A Tory Future (Part 2): Human Rights and the European Union
In Part 1 of this article, Repealing the Human Rights Act, I discussed the idea that the Conservatives were withdrawing the UK from the international community through their repeal of the Human Rights Act. This policy is partly tied into the proposed referendum Cameron intends to hold on the UK’s membership of the EU and there are no two ways about it, this issue is monumental. The EU debate encompasses questions on the economy, immigration, national sovereignty, policing and human rights and every individual has different opinions on every one of those topics. This article will attempt to explain as many of those issues as possible and dispel some myths, but to cover all of these issues comprehensively would take an entire book.
Arguably the driving force behind the referendum is the issue of immigration, something many Brits feel passionate about, illustrated by the fact that UKIP won over 12% of the national vote in the General Election. However, the discussion of immigration is often marred by the prejudiced oversimplifications of the tabloid press and right wing parties. The arguments often revolve around how Johnny Foreigner is taking our jobs, and yet somehow he’s also scrounging on benefits; what becomes clear through the banality of these accusations is that the press enjoy constructing the narrative that all our problems can be pushed onto immigrants and, by proxy, the European Union.
So how does the EU cause all our immigration woes? Well, it is indeed true that for most Member States there is ‘open-door’ immigration. This is effected through the EU’s concept of ‘free movement of labour’, which allows workers to move without hindrance to the areas of Europe where there is the most work to be done, allowing increased productivity and preventing a shortage of workforces. However, for all of the UK’s complaining, we in fact have one of the strictest border regulations in the EU. This is due to the fact that we opted out of the Schengen agreement, which would have allowed EU workers to enter the UK without even needing a passport. Not only this, but the UK also has one of the largest emigrant populations in the EU, with over 6 million British nationals living elsewhere, and 1.1 million living in Spain alone.
Various statistics suggest that immigrants living in the UK make a net contribution to the economy, but it would be ignorant to totally ignore the issue and pretend everything is fine. The real problem is that the concept of free movement of workers doesn’t gel with the Tory policy of austerity, which is likely why Cameron is implementing this referendum. The majority of migrants arrived in the mid-2000s, when the economy was at its peak and there were many industries hiring; however, the unprecedented cuts made across the board to facilitate austerity have meant that all those jobs have disappeared, creating the situation where migrant labourers are often vying for jobs with the local populace. The correct solution is that the UK should probably adopt the other commonly accepted method of stimulating a recessive economy: creating as many jobs as possible through borrowing to effectively ‘spend our way out of the recession’, this allowing enough employment to satisfy both work forces. But alas, the Tories have dug too deep into their austerity hole, and we therefore have to wait these next few years out.
That is, as Monty Python would put it ‘What the EU does for us’, but what would the consequences be if a ‘Brexit’ occurred? Well, much like the repeal of the Human Rights Act, public lawyers aren’t entirely sure. Practically speaking, the UK would likely face another recession, as many foreign investors would lose faith in a UK in the process of renegotiating all its trade agreements, and the government would probably introduce the often touted Australian points-based immigration system. Legally speaking however, the courts would be tasked with deciding what case law of the past 50 years still applies, which fundamental rights can still be bestowed upon the citizens of the UK, and overseeing the biggest reform of immigration law in decades. It would be a time of great uncertainty in the law, something that, I can assure you, lawyers really don’t like, and the changes won’t just affect the citizens living inside the UK.
Those 5 million British ex-pats would face some unfortunate consequences. In particular, it has been noted that many of those 1.1 million British living in Spain are pensioners, occupying Spanish properties whilst paying no income tax and contributing nothing to the Spanish economy (I bet they hate us!). General EU practice for citizens of third-party nations (those that aren’t part of the EU) is to instigate rigorous visa checks, and most third-country migrants are required to have high-level qualifications in vital industries, as well as being able to speak the official language of the State they wish to reside in. It’s likely that most British pensioners wouldn’t meet these qualifications, and given that they would no longer be protected under the EU right to residence, there’s a real threat that many would be sent packing back to England.
David Cameron has made it clear that he would not deport any migrant workers already here in the UK, so our already overcrowded island would become a little more crammed with the return of a few thousand ‘golden oldies’. This would likely put strain on both the housing system and the NHS. So there we have it. What would the immediate effects of a Brexit be? Another recession, fuelled by non-confidence in the UK’s trade situation, and the influx of newly deported British emigrants, let alone the renegotiation of trade agreements, reallocation of ownership of European businesses by English businessmen, and untold complications regarding police co-operations with Interpol and Europol.
A British exit from the European Union would affect not just the migrants in the UK and its native citizens, but would also influence the other nations of the EU. Knowing that it’s possible to leave the Union would probably prompt other nations to try to, particularly those most unhappy with their positions in the Union, such as France, Spain and Italy. Only one person would be happy with a fractured Europe, and his name is Vladimir Putin. We’ve already seen his ruthlessness manifest itself in Eastern Ukraine, and with regular ‘military exercises’ taking place in the skies of Lithuania and Sweden, and even the English Channel, Europe needs unity now more than ever.
There is no denying that there are areas of the EU that cause problems given the current economic situation; recently the tabloid press campaigned against the lack of democracy in EU institutions, something public lawyers have known for years and work daily in courts across the Continent to change. Legislation such as the TTIP agreement paints a clear picture of how the EU has a problem of putting commercial trade interests before democratic representation, but running away won’t help. Surely it would be better to continue to reap the benefits whilst pushing for better democracy, and ensure Europe is competitive, united and prosperous?