“If you want us to help you control immigration, the first thing you have to do is to accept more immigrants”. Amongst all the Alice-in-Wonderland contradictions of the European project, surely few are delineated in such stark relief as the news which has emerged this morning (Sept 2nd).
The Times main headline reads “Germany turns on Britain over migrants”. We read that Stephan Mayer, described as a spokesman for home affairs for Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said “If Britain is out of the club in this big task of sharing (migrant) burdens, this could do some harm … to David Cameron’s ambition to be successful in his EU renegotiation”.
But recent polling shows that immigration is the Number One political concern for British voters. From a UK perspective, control over immigration is a vital element of any EU reform – it’s one of the very few objectives that Cameron has announced, in a renegotiation agenda characterised by an amazing paucity of ambition. So the Catch 22: in order to control immigration, we have to accept more immigrants. Madness.
These developments serve to illustrate the problems facing Cameron’s much vaunted renegotiation initiative. Clearly European leaders aren’t prepared to grapple with the real issues of concern to the UK. Angela Merkel has been quite specific. She stands for the defence of the EU’s “free movement” principle, and has said that she would rather see the UK leave the EU than compromise free movement. Good thinking Angela. We’d like to leave too, and that would solve the problem.
But there is a broader issue. In any negotiation, both side look for benefits. Cameron is targeting a few trivial changes that might benefit Britain, but let’s be in no doubt that his continental interlocutors will want countervailing concessions which in all probability will disadvantage this country. Even if Cameron comes back waving a piece of paper and declaring “Peace in our time – Game, Set and Match”, we may find that we’re looking at a zero-sum outcome.
There is one point which German and Austrian critics are clearly failing to take into account. Britain is already facing unprecedented levels of mass immigration, and EU rules prevent us from getting a grip on the problem. Cameron promised (“no ifs, no buts”) to get net immigration down to tens of thousands, and has wholly failed. The latest annual figure for net immigration is the highest ever recorded, at 330,000, and on a rising trend. Even that figure underestimates the scale of the problem: the latest figure for gross immigration is close to 600,000. Faced with such massive numbers, and the high level of public concern, it is futile to ask the UK to take a “fair share” of the 800,000 migrants which Germany expects this year. Sorry, Angela, but the answer is “NO”.