Saturday, March 08, 2008

Europe debate not played out yet

In my Preview of 2008 at the end of December, the three things I confidently predicted would not happen this year were that there would not be a general election, that the Lib Dems would not changed their leader again, and that there would not be a referendum on the EU Treaty.

And indeed there will not be. Even if the Lib Dems had joined the Tories in the voting lobbies on Wednesday night, it still would not have been enough to force the government to hold a national vote on the issue without a much larger Labour rebellion.

But while that particular issue now seems to be done and dusted, there are other circumstances which could see the question of Britain's relationship with Europe back in the domestic political spotlight - as I argue in today's Journal column.

The first is if Tony Blair takes the EU presidency and every subsequent clash between Britain and Brussels becomes viewed through the prism of the Blair-Brown feud. It would be pure political soap opera, and the press would have an absolute field day with it.

More seriously, though, if concern about economic migration to Britain from within the EU continues to rise, it could conceivably create the conditions where withdrawal from the Union once again becomes a politically viable option.

My own view on this - though it goes against the grain of my views on both Europe and immigration generally - is that the conflict between continued unlimited immigration from Eastern Europe and our finite spatial resources will not easily be reconciled.

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James Valentine said...

The problem with political comment on anything to do with a) the EU and b) immigration is that 90% of it is based on prejudice rather than fact. But I wouldn’t have expected such comments from you, Paul.

The vast majority of recent EU immigrants into the UK have come from Poland, and the tide of Polish immigration has now turned.

More UK-based Poles are now returning to their homeland than are entering Britain because of a surge in the Polish economy. Most Poles have in any case been short-term visitors who have returned home as soon as possible, and this is now becoming a trend.

See the recent Times article at

It is hardly appropriate, then, to suggest in apocalyptic terms that immigration pressure might necessitate “withdrawal from the union”.

And those who would want to pull out the EU’s free labour market have got to take on board that there are far more Brits living in other EU countries than there are EU citizens living over here.
Over a million Britons benefit from the principle of free movement of people with 677,000 living and working in Spain, 301,000 in France and 132,000 in Germany. In total, there are 1.57 million living and working in other EU countries - more than triple the number of accession nationals that came here when their home countries joined the EU. If British people are to benefit in this way the principle must apply equally the other way around. *

I have actually heard of UKIP members who emigrate to Spain to “get away from all the foreigners in the UK” (and who, of course never bother to learn Spanish). I hope you agree with me that these creatures should be mocked and their hypocrisy exposed.

jay said...

Have you ever thought that they go there to escape from an increasingly authoritarian govt, that seems intent on destroying the UK and everything it has ever stood for, what wuld the outcry have been if the tories had tried to pull some of the labour partys most recent stunts like ID cards etc the trotsky tendency would be uo in arms as it is you cannot walk out your front door without being seen on cctvI think Davie(Davis) had it right on Thursdays question time when he said 1984 was a warning not a template

Anonymous said...

Even though the Government have got their way for now, by the time the General Election comes around the anti-EU feelings will certainly have grown. This means that any party that sticks out its head in favour of the EU may find it being chopped off by the electorate.

Labour may have won the battle, but the war is far from over.

Jon Worth said...

There's not a hope that Blair is going to manage to become President of the European Council. That appointment goes strongly against the dynamics in Brussels of how top positions are chosen.

Someone who divided the EU over Iraq, will not get the support of his own political family (Party of European Socialists), and comes from a country outside the Eurozone and Schengen will not manage to get the position.

Plus with Sarko (and Berlusconi) backing him that will make others turn away.

Blair vs. Brown always fills the column inches, but I don't see it happening with this one.

Paul Linford said...


I think I tend to agree with you. My column was written very much along the lines of "if" Blair becomes president rather than "when." But the fact that Sarkozy has been making so much noise about it must surely mean the idea is under serious consideration.