In a sign of discord between elements in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat alliance, Nick Clegg has slammed the leaked Home Office proposals that were published in the Sunday Times this weekend. Talking about a proposal to cap the number of immigrants from the European Union able to enter the UK at a level of 75000 a year, he said that this was illegal under constitutional European directives that the UK was already a signatory to.
The report suggested that the proposal came from the Home Secretary, Theresa May. Over the last year, some 183,000 people moved to the UK from the rest of the European Union, and the changes would see a significant change in the way that leave to remain was offered to people who come to the UK.
Highly skilled or professional individuals from Germany and other similarly wealthy countries would be allowed to settle in the UK if they could demonstrate that they had a job offer, while lower-skilled people would be given permission to stay only if they worked in roles where there was a documented shortage of people in their particular industry.
Nick Clegg expressed fears that the move, if adopted, would actually damage the economy and would lead to reprisals by our partners in the European Union. Calling the UK an open economy, he claims that the City of London would grind to a halt if restrictions on foreign employment were brought in.
Furthermore, the situation for the two million or so British citizens living and working abroad was likely to become a lot more precarious as other EU nations retaliated in what he called a “tit-for-tat race to the bottom.” In contrast, rather than directly respond to his speech, Theresa May spoke to the Today programme about the issue of free movement – that there is a concern across European states about how some people abuse.
The UK government is already planning to tighten up its interpretation of existing laws to restrict the access of migrants to social benefits, with a particular eye towards an expected influx of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals next year. Where these proposals go further though is in the claim made by Mrs May that the Prime Minister and she were of the same mind in wanting to make even more changes to restrict and control the terms of arrival of any future European citizens.
Mr Clegg’s comments came at his monthly press conference, advising the Home Office to work less on leaking illegal policies and harder at making the agreed coalition government policies happen. In particular he called for action to be taken to reinstate exit checks.
A spokesman for the European Council’s president suggested that the benefit to the UK is that most migrants come to work. By contrast, many Britons who emigrate do so to retire, making a far bigger burden for their newly-adopted countries than anyone migrating to the UK.
In a rather telling comment, Nigel Farage of UKIP called the leak “comical” and added that the only way that the government could impose the migration cap would be to leave the European Union – something that the Prime Minister has very publicly and repeatedly said he doesn’t want to happen.