Absurd, naïve and just wrong - How the end of Britain’s veto on EU immigration matters will only make things worse
Sir Andrew Green, Chairman Migrationwatch UK.
The Daily Mail, London, October 26, 2004
THE Home Office spin machine was in top gear last Friday night when it first emerged that the Government was planning to abandon our power to veto new European laws on immigration and asylum.
It issued a denial, went into reverse on Saturday and then by yesterday the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, had reached new heights of absurdity, claiming - presumably with a straight face – that giving up our veto on immigration and asylum policy was the way to influence our European partners.
How naive! No wonder that there is so little trust in what this Government says when, on a subject as important and as sensitive as this, they change their tune overnight.
Does it matter that we should abandon our veto? It certainly does. It destroys our leverage in the forthcoming negotiations in Brussels over asylum and immigration.
If the other 24 countries know that we will opt out of the policy anyway, they will ignore us. Exactly this happened during negotiations over the new European Union Constitution last year.
On this very subject, asylum policy, the British delegation proposed an amendment they described as 'fundamentally important'.
It was completely disregarded.
Even if we opt out of a European system which we regard as hopeless, it still matters to Britain. Anyone granted asylum in the EU has the right to move on to Britain under the freedom of movement provisions.
So asylum in Europe can be a side door to Britain. For so long as this remains the case, we will need to retain our leverage on European asylum and immigration policy.
Where has Parliament been in all this? In a nutshell, miles behind the game.
Last week they were debating a document issued by the Commission last summer - just as David Blunkett was packing his bags for a meeting in Brussels which was addressing an entirely new set of proposals on asylum and immigration.
We have, in fact, already opted into - and are subject to - four European asylum directives with entirely inadequate public and Parliamentary scrutiny.
As for the future, it is simply ridiculous for the Government to imply that our European partners will do all the sensible things which we will no doubt suggest.
David Blunkett has already been obliged to tell the press that he totally disagrees with the main elements now proposed - on European border police, a joint asylum system and common consular arrangements, for example.
Apparently, he has telephoned his opposite number in the Netherlands – the Dutch currently hold the EU presidency - to say so.
I'm sure that his Dutch colleague was much to polite to say that he didn't care a jot because Britain would, in the end, opt out anyway. He may not have said it, but he must have thought it.
The Commission proposals are indeed far reaching, to put it mildly. They speak of a common asylum and immigration policy, a common asylum procedure and a European Centre for the joint processing of asylum claims.
If you think that the Home Office is a shambles when it comes to dealing with asylum claims, then try a Euro Office!
The reality is that Britain's position, as in so many other fields, is entirely different from that of other European countries - demographically, geographically, administratively and historically.
The pro-immigration lobby likes to talk about 'Europe's' need for immigrants. This may possibly be true for some, such as Italy or Spain, who have a fertility rate as low as 1.2.
Ours is 1.7 - 0.4 short of the figure (2.1) needed to ensure a population replaces itself - but light years, in demographic terms, from their situation.
The plain fact is that our population is not declining. Even on the Government's own projections, it is set to grow by 5.6 million over the next three decades.
This is equivalent to five times the population of Birmingham and 85 per cent of the increase will be due to immigrants and their descendants.
South-East England where more than four out of five migrants are settling is already one of the most crowded areas of Europe. Indeed, England as a whole is now more densely populated than India.
Geographically, the fact that Britain is an island has, in the past, enabled us to impose tight controls at the border, allowing almost total freedom once inside.
Hence, unlike countries in continental Europe our administrative system is virtually non-existent when it comes to personal identity checks.
Historically, our links with a worldwide Commonwealth and the prevalence of English as a second language throughout the world, make us a much more attractive destination than all other EU countries, except Ireland.
Furthermore, our welfare system and ready availability of the NHS are an even greater lure.
The basic problem is that the other Europeans have, as a fundamental objective, an aim which is at odds with both our history and our disposition.
It is set out at the very beginning of the relevant section of the draft European Constitution: 'The Union shall develop a policy with a view to ensuring the absence of any controls on persons, whatever their nationality, when crossing internal borders'.
So in this field, as in others, we simply don't fit. Yet we are planning to accept Qualified Majority Voting for Europe's asylum and immigration policy.
To block a proposal we will need at least 90 votes (out of a total of 321). Britain has only 29. What is more, we will have no natural allies as nobody else, except possibly Ireland, shares our interests.
In the smoke-filled rooms of Europe, every vote we garner will have to be paid for by concessions elsewhere.
Even then we will struggle to prevent changes to a Europe wide system developing in a way which is designed for entirely different circumstances.
Our partners will know that we may well, in the end, opt out - so why should they accommodate our interests?
The threat of a veto is the only way to concentrate their minds. For David Blunkett to suggest that abandoning our veto is the way to achieve our aims is, quite simply, absurd.
I come back to the central point that each country faces a different situation, both internally and in the mix of people who arrive at its ports.
Britain's situation is unique in Europe. We are a magnet for migrants. It is the first duty of the Government to protect our borders. Abandoning our veto is certainly not the way to do it.
Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Daily Mail, London, October 26, 2004