David Cameron seems to be veering towards dangerous populism that kills any possibility of having a rational debate about the European Union. Suggesting that we are becoming the “nasty country” of Europe, as EU employment commissioner Laszlo Andor did, might be a little harsh; but perhaps the “intellectually disingenuous” country might be closer to the mark.
From the beginning of next year, a wave of Bulgarians and Romanians are certain to wash up on British shores. Someone should probably tell them about the weather in Britain in January. But, that aside, there’s not a whole lot we can do to stop them arriving. And nor should we.
Cameron’s jibe at Tony Blair that he should never have let East Europeans into the country so soon after enlargement – EU countries could have imposed a seven-year transition period for such nationals; only Sweden, Ireland and Britain waived this right – is a cheap populist argument that follows a discredited school of economics. It presupposes that jobs are finite, which they are not.
Take a look at the following graph. Here you can clearly see the British economy outperforming the French one right up until 2008, when of course we paid the price for our deregulated financial market.
Now I wouldn’t be so presumptious as to claim this was entirely due to wondering Poles, but they certainly helped.
Now, Cameron isn’t, as noted, suggesting that Bulgarians and Romanians can’t come. What he is doing is imposing measures to make sure they don’t rip off the British taxpayer.
But there is also an inherent danger in what he is doing. By appealing to a slightly disagreeable anti-immigrant sentiment that currently courses through the echelons of British society, Cameron, who was schooled at Eton and studied economics at Oxford, risks an over-simplification of the discussion.
Immigration is not bad. It is what has kept our economy afloat for the past decade. It is what made America.
What is bad – and here I will agree with our PM – is those East Europeans that come to the UK simply to get free housing.
But I for one would like to know how many of these Romanians and Bulgarians are planning on coming to the UK simply so they can be out of work in greater comfort than back home. Surely they must know it is cold there.
Cameron needs to move away from straight-forward populism, and be a little more thorough in his treatment of the argument.
A carefully thought-out, mature and sensible immigration policy is what we need.
Some statistics wouldn’t go amiss, either.