Brexit and article 50: it’s not over till it’s over
Thursday 30th March 2017
Andrew McWilliam (Letters, 29 March) interprets Theresa May’s claim that “No deal is better than a bad deal” as meaning, literally, “no deal”, therefore we revert to staying in the EU. The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, put this option more pithily when he said the choice was between hard Brexit or no Brexit. Remainers should cheer up. It is likely that Brexit will be reversed as two trends emerge during the article 50 negotiations.
First, the full complexity, costs and downsides of leaving the EU will become ever more apparent. Second, changing attitudes to the free movement of people by political leaders across Europe will address the major reason the UK voted to leave. This rethink will doubtless be accelerated when Marine Le Pen does far better than people imagine against Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker pushing neoliberal policies, in the French presidentiual election. The result of all this must be a growing campaign to stay in a reformed EU, allowing controls on internal migration. Let’s hope opposition MPs, unions and NGOs wake up and spearhead that campaign.
Author, Progressive Protectionism
Background to assertions made in this letter
1) Explaining why the free movement of people within the EU wont survive and hence Brexit wont happen- from my report Reversing Brexit with a Treaty of ‘Home’ http://progressiveprotectionism.com/wordpress/Download/Treaty-of-Home_March_Report.pdf
2) Reasons why Le Pen could do much better against Macron than people realise.
1) For the Free Movement of People -The Political Times They Are A Changing
Free movement is a founding principle of the EU, enshrined in the treaties in 1957. But it is not an unconditional right. To be lawfully resident in another member-state, EU citizens need to be working, studying, or able to prove that they are self-sufficient……..With the rise of populism and the EU’s sagging popularity, the era of extending free movement rights has come to an end – just as the UK is leaving the EU.
What Free Movement Means To Europe And Why It Matters To Britain, Centre for European Reform, 19 January 201718)
It may be too late for the British government to use this widespread climate of concern about migration in order to lead a debate that change is needed in the common EU rules implementing free movement principles. On the other hand, pressure from populist parties to change the status quo has never been higher and is likely to have an impact on national policies after elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany.
Reform or Reject? Policy Network And Open Britain, March 201719)
The free movement of people is being reconsidered across Europe and could therefore be a crucial first step to changing the Treaty of Rome to a Treaty of ‘Home’. This would be a huge shift and a decade long transition mechanism is likely to be necessary to fully achieve it. This could start with a 10 year brake on uncontrolled immigration. There is a precedent of a kind here with the transitional provisions of the EU enlargement process which allowed for restrictions on the free movement of workers from the new EU member countries for a period of up to 7 years.
It is not just the extending of free movement rights that is coming to an end, the discussion across Europe is increasingly one of putting more constraints on internal migration. There has been much detailed analysis of the changing views of European Governments towards the question of the free movement of people since Brexit and Trump and the rise of Marine Le Pen and other far right parties.20)
A reformed, Europe-wide approach to free movement could include some of the policies agreed by the EU27 a year ago during David Cameron’s renegotiation, such as an emergency brake on benefits paid to migrants. They also agreed it is legitimate to take measures where an exceptional inflow of workers from elsewhere in the EU is causing serious problems to a MemberState’s welfare system, labour market or public services. The potential of these were seen as significant on the Continent, since this demonstrated that national discretion in the application of EU rules can be permitted.
The German parliament is just passing a five-year ban on all benefits for non-German EU citizens 21) and other examples of support for such an approach were listed in a recent Policy Network report. 22) The previous Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher stating that “support for free movement is crumbling when people see that it turns out to be so unfair” and Britain leaving the EU “gives a unique opportunity to do this in a very different way”. Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, have called for debates on the application of the free movement principle.
The European Commission has recently tightened up its rules on access to social security, saying that Member States may decide not to grant social benefits to mobile citizens who are economically inactive, meaning those who are not working nor actively looking for a job, and do not have the legal right of residence on their territory. The EU Commission’s Vice-President Jyrki Katainen has talked of understanding the “unwanted consequences” of freedom of movement.
The Social Democrat Austrian Chancellor, Christian Kern, has called for the EU to reconsider freedom of movement rules and in particular consider discrimination in favour indigenous job-seekers. He has proposed a system whereby “only if there is no suitable unemployed person in the country can [a job] be given to new arrivals without restriction”.
Given this it is small wonder that the former UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stated ‘There’s plenty of politicians across the European Union who are now volubly saying that they think there needs to be a change to freedom of movement. So there is scope for a Europe-wide approach to this which I think would satisfy some of the government’s needs.’ 23)
Indeed Sir Vince Cable who was business secretary under the previous UK coalition government went further in stating that “There is no great argument of liberal principle for free EU movement; the economics is debatable; and the politics is conclusively hostile….I have serious doubts that EU free movement is tenable or even desirable,” Indeed Cable didnt just advocate controls on migration, he also argued that it should be matched by controls on capital to halt the takeovers that he described as suffocating the innovative companies on which the country’s future depends. 24)
One final and significant straw in the wind concerning changing attitudes to the free movement of people came when Jean-Claude Juncker the president of the European Commission presented five options on the EU’s future in a White Paper to the European parliament in Brussels. This occurred a few weeks before the summit in Rome at the end of March, when as has been noted 27 heads of state and government will debate the EU’s future and celebrate its 60th anniversary of the bloc’s founding treaty.
Juncker hopes EU leaders, who are deeply divided on migration and the eurozone, can sign up to a plan before European elections in 2019. Interestingly in terms of the free movement of people was that one of the options included focusing the EU on the single market and allowing common foreign and migration policy to wither. It included: ‘There is no shared resolve to work more together in areas such as migration, security or defence…. the free movement of workers and services is not fully guaranteed… There are more systematic checks of people at national borders due to insufficient cooperation on security and migration matters…Migration and some foreign policy issues are increasingly left to bilateral cooperation’. 25)
So Bye Bye Brexit
This pan European trend for demanding more controls on the free movement of people will become evermore evident as the Brexit negotiations proceed. Since uncontrolled migration was the key cause of the vote to leave Europe, then this, plus the increasing awareness of the adverse economic and social implications of crashing out of the EU, could lead to resurgent calls for the UK to reverse Brexit in the light of these changing realities.
Thus while the Brexit process is in train it is possible that the major reason for the UK voting Brexit- uncontrolled immigration could be put on hold whilst there is a rewrite of the Treaty of Rome to accommodate this. By that time the man behind the only poll to get the result of the 2015 UK general election right Professor John Curtice 26) has said voters may indeed change their minds if the bad consequences of leaving become apparent in a drip-drip of closing factories, a flight of jobs 27) and emptying City glass towers, as London’s financial institutions lose access to the single market. 28)
20) http://www.policy-network.net/publications_detail.aspx?ID=6195; http://www.cer.org.uk/publications/archive/policy-brief/2017/what-free-movement-means-europe-and-why-it-matters-britain
25) http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-385_en.htm; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/01/stop-bashing-the-eu-jean-claude-juncker-tells-european-leaders
2) Possibility of another shock populist success with the election of Le Pen. The smart money, like those who went to bed expecting to wake up and see Remain and Clinton triumphant, is still hoping that Macron the former Rothschilds investment banker will wake up President after the second French vote. Yet Macron’s policies appear to be pure ‘unpopulism’. He wants to cut business taxes and reduce public spending, and the size of the state whilst respecting Brussels’ deficit targets, code for permanent austerity. At present Macron is neck and neck in the polls with Le Pen, but the percentage of undecided voters is large and his support is fragile. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/26/marine-le-pen-emmanuel-macron-french-elections This compares rather ominously with the fact that almost 40 per cent of French people aged 18-24 say they will vote for Le Pen because of lack of job prospects https://www.ft.com/content/5119f9ac-08cb-11e7-97d1-5e720a26771b.