Saturday, 16 December 2017

Fact: Britain doesn't have open borders

It’s a Brexit myth that Britain has open borders to all citizens from the rest of the EU, or that ‘free movement of people’ is entirely free. 

Although a cherished right of EU citizenship, ‘free movement’ across our continent is not unfettered, and it can be restricted under existing EU rules.

For one thing, Britain is not part of the Schengen Agreement, and so we do not have open borders. Everyone entering or leaving Britain must go through passport control, and EU citizens are checked before they’re allowed in.

This was confirmed by Theresa May, then Home Secretary, when she appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show just before last year’s EU referendum and said:
“We check people at our borders, but what matters at our borders is that you have the information about people that enables you to make that decision about whether somebody should be allowed into the UK or not.
“We are more likely to have that information if we’re inside the European Union.”
EU migrants are not allowed to arrive in Britain and start claiming benefits. They have to be able to afford to come here without resorting to state funds.

Furthermore, Britain has the right to refuse entry, or to remove from the country, EU migrants on the grounds of public policy, public security and public health. 

David Cameron’s agreed EU reforms made this much easier, although strangely, we heard nothing about them during last year's referendum campaign. (See FullFact

The government’s own website confirms that, “EU nationals may be returned for not exercising, or abusing, Treaty rights, or for deportation on public policy grounds (such as criminality).”

In the three years from March 2014 to March 2017, the UK removed 12,585 EU nationals.

So, it’s nonsense to claim that EU nationals have the right to move to the UK and cannot be removed under any circumstances.

(Since last year’s referendum, however, the UK government has been accused of a “nasty” crackdown on removing more EU nationals than entitled under the rules. A high court ruled this week that this was illegal.)

Here’s a summary of the basic facts about EU migration to the UK:
  • Contrary to popular belief and media misconception, EU law does not permit EU citizens to move to another Member State and immediately claim benefits. On the contrary, there are specific arrangements within EU law to prevent people from misusing the benefits systems of other EU states. (These rules are covered by Regulation EC/883/2004 of the EU.)
  • EU migrants to the UK have to pass an ‘Habitual Residence Test’. Just arriving in the UK doesn’t give a migrant any rights.
  • EU nationals enjoy a right to reside in the UK for up to three months so long as they do not become an unreasonable burden on the social assistance system. They can then only legally stay longer if they are jobseekers; workers; self-employed; students; self-sufficient; permanent residents (i.e. legally here for more than five years); or family members of one of the above.
  • A European Commission Study concluded that there was “little evidence” to show that “the main motivation of EU citizens to migrate and reside in a different member state is benefit-related”. Most migrants who move to the UK do so to work or study – the same reason that most people from the UK move to other parts of the EU.
  • EU immigrants from Central Europe to the UK are around 60% less likely than British natives to receive state benefits, or tax credits, or to live in social housing. (A few years ago, there were more British people claiming unemployment benefit in Germany than Polish people claiming it in Britain.)
  • Three times the EU Commission asked the British government for evidence of so-called ‘benefit tourism’, but the UK government was unable to provide any.
Most citizens here from the rest of Europe are in gainful employment and make a substantial net contribution to our economy. 

Research published last year by the Centre of Economic Performance, part of the London School of Economics, revealed that EU migrants pay more in taxes than they use public services and therefore help to reduce the budget deficit. 

EU migration to the UK is already well controlled by the jobs market. If there are no jobs, EU migrants mostly don’t come, or they mostly don’t stay.

That’s why Nigel Farage’s claim that 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians could come to the UK was nothing more than scaremongering. Such numbers will never come to Britain for the simple reason that we’ll never have 29 million job vacancies. 

(We do, however, currently have around 750,000 job vacancies – far more than can be filled by British workers alone.)

And another point: Stopping free movement of citizens from the rest of the EU coming here will not only cause huge damage to our economy and the ability of our businesses to hire sufficient staff, it will also mean WE lose the right to live, work, study or retire across our continent. 

Already millions of Britons have made use of that right. Because after all, ‘free movement of people’ isn’t just a one-way trip. 

Yes, citizens from the rest of the EU can come here, but Britons can also go there. Once the UK leaves the EU, that right will be lost.
Other articles by Jon Danzig:

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