Friday, 6 January 2017

Radical idea on EU free movement: use conditionality that already exists!

I’ve got a radical idea on how to amend EU free movement in the UK: let’s use the conditionality that already exists!

Despite many Leavers insisting that the referendum was about sovereignty and taking back control and not immigration, it appears that the only thing that Theresa May’s government believes people want to take back control over is EU free movement. All you Leavers out there who disagree with the government on that and e.g. think the Single Market is important; you’re being AWFULLY QUIET.

Now it appears that many in the Labour Party and even one former Liberal Democrat MP, Dr Vince Cable (who fought against illiberal/ideological immigration policy while Business Secretary in the Coalition government) agree with the government that EU free movement has had a negative impact on the UK (evidence that even Migration Watch can’t produce, see below), and has to change or be scrapped. So UKIP’s view on EU free movement (EU migrants are to blame for EVERYTHING!!) now appears to be shared by others, despite the lack of evidence, which is quite frankly A DISGRACE.

But what NONE of these converts to the anti-free movement cause mention is that there is considerable conditionality to EU free movement that the UK HAS NEVER BOTHERED TO USE. And No Vince I'm not talking about transitional controls when new countries join the EU.

This is one reason David Cameron struggled to persuade other EU leaders that the UK needed special conditions for EU free movement. That and his utter failure to unearth ANY evidence whatsoever that free movement had a particularly negative impact on the UK. Even the anti-immigration pressure group Migration Watch when asked to help Number 10 could only come up with one local newspaper article about pressure on a hospital in Corby! (see article here and scroll down to the paragraph “evidence what evidence?”:

So here is the conditionality that EU law already allows countries to implement (except the UK doesn’t):

  • Allow EU citizens to freely circulate in the UK only for 3 months and then require them (should they want to stay longer) to show they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student or have sufficient resources (pension, savings) to support themselves and comprehensive sickness insurance e.g. valid European Health Insurance Card enabling the NHS to claim back the cost of treatment or private health insurance.

It can’t be that bloody difficult given that other EU countries manage to do this! So Vince Cable, Keir Starmer, Andy Burnham etc, stop pandering to UKIP/anti-immigration sentiment and instead make some suggestions as to how existing free movement conditionality could be implemented in the UK.  

Addendum: How Free Movement is managed in Belgium*

  • Any EU citizen intending to stay in Belgium longer than 3 months has to register with their local council.
  • The local council will only allow you to register if you meet the conditions outlined above about being in work/being able to support yourself and having sickness insurance. (I showed my employment contract and my registration with a Belgian mutual health fund).
  • Without being registered, you’re not in the Belgian system, so ineligible for social security, unable to get any credit, unable to sign a rental lease etc. etc.
  • After an initial 3 month residence card, you go back and get a six month card (assuming you can still prove you’re working/can support yourself etc.) and after six months you can get a five year residence card. Once you have a five year residence card, then you’re pretty much treated as a Belgian.

* I lived and worked in Belgium from 1998 to 2009 (long before I was an MEP) so I have personal experience of this process. 


Sunday, 4 December 2016

LibDem victory in Richmond by-election: more significant than the Brexiters will admit

As a Liberal Democrat who went down to Richmond Park and North Kingston on a number of occasions to help Sarah Olney’s campaign to unseat Zac Goldsmith, I am of course delighted that she became the constituency’s new MP on Thursday. 

First is first, kudos to the Greens and the Women's Equality Party for not standing candidates and for supporting the LibDem campaign. Also a big thank you to all the non-partisan pro-European activists who came to Richmond to help. 

The idea that this was merely a strong Remain voting constituency having a chance to reiterate their 23 June vote is a simplistic and somewhat lazy interpretation.

Britain’s relationship with the EU wasn’t the only issue the LibDem campaign highlighted. The Libdem very long term (over 20 years) opposition to a third runway at Heathrow airport and our criticism of Tory underfunding of the NHS also featured heavily.

And while the LibDem campaign deliberately chose not to mention it at all, Mr Goldsmith’s horrid divisive London mayoral campaign against Sadiq Khan didn’t do him any favours. Some voters did raise it on the doorstep and it was never in a positive light.

I would imagine that the nasty anti-foreigner rhetoric coming out of the Tory party recently e.g. naming and shaming companies that employ non Brits etc will have been similarly received in Richmond as Mr Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign. Perhaps the UKIP-isation of the Tory party will lose more moderate Tory voters than it will gain rabid Brexiters back from UKIP? And you can guess where I think those moderate Tory voters will head. 

Even on the issue of Brexit, it isn’t as clear cut as the anti-Europeans would have you believe. Liberal Democrat canvassing shows that some Tory Leave supporters voted for Sarah Olney on Thursday. If you live in a very pro-Remain area like Richmond and you voted Leave, then you must have been pretty convinced about it. Yet less than 6 months later, some of those people decided to vote for an unashamedly pro-European Liberal Democrat?

The Brexit tide is turning, albeit very slowly....

Thursday, 3 November 2016

What are the Brexiters scared of?

No-one can have failed to notice that many Brexiters are getting nervous. You'd think that having "won" and being convinced that Brexit will be a rip-roaring success with no downside (as Brexit Minister David Davis said), they'd rise to the occasion and be able to defend their decision and answer any difficult questions with ease.

But instead they have fallen back on one simple rhetorical device, which is to accuse anyone (even those who supported Leave) of being "anti democratic" or "opposing the will of the British* people" if they dare ask any pertinent questions or heaven forbid express the view that they still think Brexit isn't a good idea or might result in some difficulties.

In a democracy, democratic decisions can and indeed must be subject to debate and disagreement, and must be able to be challenged through democratic means. Anyone saying otherwise is essentially promoting a dictatorship of the (in this case slim and some polls indicate diminishing) majority. Also, this is how the Brexiters got a second referendum on EU membership in the first place (they argued for a referendum, persuaded the Tories to make it their policy, and then enough of them voted for a Tory government).

After a general election no-one says that opposition parties have to stop opposing policies of the governing party because that's "the will of the majority of voters". Why should a referendum be different?

Also, any vote (general election or referendum) is a snapshot of people's views at that moment in time and views can change. If there'd been a referendum on the invasion of Iraq, a slim majority (if opinion polls of that time are accurate) would have voted in favour. At that time those who opposed the invasion e.g. the then LibDem leader Charles Kennedy, were attacked and vilified in particular by the right wing media and political opponents (sounds familiar?). Within a few years, public opinion changed dramatically and Charles Kennedy was sadly proven right (I say sadly because of the many horrific consequences of that war). 

The anti-democratic Brexiters appear to have such little faith in their own arguments that the only way they think they can prevent any change in public opinion is to stamp down on any legitimate questions or debate. I wonder what are they scared of?

The only way that Brexit can be stopped is through democratic means e.g. a general election, a referendum on the terms of any final deal etc, so if you oppose that, you oppose democracy when it doesn't align with your views. If the Brexiters truly believed in the brilliance of leaving the EU, then they wouldn't fear any democratic challenge at all, because they'd be confident it would fail and their arguments would triumph.

* of course a majority of the British people didn't vote for either side in the EU referendum as a sizeable minority chose not to vote (so we can't be sure what they think), some Brits were prevented from voting (including some of the estimated 2 million living in other EU countries), and up to 1 million foreign nationals (Irish and commonwealth citizens resident in the UK) were able to vote in the referendum (caveat: I don't know how many foreign nationals voted). 

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The Liberal Democrats are selecting a candidate for Islington North and I'm shortlisted!

After being rather annoyed by the lacklustre efforts/sabotage (depending on what you believe...) of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the recent EU referendum campaign, I decided to throw my hat in the ring to be the Liberal Democrat candidate for Islington North, Mr Corbyn's seat.

I have only ever been a parliamentary candidate in Yorkshire (I wasn't even on the London candidates list) and was usually intending to stand in Yorkshire again in the next General Election. I previously stood in Rotherham in 2010 and Morley and Outwood in 2015.

Morley might sound familar; it was Ed Balls' seat. Despite having no money bar my deposit being paid (I had to fundraise £800 for my election address), very few activists, and being almost unable to take time off my non political day job, I managed to poll over 1400 votes. Ed Balls lost by 422, so I would like to claim at least some credit : )

I happen to live in Islington North (since 2009 with a lengthy interlude in Leeds while being a Yorkshire MEP) and have been a reliable foot solider with the local party in many elections/by-elections.

I was actively involved in campaigning in the EU referendum both with Islington Liberal Democrats and my local Stronger In group (Islington North). Despite being asked numerous times to come along to local Stronger In campaigning activities, Mr Corbyn didn't manage to do this once. Not once. He did however manage to go on holiday during the campaign : (

I don't have anything personally against Mr Corbyn; I met him once at an anti pub-co sit-in (trying to stop a landlady being evicted by big pub company) and thought he was a nice man. I also understand from LibDem colleagues who have previously been councillors in Islington North that he is a good constituency MP who effectively assists those who need his help. 

However, his lack of effort on the EU referendum combined with his appalling lack of leadership skills, which means that her Majesty's official opposition is too busy fighting itself to effectively oppose the current Tory government, is enough to make me want to stand against him.

There are three candidates shortlisted to be the next LibDem parliamentary candidate for Islington North. The other two candidates are both long standing local LibDem activists. They are Julian Gregory who stood for the LibDems in Islington North in 2015, and Keith Angus who has twice been LibDem parliamentary candidate for the neighbouring Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency.

Local party members are invited to attend a hustings next Monday 5 September to choose the candidate. Now I have just under a week to persuade them to choose me!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Why I am voting REMAIN

  1. Above all, the EU is a political endeavour to create peace through trade and it has WORKED! My grandparents* (sadly no longer with us), lived through world war two and some of its horrors. The EU is the Europe that came after that and said “never again”.

  2. Being a key player in Brussels increases Britain’s standing in the world. Our global allies like the USA and Commonwealth countries appreciate our voice being in the room, and our very British pragmatism and level-headedness is appreciated by many of our European partners.

    Despite the attempts of Leavers to do Britain down and paint us as a helpless victim of the rest of the EU, since 1999, the UK has been outvoted 2% of the time. So in fact we’re very good at getting British priorities accepted at EU level. We should be proud of this! Being outside the door when crucial decisions about our continent are being made would be a loss of control and influence for the UK.

  3. I believe in cooperation! In an interconnected world facing serious challenges, Britain can do much more by working together with our European neighbours to tackle the big issues like climate change, organised crime and terrorism.

  4. The UK economy benefits massively from being part of the world’s biggest single market. It’s not just about big corporations exporting good and more importantly services (8/10 British jobs) seamlessly, but also universities, the science sector, the tech sector, the green economy, the arts, farming and more.

    It’s also about the billions of pounds of foreign direct investment from companies setting up EU operations in the UK and the many jobs and opportunities that creates.

  5. Worker’s rights including paid holidays, pension rights, parental leave and anti-discrimination rules are enhanced by EU membership. The EU sets minimum standards below which no decent country should fall; the UK is free to set higher standards. When many on the Leave side talk about “cutting red tape”; remember they mean worker’s rights.

  6. The EU has led the world on tackling climate change and protecting the environment often with Britain at the forefront. At home this has meant cleaner beaches and greater protection of our beautiful countryside and native wildlife.



* If they were, as committed Pro-Europeans, they’d be voting REMAIN....