When is protection not protection? When it doesn’t protect, that’s when!
Mr. Cameron is proud of his “emergency brake” on in-work migrant benefits. Let’s leave aside the fact that the Office of Budget Responsibility takes the view that cutting migrant benefits will have little effect on immigration, because they come primarily for our many-times-higher wages, not for benefits. Let’s ask instead, does the emergency brake work at all?
First of all, we have to go cap-in-hand to see if we can get the agreement of more than half of member states to use the mechanism. Given the level of opposition, this is unlikely, and would be nearly as tough a negotiation as Cameron’s recent effort. Then, it doesn’t actually stop migrant benefits. It merely tapers them upwards from zero over the four-year period on a basis not yet agreed. And while for each individual worker the effect can last four years, the whole scheme finishes after seven years.
It is so hedged around with delay and conditionality that it is effectively worthless. Yet some commentators are taken in. Here’s Dan Hodges “The ‘emergency migrant benefit brake’ exceeds the five-year ban Nigel Farage called for.”
No it doesn’t. Hodges is noting the seven-year duration of the scheme, and comparing apples with oranges. Nigel called for a five year ban for each migrant worker – a complete ban, not tapered – and he demanded that restriction in perpetuity (or until the House of Commons chooses to change it). In other words, he demanded the right for an Independent UK to make its own decisions in these matters. No seeking agreement, no time limit, no tapering. Nigel wanted a clear, permanent ban. What Cameron has been offered is temporary, conditional, tapered – and difficult if not impossible to invoke. Let’s face it – Brussels would never have offered it if they’d thought it would actually be used.
A claimed “emergency brake” applies in another area too: the position of non-€uro countries in the EU. How does Cameron sell this achievement? “The €urozone cannot act as a bloc to undermine the integrity of the Single Market” – or, I suppose he would add, to disadvantage the minority of countries that do not use the €uro. Sorry, Dave, but yes they can. What exactly does this “emergency brake”, this “Red Card” do? It requires the European Council to review laws and to address member-state concerns. “Review”? “Address”? Bear in mind that the Council consist predominantly of €urozone countries. So we are going to go to the very people who created the problem, and asking them to reconsider it. They would fulfil the terms of the agreement simply by responding “We have reconsidered the issues as we are required to do, but we consider your concerns unfounded so we shall proceed anyway”.
Imagine that you were driving your car down the motorway at 70 mph (I’m told some people drive even faster), and an emergency arose. Suppose then you had to consult with other road users, and perhaps the manufacturer of your vehicle, to gain majority approval for using the brake and invoking the ABS?
The whole thing is a nonsense. It is a pretence and a deceit. This isn’t an Emergency Brake. This is a car crash.