) so as to get a vote to stay in the EU. The Brexiteers cannot complain, as far a I can tell, because they are busily bending the truth while also cranking-up the pressure (“Project Fear”) on the poor average British voter.

To illustrate this let us consider the way the future enlargement of the EU is being handled.

The Balkan Horde Cometh

Ms Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was the first to bring-up the issue of EU enlargement even though she is superficially in the Remain camp: “The states now negotiating to join the EU include Albania, Serbia and Turkey – countries with poor populations and serious problems with organised crime, corruption, and sometimes even terrorism.  We have to ask ourselves, is it really right that the EU should just continue to expand, conferring upon all new member states all the rights of membership?” (emphasis added)

Iain Duncan Smith formerly the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and one of the leading Brexiteers, immediately jumped on the enlargement bashing bandwagon: “The Home Secretary is right to warn of the dangers of countries like Albania and Turkey being allowed to join the EU. If these countries are let into the EU’s open border system it will only increase the pressure on our NHS, schools and housing. It will also vastly increase the risk of crime and terrorism on British streets.” (emphasis added)

Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London and the most prominent of the Brexiteers, was his usual self. He said whatever came to his mind that sounded vague humorous while paying scant regard for facts. He can be relied upon to say the exact opposite at a later point in time if it suits him and can help to position him to become the next Prime Minister.

The supposedly most intellectual of the leading Brexiteers, Mr Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Justice, then capped it all in his widely reported article about possible future enlargement: “Albania is on course to join the European Union — alongside four other countries, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. The already unwieldy group of 28 is due to become a throng of 33” … When (they) join the EU, another 88 million people will soon be eligible for NHS care and school places for their children. And what will even more immigration from the EU mean for access to housing across the UK? … What will it mean for jobs and wages?” … “And allowing millions more people to come here from the Balkans and Turkey is too much.” (emphasis added)

Unusually for the Brexiteers, they went on to be very specific about the implications of a future EU enlargement connected with the five countries:

  • Turkey, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia could join the EU in 2020;
  • They forecast 3,1 to 5,2 million extra immigrants coming to the UK from the 5 countries;
  • Britain would face an influx the size of population of Scotland by 2030.

The Sun, Telegraph, Mail, Express and the other pro-Brexit newspapers widely reported the enlargement claims and forecasts. The image conjured up was one of 5,2 million extra immigrants (the population of Scotland) beating a path straight to the UK, bringing crime and terrorism to our streets, along with making all our public services unsustainable. Since the Brexiteers keep constantly suggesting that British public services are already at “breaking point” due to EU immigration, it is not hard to imagine what life would become like for the long-suffering Britons, once the Balkan hordes have descend upon the green and beautiful land in 15 years´ time. Thanks so much for the timely warning!

So I though you might be interested to read the perspective of someone who has worked in all the Central and South East European countries that are now part of the EU (e.g. Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia), as well as the five current EU accession countries.

I know that the mere fact that I have worked in all those countries, including the European Commission as a client, will mean for some that I am disqualified from commenting on the issue of EU Enlargement. They will automatically dismiss me as someone who is “benefitting from EU funding” with the implication that I must be totally biased and am somehow being paid to write something in favour of the EU. I notice this particular argument frequently emanating from the Brexit camp whenever someone has the temerity to call the case for Brexit into question. I can only say that if first hand experience of EU accession is not relevant to a debate about EU accession, then that is a bit of a Catch22, right? Perhaps it is those that know absolutely nothing about the countries or the process of enlargement that are best placed to comment (like some ministers I could mention)?

A little respect goes along way

The first point is that those countries are far from perfect. There are criminals, there is corruption, there is fraud, there is terrorism and there is much else besides such as imperfect democracies and questionable treatment of human rights in the EU accession countries. All true but if that were not the case, they would probably already be part of the EU. It could be argued that a similar litany of woes applies to Britain, Greece, Poland, Hungary… indeed all 28 EU countries; it is merely a matter of degree.

The whole point of trying to join the EU is to develop rules, regulations, policies, standards, norms, etc. through adoption of the EU´s body of rules (called the acquis communautaire) that will enable those countries to become more democratic, transparent, productive, competitive and wealthy and thus developer a higher quality of life. Yes, this does indeed happen by preparing to join and then being part of the EU: it happened in Ireland, it happened in Greece (their implosion was due to joining the EU, which is why the Greeks have absolutely no desire to leave the EU) and it happened in Britain for those that remember the country prior to joining in 1973. For the citizens of the EU accession countries, the EU remains a bright beacon of hope. As a consequence they are willingly going through a painful and drawn-out process of reform and change across all elements of laws, institutions and practices, so as to approximate the EU framework.

To then be singled out for misused in a British debate which tars them with the brush of all current British public fears, is an affront for people and countries that also have their national pride. Shame on you Brexiteers, for your smug, holier than thou attitude, as well as your lack of respect towards the people of those nations. 

Not only is it offensive to project a future EU enlargement far into the future and couple it with “crime, corruption and terrorism on British streets”, it is also a wilful and malign mischaracterisation of the nature of the people concerned. I have worked with and enjoyed the company and hospitality of Turks, Serbs, Macedonians, Albanians and Montenegrins (as well as Kosovars, Bosnians and others who aspire to join the EU). I feel privileged to consider many of them to be my colleagues and friends. My experiences have never been anything short of positive in those countries. (As an aside, it so happens that I am writing this post in Tirana; the UK Ministers in question will no doubt be relieved to find out that I have yet to be kidnapped, robbed or terrorised.) In contrast to the calculating Brexiteer portrayal of these people, I am reminded time and again of their warmth, friendliness and positivity in the face of their everyday challenges as they make the slow, painful transition towards alignment to the norms of the EU.

They are as European as the rest of the EU. They have the right to aspire to become part of the EU, as long they fulfil the extremely rigorous conditions connected with EU accession. That applies equally to Turkey, a small part of which is undeniably a geographical part of the Balkans and thus Europe. The EU is not forcing any country to join: those countries wish to be part of the EU and it would be wrong to deny them the opportunity, just as Charles de Gaulle was wrong in vetoing the UK´s efforts to join the EU, twice. The Balkans is undeniably the next, obvious phase of EU enlargement, even if the Turkey question remains highly politically charged.

Every European should be aware of the fractured history of the Balkans. It is totally indefensible for one Brexiteer after the other to chuck them all into one big basked and then proceed to attach to them the most negative stereotypes imaginable. As if the EU does not suffer from some of the same problems. There has always been more than enough crime, fraud and terrorism in the original EEC/EU6 and there still is in the enlarged EU28, as far a I can tell.

I doubt that the Brexiteers have been to the countries that they so disdainfully dismiss. For Europe to turn its back its Balkan neighbours (including Turkey) would be a mistake of epic proportions (let us not forget Europe twiddling its thumbs during the collapse of the ex-Yugoslav Republic and its aftermath) that would reverberate through decades to come. The EU understands this intrinsically, hence the process of Balkan enlargement. Ms May, Mr Gove, Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Johnson: your cheap political points are calculated to instil a dreaded fear of those countries, those people and the process of EU enlargement. In my eyes, all of you have forfeited your status of being serious, thoughtful and responsible politicians.

Playing a different tune, again

It is important to stress that Britain is now playing a very different tune in terms of its position on EU accession. For decades the UK was one of staunchest advocates of EU enlargement. In 2004, it allowed all new EU countries (Poland, Slovakia, etc.) to have access to the UK´s labour market a full seven years before it was required by EU transition provisions to do so. This is because the British economy was booming at the time. Many EU citizens responded to the UK´s invitation and came to the UK, thus maintaining the growth of the British economy. However, when the global economy faltered badly during 2007/8, the very same people which Britain had encouraged to come, who had paid their taxes and who had contributed to our wealth generation, were suddenly persona non grata.

First there was Labour´s “British Jobs for British Workers”, then UKIP´s swift rise shuffled the cards of British politics, leading directly to the decision to hold the EU referendum. The longer this debate has gone on, the more it has become divisive, resulting in a no holds barred onslaught on EU immigrants, emboldened by the Brexiteers insistence on overcoming the deadening hand of political correctness and determination to call a spade a spade. But the simple fact is that the persistent characterisation of EU immigrants coming to the UK for benefit tourism, for social housing, for health tourism and all the rest of the claims about public services such as shortages of school places (all distorted – follow the links) amounts to scapegoating people who are hard-working, contributing to the wealth creation of the country and perfectly within their rights as EU citizens. Blaming all of Britain´s long standing public service woes upon the EU and EU citizens, apart from being untrue, lacks class, is unfair and does not reflect the values that Britain and Britons have historically stood for.

British public services have been run down by decades´ worth of neglect, underfunding and lack of political will, which is the reason why housing, education, health, transport, etc. are in the state that they are. It has something to do with the recent levels net immigration, granted, but it is primarily to do with consistent and systemic public policy failures and insufficient funding, over a period of several decades. It is politicians such as Mr Gove, Mr Duncan Smith and others in Government who were responsible for those public services. The current situation reflects long-term political neglect combined with an unprecedented degree of austerity which is squeezing British citizens beyond the point where the pips squeak. The losers in this process are first and foremost the non-working population, followed by those on low incomes, followed by the middle-income population. All are feeling the pinch, but it is the EU and the EU citizens are feeling the fall-out.

It is hypocritical to invite EU immigrants with open arms (certainly during early to mid-2000) when all boats were rising, and then promptly turn our back on the same people, once the recession came along and life becomes harder for most. This is not for the first time. Think back to when the Afro-Caribbean population was similarly invited to keep the British economy ticking over and then made to feel somewhat less welcome in the 1970s and 1980s, when the economic tide turned (as it invariably does). History is repeating itself, though it is no longer a racial matter. Indeed, because they are being squeezed hard by the economic situation combined with the effects of austerity, some of the harshest critics are some of the non-EU immigrants: irony of ironies. But the fact is that by being part of the EU, the EU immigrants who are being derided by the Brexiteers have full and equal rights to be in this country. The very same rights as the very large number of Britons living throughout the other 27 EU countries have. The issue is how to deal with the public policy issues, none of which are new, not to scapegoat some people while blithely continuing to sit on our hands, rather than responding to changing patterns of demand and supply in public services, including housing.

Get your facts right

Coming back to the main point, Ms May, Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Gove and others have also got their facts wrong about EU accession.

The five candidate countries comprise an overall population of 88 million, of which Turkey makes up 75 million. Four out of the five are a mere drop in the ocean in the scale of things. If they were to join the EU, they would add 12 million or 2.3% to the population of the EU (currently 508 million). How adding four countries would turn 28 into a “throng” is up to Mr Gove to explain. The greatest concern would undoubtedly be the possibility of adding Turkey, set to become the most populous country in Europe (but see below), potentially adding 7% to the overall population of the EU at some point in the future.  But the issue of Turkey has little to do with population and a lot to do with religion. It is not by accident that Turkey has been has been an Associate Member of the EEC/EU since 1963 – it has been waiting in the EU´s antechamber for 53 years! How the Brexiteers can suggest that Turkey will suddenly become a full member of the EU by 2020 stretches credulity. But the Brexiteers´position undoubtedly has little to do with “Project Fear” or hounding Britons into voting for Brexit by suggesting that the Balkan horde cometh. 

The EU has learned from the accession process in 2004 and especially 2007, when Bulgaria and Romania joined. The progress (or lack of it) being made by all five existing Candidate Countries is regularly assessed and widely available for all to see in the EC website. A reading of the annual progress reports makes it clear that negotiations have only started with Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey, but not with Albania and Macedonia. It is clear that none of them is making particularly rapid progress and accession will take years, possibly decades, for them to be assessed as having made sufficient progress for the European Commission to recommend that they be accepted as new members of the EU.

The suggestion that they will all join the EU any time soon, such as 2020, is far-fetched, with the possible exception of Montenegro, a country of 600,000 inhabitants. Turkey´s ongoing struggles with the basics (democracy, human rights, media freedom, etc.) mean that it has an extremely long path ahead before it reaches the point of accession readiness: 2020 is completely out of the question at the current rate of progress. The suggestion that all of them, including two that have not even stated officially negotiating accession, could join the EU by 2020 is simply pie in the Brexit sky.

28 accession vetoes

The Brexiteers are ruthlessly stoking-up and exploiting people´s fears by projecting an unrealistic scenario 15 years from now. This calculated fearmongering is as manipulative as it is irresponsible for several reasons:

  1. None of the countries is making sufficient progress to be ready for accession by 2020;
  2. The European Commission has learned from previous rounds of accession and is monitoring progress much more careful than in previous rounds of EU accession;
  3. Two of the countries have not even started official negotiations;
  4. Each of the 28 EU member countries has a veto on EU enlargement (despite what Brexiteers, such as Ms Penny Mordaunt may wrongly claim);
  5. There has been a sea-change in public mood towards further enlargement, especially after Bulgaria and Romania, though Croatia´s accession is barely mentioned;
  6. Some EU counties have pledged to hold a referendum on enlargement connected with Turkey, thus adding a huge degree of further uncertainty about its future accession.

The Brexiteers´arguments are plain wrong and they are fully aware of this. The same goes for their diagnosis of the role of EU immigration in relation to the breakdown of British public services. The same applies to the claim that the EU costs Britain GBP 350 million per week. And yet the Brexiteers keep pushing the misleading buttons. They have run out of valid economic arguments and the only Joker left in the pack is the current and future EU immigration card.

7 year transition provision

The Brexiteers are wrong in their estimated scenarios of possible future immigration from the five EU accession countries. Because in addition to the arduous process of accession connected with the acquis communautaire, there is the small matter of getting 28 unanimous “yes” votes to accession, followed by the referendums that any of the 28 nations may choose to hold. These multiple barriers undermine the scaremongering.

Even if the EU accession countries, especially Turkey, get through all those hurdles, there is also the EU´s 7 year transition provision, which means that each new country that joins the EU, must wait up to 7 years before its population acquires the right to live and work in the rest of the EU countries.

Even in the extremely unlikely scenario that all five countries join the EU by 2020, it would be 2028 before any of them would have the right move, live and work in the UK, unless Britain chooses unilaterally to suspend the 7 year rule, as it did in 2004 but not in 2007. For 5,2 million additional EU immigrants to move wholesale from these five countries to the Britain is yet another stretch of the Brexiteers´ febrile imagination as the 23 of June 2016 approaches.

When it comes to EU enlargement, there are lies, damn lies and Brexit.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


The crisis in school places: is Brexit the quick fix?

With about a month to go before the EU referendum scheduled to take place on 23 June 2016, high-profile Brexiteers keep pushing the line or argument that it is because of the European Union´s (EU) freedom of movement of people that Britain has major problems with its public services, not least health (EU health tourism), housing (being priced out by EU migrants), benefits (EU benefit tourism), education (too few places due to EU immigrant families), etc.

I have already discussed some of the arguments (see links above), so now attention turns to another major public policy concern in the Brexit: education. If it true that the education system is under pressure specifically because of immigration from the EU, then this could be a reason for considering leaving Brexit from the EU.

On the other hand, if the pressures for educational places predate 2004, when the EU immigration to the UK started in earnest, or if EU migration is only one factor among others that are causing the particular problem of pressures for school places, then it is also reasonable to discuss those other issues, thus putting EU immigration in context.

After all, everyone knows that government has ultimate responsibility for securing public goods which the market cannot deliver on its own: where an important public policy gap is diagnosed, it is for government to devote the necessary public funds to correct the market failure. No one is suggesting that Brussels is responsible for education (or housing construction, funding hospitals and clinics, etc.), not even the Brexiteers.

My kingdom for a school place!

In a clear echo of their diagnosis of the nature of the crisis in the health sector (i.e. the NHS is at breaking point because of EU health tourism and similar), the Brexiteers they are once again pressing the crisis button and pointing in the direction of Brussels: the school system is under “huge and unsustainable pressure” from a dramatic rise in the number of children from European migrants’ families. Ms Priti Patel, the pro Leave Employment Minister, echoing her now familiar anti-EU immigration refrain, keeps making comments such as: „These figures show how the EU’s open borders policies, and the uncontrolled immigration that stems from that, is leading to huge and unsustainable pressures on our schools.“

This possibility is deeply troubling for the average British family, so let us try to unpack this issue.

First of all, it is clear that Ms Patel and her bedfellows are not making allegations about the performance of the school system. There, it is clear that educational performance is a long running concern that cannot be pinned on the EU: Britain is responsible for the national curriculum, the schools and the teachers, not the EU. In any case, Britain has a long and proud history of accepting children whose mother tongue is not English and turning them into integrated citizens. Furthermore, the experience of EU migrant’s children has generally been positive in pushing up standards, especially in the urban areas where EU and other migrants tend to concentrate. So instead, the Brexiteers are focusing on the issue of insufficient school places (i.e. the unsustainable pressure bit) and pointing to EU immigration as the reason for the crisis.

So the central question to be asked is: are there sufficient places for school age children in the UK?

The answer is a clear and unequivocal “yes”. At the national level there is a notable surplus of both primary and secondary school places.

While Ms Patel and other Brexiteers are pointing the accusing finger of blame in the direction of EU immigrants, even Migration Watch, an initiative that maintains that immigration is neither properly managed nor sustainable and thus has an impeccable Brexit pedigree, says otherwise:

“There are currently 4.416 million primary school places in England and 4.011 million pupils on school rolls which means there are 434,000 unfilled places. At the moment the number of unfilled places as a percentage of total places is 9.8%…  The current number of secondary school places in England is 3.637 million while the current number of pupils is 3.191 million. This means that there are over 450,000 places currently unfilled. The number of unfilled place as a percentage of total places is currently 12.9%.” (emphasis added, 2014 data).

The real issue is that Britain’s fertility rate combined with immigration has resulted in a projected increase in school age children, which will feed into the school system from 2018 to 2020, as illustrated in the chart below.

So the point is not that there are currently unsustainable pressures but that in the future there might be unsustainable pressures if the British government fails to act. Perhaps this is what Ms Patel actually means, as opposed to what she and the rest of the Leave campaign are implying. Either way, the effect on the average voter can be imagined.

Responding to present or future school place demand is categorically not the responsibility of the EU or of EU citizens who choose lo live in Britain, as is their right to do.

It would be absurd to blame the large numbers of Britons living in France and Spain for causing unsustainable health / housing / education, etc. pressures there. Relatively little of the projected increase in demand for UK school places can possibly be attributed to EU immigrants. Generally speaking, they tend to be younger, better educated and single, factors which tend not to be correlated with large families and thus disproportionate number of school age children. As far as I can tell Britons, including Ms Priti Patel and Mr Nigel Farage, as well non-EU migrants who make-up the majority of the annual immigration to the UK, also find the time to make babies. British children clearly and unequivocally make-up vast majority of the children taking-up places in the schools.

When it comes to forecasts about future school places, it is the responsibility of Ms Priti Patel, Mr Boris Johnson, Mr Michael Gove (former Secretary of State for Education (2010-2014) and previously Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (2007 – 2010)), Mr David Cameron, Mr David Osborne, etc. to ensure that resources are allocated to meet those needs. Since politicians keep on about our children being our future, one would expect them to get on with funding the necessary school places, so as to avoid any future unsustainable pressure from a well-documented surge in school age children. Is this too much to expect of a responsible government and its leading ministers?

Bread today, not tomorrow

It would not be appropriate to suggest that the problem of school places is only about the future: it is also about today. The point is that demand for school places varies from location to location. Some schools are much more attractive than others for the simple reason that some perform much better academically than others. Most parents want to send their children not just to the nearest local school but to the best performing nearest school, since this is likely to affect their educational performance and thus their chances of getting to university and land a good job. That is a perfectly rational desire on their part.

But the result is that in high demand locations/schools, the parents’ first choice of school may or may not work out. The issue is thus not one of not getting a school place, whatever the Brexiteers may imply (though it may come to that in the future), but of getting a place in the school that the parents would prefer their child to attend. The better schools will always attract more demand for school places than they can possibly satisfy. In this context, available primary and secondary school places may not match demand for specific schools in particular parts of the country, especially in urban areas. In some places, it is possible that simply not enough school places are available to cope with demand.

None of this is new, unusual or driven by EU immigration.

Since demand and supply vary across time and space, it is up to central and local government to meet that future demand (based on population projections), as well as current demand in hot spots. This is at the core of governance, which includes taking into account the fact that EU migration not only happens, but has been happening since even before the UK joined in 1973. Nothing new there, though the scale of EU immigration has increased since 2004.  That is nothing new either, so the responsible individuals have had more than enough time to factor it into their planning.

It is up to each local authority not only to ensure that there are sufficient school places, but also to promote parental choice, diversity and fair access.

If there are access hot spots in particular locations, would you blame the parents for choosing to live in those parts of the country or wanting to send their kids to be best possible schools? If there are particular areas with insufficient school places, would you blame people for still wanting and expecting their children to get a school place? If there are problems, I would point to central and local government for failing to act according to the population forecasts and patterns of demand. There is absolutely no rocket science and there are no sudden unexpected factors involved. The nationality of the children or parents involved is irrelevant, except if some choose to make a political issue out of it.

The Department for Education is tasked with making capital funding available to establish new schools and maintain existing ones. For their part, local authorities argue that they cannot cope with the funding pressures: in 2014, 3 out of 4 claimed that capital funding for new places was insufficient. The National Union of Teachers argues that where there is a school places crisis, it is caused by the curtailment of local authorities’ powers and the centralisation of decisions over where to build new schools.

I can see that a problem exists in the policy nexus between the Department of Education, local authorities and the National Union of Teachers. What I fail to see is how Ms Priti Patel can attribute blame to EU immigrants when she and her fellow Brexiteers, such as Mr Gove, have systematically failed to perform their day job. It is British politicians and ministers who are paid to assess, plan and fund school places (and housing and health services and infrastructure and all the rest of public goods that only government policy can deliver) according to changing patterns of national, regional, local and micro demand. This applies equally to all public services.

Surely Ms Patel and Mr Gove can understand this point and their own role in the future availability or otherwise of primary and secondary school places? But fear not, it is not too late. There are still a few years before the looming school place crisis hits the school system (see chart above), so they may as well just get on with building the necessary schools, rather than blaming all and sundry for national and local politicians’ own policy failings. It is not just a bit too convenient to push the blame for public policy failures to someone else?

Scapegoating immigrants is never a pretty sight and can be downright dangerous.

With her background, Ms Priti Patel should understand this point much better than most even if the EU referendum, so dear to her ideological heart, may be at stake. I acknowledge that for someone with an immigration background in theReferendum Party and now the Conservative Party, talking tough about EU immigration may be some sort of mark of distinction, but she has to be  fair and reasonable in apportioning blame for the problem. As far as I am concerned, that particular bar is set even higher for senior members of the British government with constant access to the media. With power should come at least a sense of proportion, if not responsibility. The longer the Brexit debate goes on and the more the polls shift slowly towards Remaining, the more shrill the Brexit case become. The same could be said about the Remain campaign to some extent, though the focus is different.

One is tenuous and based on the premise that EU immigrants are to blame for almost all the public policy problems (housing, education, health, etc.). The other talks principally about the economic consequences of leaving on taxes, wages, pensions, house prices, jobs, etc.  This claim and counter claims muddy the waters and confuse the public prior to what will undoubtedly be the most important vote for a generation. However, this decision cannot possibly be reduced to just the issue of EU immigration, no matter how emotive it may be. Apart from anything else, British people returning home to the UK, together with non-EU immigration, constitute a larger portion of annual net migration than does EU immigration.

Returning to the issues of school places, let us keep things simple: any way you choose to look at it, Brexit cannot possibly be a quick fix for the forthcoming crisis in school places at primary and secondary school level. The surge in school age children is coming because of fertility rates: that means first and foremost Britons, as well as non-EU immigrants and EU immigrants. Why single out the least important contributing factor that is dwarfed by the impact of Britons themselves? Leaving the EU will change little in this respect, not least because EU migrants are attracted by work, are younger, are better educated and are more mobile, all of which tend to reduce fertility levels compared to the UK average.

Neither will Brexit affect well-established and long-standing local patterns of demand for the better performing schools. That is, unless Brexit is to be combined with forcing non-native Britons back to the other EU-27 countries. This is something which has been ruled out by everyone, even UKIP, since it would prompt a retaliatory reverse flow of almost as many Britons back to the UK. Apart from unleashing unpredictable forces in Europe (there are enough of those around at the moment) for very little gain, it would be one heck of a mess to sort out.

Blaming is easy, solving is not

So if Brexit is not the answer to the coming surge in school age children, as well as the high local demand for certain schools in particular locations, what would improve matters? There no prizes for guessing the answers:

  • The UK government (Department of Education and Chancellor of the Exchequer) should take its responsibility seriously and allocate the capital funding today in order to create the necessary new school places tomorrow and relieve localised pressure for school places.
  • Local government should ensure that public funds result in schools being built in the right locations, especially in high demand urban areas, while also ensuring fair access in demand hot spots so as to avoid accentuating social segregation.
  • Ms Priti Patel and the rest of the Brexiteers, not least Mr Michael Gove, should acquire a bit of humility and refrain from pinning their and their fellow British politicians’ own long-standing public policy failings (e.g. housing provision, NHS funding, capital funding for school, etc.) on the EU and scapegoating EU immigrants at the same time.

Now that would be a nice start in actually trying to solve at least one of Britain´s public policy challenges.

Will it happen? Fat chance.

It is much easier and politically rewarding to keep pointing the finger at EU immigrants. In the past, that finger was pointed at any old immigrant. These days, in the lead-up to the EU referendum, it is no coincidence that it is EU immigrants that are singled out.

And what happens after the 23rd of June 2016, when it has become normal and acceptable to blame Britain´s long-standing public policy ills (e.g. access to housing, access to education, access to health, benefits abuse, etc.) on foreigners, rather than the Britons who are responsible for policy-making, planning and funding? Will Britons wake-up and find that those public services have miraculously improved? Scapegoating is far too easy; trying to understand the problems and then solving them is much, much harder.

“It’s too easy to criticize a man when he’s out of favour, and to make him shoulder the blame for everybody else’s mistakes.” ― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


How extensive is EU benefit tourism in the UK anyway?

A cursory reading of Britain’s most popular newspapers might leave the distinct impression that immigrants, especially from the European Union (EU), are beating a path to the UK specifically in order to take-up welfare benefits, live in social housing, avail themselves of the health system and generally live the high life on the back of the hard-working citizens of the UK (i.e. benefit tourism) who actually pay taxes and thus subsidise the lives of such EU citizens.

 Immigration generally is “the” issue of the forthcoming EU referendum and if the above characterisation of the situation remotely reflects the truth, I would be campaigning to leave the EU too. Not surprisingly this is one of the key arguments of Eurosceptics and Brexiteers in the debate over the future of the UK in the EU. So this post examines the extent to which the EU freedom of movement of people contributes to benefit tourism in the UK. 

EU migrants sponging off Britons?

There are four fundamental freedoms in the EU which are designed to create a common market in Europe, namely to: sell goods, sell services, invest and work anywhere in the EU. Britons have no issues with the first three freedoms but remain deeply concerned about the fourth. 

The first point to note, as discussed in the previous post on EU immigration, is that the freedom of movement of people is not possible for seven years upon joining the EU, unless a nation chooses to opt-out as the UK did (together with Ireland and Sweden) in 2004. So, for example, the Croats will not be able to work in the UK until 2020 unless a country, such as Germany, decides otherwise. This is to ensure that there is not a rush out of a country that joins the EU. The second point to note is that out of the 508 million people in the EU, only 2.2% of them chose to live in another country of the EU. There is clearly no mass exodus of people from one EU country to another. The third point is that though the UK is indeed a very attractive country to move to, it by no means the only one or even the main one in the EU.

In terms of net migration (those arriving minus those leaving), the countries with the largest net inflows of foreign nationals were Germany (452,000), UK (267,000), Italy (235,000) and France (71,000) in 2013. The reality is that the more economically dynamic a country is, the more it is likely to attract people looking for work or to improve their lives.

Turning specifically to the issue of benefit tourism, the evident suggests that EU citizens come to the UK to study, work or to join their families, rather than because of the allure of the UK’s social benefits. This is illustrated in the graphic below, which shows that family reunion used to be the dominant entry route. Student inflows became the main reason for entry, but this has fallen significantly in recent years, something which is connected with the Conservative government’s drive to cap net migration at 100,000 per annum. Most immigration from the EU is for work-related reasons, whereas most immigration from outside the EU is for study-related reasons.

Figure 1: Annual Inflows of Migrants by Reason

Figure 1 Annual Inflow of Migrants by Reason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Immigration and the UK Labour Market, Jonathan Wadsworth, CEP, 2015

Furthermore, the same study shows that immigrants are better educated than their UK-born counterparts and that the educational gap is actually increasing over time over time. The “old” Europe or EU-15 migrants are twice as likely to be graduates and the “new” Europe or EU-8 migrants (the 8 Central and East European countries that joined the EU in 2004) are also more likely to be graduates than the UK-born, and most others have intermediate levels of education.

The conclusion of the research is unequivocal:

“There is still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services. Any negative impacts on wages of less skilled groups are small. One of the largest impacts of immigration seems to be on public perception.” (2015, p.1).

But even if there is little or no evidence that EU immigrants to the UK reduce jobs and wages, housing or other public services (housing and health services are discussed in subsequent chapters), this cuts little ice with the Leave campaigners. They maintain the “benefit tourism” rhetoric in relation to EU migration, stressing that an unspecified proportion of EU migrants come to Britain specifically to take advantage of its generous welfare state.

To be fair, such belief is not unique to Britain. In Germany, similar pronouncements are regularly made by the CDU/CSU, the mainstream right of centre parties, as well as the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a fast growing populist party. The AfD is the equivalent of UKIP. It wants to leave the Euro, rather than the EU, while also stopping benefit tourism and the flow of refugees to Germany. Both parties are aided and abetted by segments of the media in driving a general notion that EU benefit tourism is pervasive, unfair and must be stopped forthwith.

What exactly is the scale of EU benefit tourism?

A detailed report (ICF GHK and Milieu Ltd, 2013) concluded that non-active EU migrants represent a very small share (0.7% – 1.0%) of the total population in EU Member States. The evidence is that non-contributory benefit payments to immigrants account for between 1% – 5% of all benefits paid in France, Sweden, the Netherlands, etc. and above 5% in Belgium and Ireland. However, the share of non-active EU migrants is very small, both in the UK (1.2%) and in Germany (1.1%).

Other research examining recent EU immigrants to the UK of working age who are not students, not in employment and not in receipt of state benefit, estimates that this group amounted to 39,000 people received any benefit, including child benefit. To put this in perspective, this is only 1% of all recent EU nationals in the UK who are of working age, not students, not in employment but in receipt of some kind of state benefit. Since non-EU immigrants typically cannot access benefits until they have been resident in the UK for five years, it is unlikely that they would migrate with the intention of accessing state benefits.

The latest official government information (February 2015) reinforces the previously mentioned studies:

  • 371,220 working-age claimants of UK benefits (7.2% of total claimants) were non-UK nationals. Of these 113,960 were EU nationals, representing 30.7% of non-UK claimants and only 2.2% of all claimants;
  • In terms of the people who are out of work and claiming benefits, 287,300 were non-UK nationals claiming out-of-work benefits or 7.4% of total claimants. Of these 91,700 or 2.4% of total claimants were EU nationals;
  • People born outside the UK comprised 16.2% of the working-age population but only 7.7% of working-age individuals receiving key out-of-work benefits were non-UK nationals;
  • 19,579 families had Child Benefit awarded for 32,408 children living in EEA states, around two-thirds of whom were in Poland. 7,026 families had Child Tax Credit granted in respect of 11,762 children in EEA member states.

The Government’s own authoritative Balances of Competences review on the Single Market Free Movement of Persons (2014, paragraph 2.55) observed that:

“… none of the evidence we received was able to point to specific research or analysis on the importance of access to social security benefits in the decision to migrate.”

Whatever the Leave EU faction and segments of the media may claim, EU benefit tourism, to the extent that it exists, is much lower than the native population’s own use of such benefits. This reinforces the point that EU nationals come to the UK to work, not to sponge off Britons. Benefit tourism is not worth getting worked-up about, unless it is for cynical political reasons.

A storm in an English tea-cup

People generally emigrate due to the prospect of employment and better wages, rather because of the lure of welfare benefits. The EU migrant population is younger and better educated than the average Briton; the unemployment rate among EU migrants is also lower than that of the average Briton. When the figures for both non-EU and EU migrants are analysed, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the benefits tourism hysteria affects very people from the EU living in the UK. This is a storm in a tea-cup whipped-up by those that seek to pander to popular misconceptions rather than standing-up to them.

Benefit tourism, whether from the EU or elsewhere is largely a myth. It is not only that not many migrants are eligible to get benefits in the UK. It is that the great majority of EU migrants actually pay more than their share and take very little out in the form of benefits of any sort. EU migration is good for the tax man and for the welfare state in Britain.

  • Is the EU responsible for the level of benefit tourism in the UK: No. It only guarantees freedom of movement and equal treatment of all EU nationals.
  • Is the British government responsible for benefits eligibility in the UK: Yes. For UK and non-EU nationals; partly for EU nationals, but the recent renegotiation has resulted in a decision to tighten-up eligibility rules for EU nationals living in Britain.
  • Should I vote to leave the EU because of EU benefit tourism: No. The numbers of people involved are small and proportionately much lower than the native British population claiming benefits.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


To Brexit or not to Brexit: key issues for the EU Referendum

EU Referendum ahead

The British voter will soon be asked to decide on whether Britain will continue to have a future as part of the European Union (EU) or to exit it (i.e. Brexit or British Exist). The EU referendum’s date has not yet been fixed and must happen by 2017, but is widely speculated that it is going to be to be scheduled for mid-2016.

That question that will be put to the British voter is simple but fundamentally important, namely:

  • Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the EU?

The options are either to:

  • Remain a member of the European Union or
  • Leave the European Union

This is a simple question with simple options, but it nevertheless is a historic referendum that will influence the future of the UK (and that of the EU itself) for generations to come.

Brexit the obvious solution?

I am a British citizen who lived, studied and worked in Britain. My parents, sibling and my closest friends remain in Britain. Nevertheless, during the last 20 years, I have lived and worked in numerous countries of the EU and elsewhere. I am married to a German and my business takes me regularly to different parts of the EU, potential future EU countries and beyond. I understand what the feeling is about the EU and that there is frustration with the way the EU is perceived to be interfering with British sovereignty and especially about the freedom of movement of people, which is widely seen to be adding to the social pressures in the country.

If I were about to cast a vote at the forthcoming EU referendum, I would feel apprehensive about it. If I were to believe what a hostile media and populist politicians stress, my gut reaction might be to vote for Brexit and leave the EU. I might not be greatly enamoured by the current state of the UK economy, the ongoing austerity, the decreasing wages and the job insecurity. I might well be hearing about the number of laws and regulations emanating from “Brussels”, which the shorthand for the EU, with the implication that Britain no longer controls its own borders and sovereignty. I might well be tempted to conclude that the EU is indeed to blame.

Furthermore, I might also be frustrated by my inability to get on to the first rang of the housing ladder while others point to migrants from the EU are taking up the supply of housing that I or my children want to make use of in our own country. This might lead me to concur with those that point to the “uncontrolled” borders and the EU migration caused by the freedom of movement of people. A similar argument is applied to the pressures in the health and education systems, and I might also be concerned about the “swarms” of EU migrants taking-up scarce resources that we are entitled to, since we are the ones who are actually paying the taxes while the others jump the queue and coin the market for social benefits.

In short, if I were to believe all of the above, I might be well disposed to giving “Europe” a bloody nose, just as populist politicians and the media are urging me to. I might vote to leave the EU: Britain was great on its own and can be once again.

The real issues

But the British voters are fair and reasonable. Rather than follow their gut reaction, they will want to balance both sides of the equation and be fair and dispassionate in making this historic decision. They will want answers to the following questions:

  • Is the negative portrayal of the EU and all the criticism connected with it correct?
  • Is it too simplistic to say that the EU is to blame for all the challenges in Britain?
  • Is Britain indeed so tied-up by the EU that it is no longer in charge of its own destiny?
  • Are there only costs to being one of 28 member of the EU?

If something sounds too simple to be true (it’s the EU, stupid!), then perhaps it is really is too good to be true. Simple solutions to complex problems are appealing but can the EU really be the fount of all of Britain’s ills and will the country really be better off immediately upon Brexit?

Looking at it through another lens, the fair-minded British voter might ask whether it is reasonable or not to only see “Europe”, “Brussels” and the “European Union” only in a negative light? Can it really be that Britain is only paying in but getting nought out of the EU? And, if things are not quite so black and white, what exactly are those positives that are so rare to hear about? Are the benefits so abstract that the ordinary voter simply cannot grasp them or related to them?

We all instinctively know that there are two sides to every story but the media and the loudest politicians do not excel at presenting the pros and cons. As a Brit with a foot on both camps, I hear a series of populist myths being peddled again and again. I often smell a red herring when I turn a newspaper pager. I often see the EU being used and abused by those who would attack a straw man.

So in making-up my mind about how to vote at the historic EU referendum, as a Brit, I would want to understand the costs as well as the benefits connected with the most important EU issues, namely:

EU costs
  • Is EU migration a good reason for Brexit?
  • Is EU benefit tourism a good reason for Brexit?
  • Is the housing crisis a good reason for Brexit?
  • Is EU health tourism a good reason for Brexit?
  • Are EU directives and regulations a good reason for Brexit?
  • Is the state of the education system a good reason for Brexit?
  • Is the EU the cause of austerity, low productivity and stagnating wages in the UK?
  • Is the UK paying more than its fair share and getting little out of the EU?
EU benefits
  • Is having the Euro (one currency in 19 countries out of 28) so bad?
  • Is being able to visit, study and work in 28 countries so bad?
  • Is being able to own a second home and retire in 28 countries so bad?
  • Is having common trade arrangements in 28 countries so bad?
  • Is having common environmental standards in 28 countries so bad?
  • Is having common consumer protection in 28 countries so bad?
  • Is reducing the time, stress, cost, etc. across 28 countries so bad?
  • Is the EU undemocratic, out of touch and beyond reform?
Key issues

 

  • Is Britain better or worse off within the EU?
  • Is the EU better or worse off with Britain in the EU?
  • Are you better off with Britain in the EU or not?

Questions and Answers

If I were the average voter, I would want an answer to these questions before casting my vote.

I would also want the answers to be simple, short and to the point but backed-up by evidence.

This is exactly what the AngloDeutsch Blog will seek to do from until the referendum.

This will be a challenge, given my professional and other commitments, but I shall do my best to cover as many of these topics as I can over the next few months, starting with the EU’s freedom of movement of people.

Dr Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU, 13 February 2016


The refugee backlash – pulling-up the European drawbridge

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

2015 was another tumultuous year for Europe. Over a million refugees found their way into the European Union (EU), but already a new dynamic is evident in early 2016: the refugee backlash has begun and Europe is pulling-up the drawbridge on refugees and economic migrants. The broad contours of the dynamic evident can be summarised as follows:

  • The EU countries have accepted too many and cannot continue to absorb refugees at the same rate;
  • Germany was irresponsible in allowing so many refugees;
  • Without proper checks, the refugee will include a radical element that will pose a threat to the EU´s security, as illustrated by the terrifying Paris bombings in November 2015;
  • Once in Germany, or wherever, they will spread to other parts of the EU, so the freedom of movement of people principle may need to be looked at again;
  • Further sexual assaults on women and robberies by young men from “the African or North African region” are to be expected following the shameful New Year’s Eve experiences in Cologne, Hamburg and other cities;
  • The current levels of migration will destroy Europe as we know it; the borders must close, only legitimate applications up to a predetermined cap can be accepted and the rest sent back.

This all seems logical and it plays well as a populist theme. This certainly applies to parties such as the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), but it also goes down equally well with the mainstream political parties such as the Conservative Party in the UK and the CDU and especially CSU in Germany. This is without even mentioning the more radical right wing movements that exist throughout Europe. Not surprisingly, shrill criticism of the migration issue and the EU’s apparent inability to manage the situation is particularly evident in the UK, as it gears up for the forthcoming referendum (the exact date of which has not yet been announced) on whether to remain in the EU or not.

It is very difficult to unpack and analyse what is clearly a highly emotive theme, let alone have a sensible debate about it, which is the very reason why certain political parties are making hay with the refugee issue. Previously, their favourite theme was the Eurozone/Greece crisis, now it is migration but the overall gloom and doom narrative does not change very much.

I should stress that there are clearly legitimate public concerns throughout Europe about the migration issue, both within the EU and from outside. However, the use of scare tactics to gain political or other advantage is not something I enjoy witnessing so I aim to address a sub-set of issues, such as Germany’s alleged irresponsible behaviour, the argument that Europe simply cannot cope and the refugee backlash that is in full swing before the first month of 2016 is finished.

The blame game

I will start with Germany’s role in the European refugee crisis. There is certainly a messy situation, but did Germany act irresponsibly in 2015?

Any way you choose to cut it, Germany has played the key role in the refugee crisis. Germany accepted 1.1 million refugees in 2015, a number than could rise further on by the time the counting is official. Germany had in any case been experiencing significant flows of migrants, mainly from the EU. For the last few years this has been running at over 400,000 net migrants per year. Add this up and Germany received at least 1.5 million net migrants last year, which is an astonishing figure. Furthermore, under the German asylum law, refugees may be allowed to bring their family members, resulting in a significant and unquantifiable flow connected with 2015.

By any reasonable criteria Germany has been an incredibly good country to accept so many people. This is not just about the cost involved, which is undoubtedly significant albeit one which Germany is in a position to absorb. Being a good country is first and foremost about the willingness to recognise the human suffering cause by the migration crisis and to try to do something about it, rather than turning a blind eye to it all.

The contrast with many other EU countries could not be greater. Countries such as the UK have agreed to accept 5,000 Syrian refugees per year for the next five years. It has to be borne in mind that even this paltry number was only agreed to following a public outcry from British citizens appalled by their government’s hard heartedness, which bounced Parliament into agreeing to do more.

Germany is not alone in being a good country: about 90% of the refugees have been accepted by three countries out of 28 in the EU: Germany, Sweden and Austria. What about the response of the other 25 countries of the EU?  Following months of unedifying political squabbling, which continues to this day, the best they could come-up with was to agree to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy over the next two years: this is an average of 5,700 per country over two years, though very few of these transfers have actually occurred so far (less than 500 were achieved in 2015 and only 3 out of 10 “hot spots” have opened according to some estimates).

Is “pitiful” too strong a word to summarise the EU’s collective failure in the face of a mass humanitarian crisis? I don’t think so. It is not the first time that the EU has failed miserably to stand up to be counted and it will almost certainly not be the last. It is not as if the refugee crisis was some sudden, unexpected act of god; this is the result of steadily growing pressure and reaching its natural and inevitable conclusion. There was nothing about it that could not have been predicted by the civil servants of the European Commission or of the EU member states.

Germany’s decision to act more or less unilaterally in accepting 1.1 million refugees must be seen in the following context:

  1. This is the worst crisis since WW2: the number of forcibly displaced people, often due to wars, reached almost 60 million worldwide at the end of 2014, including over 14 million refugees. This was an increase of about 25% compared to the previous year and is mostly due civil war, violence and oppression in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, etc. although other regions, including northern Africa and the Balkans, are also major sources of migrants (IMF, 2016 / The Refugee Surge in Europe: Economic Challenges). This is nothing short of a mass human tragedy, which Europe is neither immune to nor can afford to simply turn its back on. Globalisation entails many new developments, including the capacity of large numbers of people to move in the direction of Europe. It may take time, but sooner or later, it does reach Europe.
  2. This was not a crisis of Germany’s making: it did not chose to invade Iraq in 2003 and played little or no part in setting in chain a series of events which have destabilised parts of the Middle East, in an attempt to bring about democracy through regime change. Of all the European nations it is the UK, France and Italy (together with the USA) that bear the greatest responsibility for any resulting instability in the region. All are now conspicuous for their efforts to obfuscate causality and deny moral or other responsibility (if you break something, you should fix it) to deal with the resulting mess that they helped to set in chain.
  3. The EU failed spectacularly: the utter inability of the EU to find common ground in dealing with the huge volume of people heading towards Europe is what resulted in Germany’s more or less unilateral action. Just as in the Greek/Eurozone crises, it is proving extremely difficult for 28 countries to make decisions quickly and act in unison. This should not be in the least bit surprising. The EU is very far from being a United States of Europe; this simply reflects the fact that the nation-state is alive and well within the EU, despite exaggerated claims of its demise. Each nation retains the ability to follow its own mandate and block changes that it does not agree with. The Central European (Visegrad countries) and Western Balkans states have made their views crystal clear in respect to taking a share of the refugees, but they are not alone. Just as in the case of Greece and the Eurozone, finding a common solution to an unexpected large-scale problem is a slow, messy and costly process. In the end, to misquote slightly the famous words: Europeans Will Always Do the Right Thing — After Exhausting All the Alternatives. The 28 nation states plus the various Candidate Countries (i.e. Western Balkans including Turkey) will find an imperfect compromise and Germany will pay a disproportionate amount of the cost arising. Such is the iron rule of the EU. No other scenario is possible if 28+ nations are to continue to play broadly for the same team. How many other international agreements are you aware of that take a couple of weeks or months to resolve? Climate change agreements? International trade agreements? These things take years or decades, not weeks or months to sort out and are always and everywhere an uneasy compromise. 28+ countries finding a way to deal with the worst humanitarian crisis in 70 years takes time but in 2015, time was of the essence where people are involved, rather than just economics.

Cometh the hour, cometh the country: Germany chose not to sit on its hands but to act in alleviating the growing pressure along the Turkish-Greek-Balkan-Central European corridor.

Refugees in Miratovac, close to the border between Serbia and Macedonia. Photo by Djordje Savic / EPA

Refugees in Miratovac, close to the border between Serbia and Macedonia. Photo by Djordje Savic / EPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are free to form your own opinion about whether Germany has acted irresponsibly or not. I personally think that not only has Germany acted incredibly responsibly, but as tax payer and resident of the country, I am proud of living in such a country. No doubt, Germany has already changed as a result and ordinary Germans are deeply unsettled about the implications, an issue which I plan to write about in the future. This is a reflection, among other issues of the fact that the scale of the problem is so great that no country can possibly solve it all on its own – not even Germany.

Europe Cannot Cope! Really?

The next issue is whether Germany and/or Europe have relevant experience and if they can absorb the numbers of refugees.

For a start, I can distinctly remember (since I was part of it) a small, poor, broken European country of 8.5 million absorbing about 1 million people from its former colonies during the mid- to late-1970s. While there are major differences with the current situation (common language, culture, religion, etc.), Portugal was not part of the EU but absorbed those numbers and did not collapse despite its politically chaotic and economically precarious post-colonial situation at the time. In fact, it thrived as a result of the influx. Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting that Europe should fling open its doors to all and sundry with no questions asked, but I am saying that Europe is much more robust than many would seem to believe.

After a short-lived spike of international approval for its decision to take on the refugees, Germany has since reaped criticism, direct and indirect, most of which has been leveled at Angela Merkel, the Germany Chancellor. The gist of the argument is that she has gambled Germany’s long term interests for personal hubris: she wanted to cap her career with a Nobel Peace Prize and/or improve Germany’s international image after the Greek crisis. Others of a more analytical bent sought instead to justify Germany’s actions (and presumably the inaction of their own governments) by pointing to Germany’s ageing population structure. It seems to me that almost all 28 EU countries are suffering from the same problem, albeit to varying degrees. Did others facing the same demographic situation jump to take their share of refugees? I don’t think so.

It is certainly true that Germany and many EU countries have a rapidly ageing population structure (fertility of around 1.5, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1) that would greatly benefit from significant immigration of the scale that happened during 2015. But I take issue with the implication that the German authorities naively failed to foresee the likely stresses and strains that would be generated by taking so many refugees in one year (the estimate at the time was 800,000 – 1 million refugees). The reality is that Europe generally and Germany specifically have plenty of experience of large scale refugee crises and indeed of Muslims culture.

Firstly, Germany has a large number of Muslims. According to the 2011 Population Census, there are just under 6.2 million foreigners in Germany and Turks alone accounted for the largest group (1.5 million people or 24.4%). In all, some 2.5 million people are of Turkish origin. It is not as though Germany is not aware of the stresses and strains associated with the religion, gender, education, labour market and other dimensions connected with integrating populations, including Muslims. The same applies to many countries of the EU but unlike others, it still went ahead with what is often described by its critics as its “open door” policy.

Secondly, it was not so long ago that Germany had to respond to a refugee crisis of similar proportion. During the 1990s, a large number of asylum applications were lodged due to crisis in the ex-Yugoslavia, though the peak of that crisis in 1991 (around 700,000) has been exceeded in 2015 (see first Figure below). That said the second Figure below illustrates the point that the numbers were relatively low compared to those of the 1990s, though the diagram does not take the 2015 influx of over a million refugees into consideration. It is probably not a coincidence that then, as now, Germany absorbed the lion’s share of refugees.


IMF graphic 2016

Source: IMF, 2016, p.11

Thirdly, to put things in context, Europe had only absorbed 1 out of the 14 million refuges worldwide in 2014 and this increased to 2 million in 2015. Whoever believes that what has happened in 2015 is the end of the matter and that the EU can simply put-up the fences, close the borders and turn its back on the rest of the world is deluded. A proportion of the 12 million other displaced people are heading our way in 2016 and beyond: the current estimate is that another 1 million will aim for the EU this year and possibly more. The way to end this catastrophe is not by pulling-up the drawbridge to Fortress Europe; if the conflicts in the countries in question are ended and if this is combined with a major reconstruction programme, in time, the human tragedy and the migratory process will also abate. Putting-up fences and closing borders will restrict some of the flow, but will also add to the human desperation without actually dealing with the root cause.

To conclude, in my view Germany did not saunter into the current situation blithely and Mrs Merkel was right in saying “Wir schaffen das.” We can do it: I agree with her. Other, much smaller and poorer countries have in the part or are currently absorbing the same or higher numbers of refugees. Germany knew, more or less, the implications of opening its borders to about a million refugees, even if the general public could not have predicted the exact consequences, including the outrages in Cologne and other cities. It is most unlikely that Europe’s pre-eminent politician would not have sniffed the potential political, social, religious and cultural implications of undertaking such a radical step. The numbers absorbed by Europe are relatively small by comparison with the numbers being absorbed by other countries, including Turkey. If they can do it, so can Europe. Indeed, a cursory reading of European history proves that it has coped with wave after wave of migration.

Refugee backlash

To ask if the refugee backlash is coming would be to pose the wrong question: it is already here.

The mood in Germany and the rest of Europe started turning ugly long before the Paris terrorist attacks and the mass sexual and other crimes in Cologne and other German cities during the New Year’s Eve celebrations that went wrong. Pensioners are up in arms about the way they perceive their country is changing. Parents are concerned about their children’s education as gymnasia are requisitioned as temporary accommodation and class rooms begin to take the strain of absorbing the influx of non-German speakers. House prices and rent levels are being pushed up in an overheating housing market where affordable accommodation is scarce.  Region and local authorities remain deeply concerned about practical matters in addition to shelter, such as state benefits and labour market opportunities for refugees. The issue of integration and whether it is possible to achieve or not, is “the” topic of conversation. This applies to Germany and it applies equally to other EU countries.

Angela Merkel has gone from being Europe’s pre-eminent politician and practically politically unassailable in Germany, to being under siege. Make no mistake about it; she is fighting for her political future.  Yet despite the ratcheting of pressure, even today, she is refusing to put a cap of the number of refugees that will be accepted by Germany in future (the CSU is openly advocating a cap of 200,000 per annum, which itself puts the UK’s response in the shade). There are probably two reasons for this. Firstly, German asylum law is based on individual assessments so caps would not be workable without changing the law (but we know laws can be changed at the drop of a political hat). Secondly, the huge numbers of forcibly displaced people out there (14 million and counting) are desperate and there is no end to their travails in prospect. What would you do in their shoes? Which safe harbour would you try to reach, possibly at the cost of perishing on the way? A cap would be a meaningless promise without a workable EU arrangement.

Mrs Merkel is displaying the hallmark of true leadership: political courage and acknowledging moral duties beyond her nation’s borders. That is the essence of being responsible in a European and global sense, though I recognise fully that many would much rather put national and personal interest before anything else, including in Germany.

Merkel probably expected the rest of Europe, especially the largest countries, most of which have had more than a hand in the unfolding disaster in the Middle East, to take a much greater share of the humanitarian burden. Despite the lessons of Greece, she has miscalculated in relation to most of the EU and is now in the middle of the biggest political crisis that she has ever faced. She also appears to have greatly overestimated the Greek and Turkish capacity to manage their borders.

But she is nothing if not a pragmatic leader. She has recognised that the whirlwind is not just gathering, it is already blowing. A change has already been signaled that 2016 will not be the same as 2015. The scale of the challenge means that Germany cannot shoulder the burden mostly on its own for much longer. All three of the most generous countries have introduced border visa checks (three others have also and many more are threatening to do the same). A closure of national borders has so far been resisted by the EU, but this could change. Sweden has announced that 80,000 of the 160,000 refugees it accepted will be sent back because they are economic migrants, not refugees. The EU has reinforced the message by stating that 60% of the applicants are not refugees at all but economic migrants mainly from the Balkans and North African countries such as Morocco and Tunisia. It has also threatened to suspend Greece from Schengen for systematic failures in the migrant crisis. In turn Greece is pointing its finger at Turkey for allowing migrants to “swamp” their border and islands.  Reports are piling up that in addition to anti-refugee demonstrations and hostels being set on fire in Germany, violence is erupting in Sweden and other countries.

A common EU approach is the only way forward, combined with a serious and concerted effort to end the conflicts and reconstruct economies, since these are the drivers of mass population displacement. But just like the Greek and Eurozone crises, which are also far from over, it will not happen miraculously or overnight.

So, get ready for a much more hard-nosed European approach to the refugee crisis, with an emphasis on only accepting people from conflict zones (true refugees and asylum seekers) and rejecting all others (i.e. economic migrants). The EU drawbridge is being pulled-up. The wider societal backlash is already underway and those that are leading it will not be pausing to distinguish those that deserve to be helped from those that do not.


I found refuge in the EU. You helped me. Now, let’s help the others.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2015, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

The Grexit crisis has blown hot and cold many times in recent years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, by common agreement, there is now an even greater crisis affecting the European Union (EU) and its future, namely the current refugee and asylum seeker crisis. It is not about economic migration; it is a humanitarian crisis.

A Refugee Crisis of Mega Proportions

I have been commenting on the issue of migration on the AngloDeutsch.EU Blog so I cannot but discuss this crisis of mega proportions. I would like to briefly summarize the points of the current situation before presenting a personal perspective below:

  • There is a variety of different types of migrants. The two main categories are “asylum seekers / refugees” who are fleeing something which makes them fear for their lives/safety and “economic migrants” who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families;
  • The difference is fundamental. Each EU member state makes its own decisions in relation to the issue of asylum seekers/refugees within the framework of broad international agreements which appear to be difficult or impossible to enforce. The same applies to economic migrants from outside the EU. Within the EU, a fundamental principle is that of “freedom of movement” of capital, goods, services and people. Consequently, there is no restriction of migration within the EU, except for recently joining countries, such as Croatia. Restrictions remain during a „transition“ period for some countries such as the UK, but other, such as Germany, have chosen to abolish such restrictions even before the transition period lapses;
  • Many politicians and some mainstream media, especially those with an ax to grind, deliberately or otherwise, lump the refugees/asylum seekers, economic migrants and freedom of movement into one giant, emotive issue: this is spurious, confusing and contributes to a heated debate in the EU and elsewhere. In an atmosphere of anxiety about migration in general, this is not helpful;
  • Most EU citizens, British and Germans included, make a clear distinction between economic migrants (there is concern about the level of migration in some countries) and genuine refugees / asylum seekers, where there is generally a good deal of sympathy;
  • The current levels of refugees / asylum seekers must be put into context: it is the highest level since World War II and is the direct result of various conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, not least in Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, etc. This is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis. For the first time since World War II, there are more than 50 million refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide;
  • Some of the people joining this wave of desperate humanity are taking advantage of the situation. Having worked in Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, etc., all of which are making strides to join the EU, there is little doubt that the vast majority of these applicants are being opportunistic. If this sort of thing is allowed to continue, it may discredit the overall refugees/asylum situation and undermine the willingness to help others;
  • The latest development, since this blog focuses mainly on Britain and Germany, is that the German government has issued what is nothing less than an unprecedented commitment of take in at least 800,000 and possibly a million refugees/asylum seekers this year, not counting other forms of migration, which has been running at very high levels in recent years. By contrast Britain has taken 5,000 Syrians since 2011 and there is a major political debate about whether a target of 10,000 refugees / asylum seekers would be acceptable. The British government, under increasing pressure from ordinary citizens, has just announced that it will accept 20,000 refugees/asylum seekers over five-years (4,000 per year);
  • The main political explanations for this imbalance is that one (Germany) has a shrinking population and therefore needs to take in people but that the other (UK) is an overcrowded island that cannot absorb any more than are already coming in. There is a prominent political view that taking in refugees would not solve the problems in the relevant countries and would simply encourage even larger numbers to come to the EU;

It is up to each person to reflect on whether their respective governments’ policies are appropriate in the face of this human catastrophe, bearing in mind the costs involved as well as the potential knock-on effects on social, health, housing and other services, including the downstream integration issues. There will certainly be implications in the short-, medium- and long-term, since most refugees/asylum seekers that are accepted are likely to remain, even when the crisis is over.

A personal perspective

In the rest of this post, for a change, I shall not focus on the definitions, statistics and policy responses, etc. but the human element using my own migration experiences and those of my family. The point has been reached in this humanitarian crisis where everyone must pin their colours to the mast.

I was born in Mozambique. When I was nine years old, the civil war that quickly followed the war of independence reached stage where by parents finally decided that they had no choice but to abandon the country. There were a series of issues leading to this decision, but the straw that broke the camel´s back was a bomb that blew out the windows in the surrounding buildings. Fear for our safety, combined with a sense of growing injustice, led to a decision to leave everything behind, except for our lives and the clothes on our back. This is the “refugee / asylum seeker drive“ and it is this which is at the bottom of the crisis we are witnessing.

By the time I was 11, my parents had decided that living in Portugal was not for them and that they preferred to leave for the UK, where they felt they could rebuild their lives and offer their children better prospects. This is the „economic migration“ drive, which I shall leave for another day. My family and I have experience of both the “push” drive to get out of a country, as well as the “pull” element of a prosperous country like the UK (Portugal was not a EU member in 1977). As such, I can sympathize with the stream of people heading towards the EU.

Each of these families seeking the safety of Europe will have their own catalyst, but they are generally similar: fear of safety/life/well-being reaches a point where the extremely high barriers to leaving are overcome. Those barriers include family and friends (you leave the people you grew up with behind, probably for ever), possessions (home, furniture, mementos of life, etc.) and communities, traditions and all the other things that make-up everyday life. Only the bare minimum can be taken: people, clothes, food and money.

The decision amounts to rolling the dice that will determine their fate. They know that they may be turned back at any of numerous borders. They are only too aware that they will experience all sorts of privations. They come to terms the stark fact they or members of their family may perish on the way. Yet they are determined to head for Europe and more specifically the EU. Most will do what they are allowed to do, not least where women and children are involved. Some, especially single young men, may do whatever it takes to reach their goal, as the scenes in and around the Channel Tunnel prove.

But even if their drive, courage and determination (for that is exactly what is involved) is rewarded with success and they end-up in the EU and preferably in countries with the resources to successfully absorb them, they also know that it may all be in vain. After all, there is a high chance of being put on an aeroplane and sent home sooner or later, once the crisis is over.

And still they roll the dice, often taking their young children on this incredibly arduous and sometimes lethal journey. Imagine this, if you will, and reflect on what it would take for you to reach such momentous life and death decisions. I ask you:

  • Would you take these sorts of decisions without a very good reason?
  • Are the people who manage to reach Europe´s shores worthy of sanctuary?
  • And if so, are such people likely to have the drive to integrate and thrive in the EU?

Follow your instinct. Form your own opinion.

I am not just a migrant to the EU, I am a serial migrant within the EU. This is not a source of shame. On the contrary, it is a source of great pride which has given meaning to my life. Every country I have lived in had enriched me and, for my part, I have contributed to every country I have had the good fortune to experience. Migration has been and remains a constant feature of humanity.

There may be some seeking to reach the borders of the EU purely for economic reasons, rather than being driven by misfortune not of their own making. It is not so easy to separate out the genuine cases from the bogus ones. But the sheer scale of the crisis, the types of people involved and the risks that they are taking demonstrate that these are, in the main, fellow human beings in desperate need of our help. For them the EU is a beacon for all the things that we take for granted. There can and there will be a win-win situation for them and for the countries taking them in. Europe has absorbed countless waves of immigration in the past and benefited from them; it will continue to do so in the future.

Let us be humane and thereby reaffirm the fundamental values that EU countries are right to be proud of. You helped me. Now, let’s help the others.