At least Ukip’s EU and immigration policies are consistent. John Denham can’t even manage that.

by Atul Hatwal

John Denham’s article about immigration on Labour List yesterday was a disgrace. Not because of his anti-immigration stance – it’s perfectly possible to disagree with a view without believing it to be disgraceful – but because of the incoherent politics at the heart of his argument.

Within the Labour party, two distinct groups have now emerged on the anti-immigration side of the debate.

One is consistent and has a coherent case, albeit with potentially major deleterious economic consequences. The other is muddled and guarantees a disastrous electoral denouement for Labour. John Denham’s post was a case study in the latter.

The starting point for the first group is scepticism about the EU. There is a legitimate case to be argued for applying the same entry rules to all migrants, whether from the EU or outside and that if the EU does not change on freedom of movement, Britain will withdraw.

Central to this argument is an acceptance that a British exit from the EU is likely.

When Angela Merkel visited Britain in February she made the German position on reform of freedom of movement abundantly clear, “freedom of movement is intended to allow people to work in different countries, not immigration into social systems.”

There might be some tightening of access to benefits and public services for EU migrants but no fundamental change in freedom of movement across the EU.

Given the government’s own figures indicate that only 4 in every 100 EU migrants claim Job Seekers Allowance, it’s a fair assumption that benefit restrictions will have virtually zero impact on the net flow of EU migrants into Britain.

It’s evident from what MPs like Frank Field, Kate Hoey and John Mann have said in the past that they are prepared for a British withdrawal from the EU and there is a small but growing group within the PLP who take this view.

This is broadly also the official Ukip position. Stripped of the inflammatory and racist language sometimes used by Ukip representatives, it has the merit, at least, of being internally consistent and demonstrates clearly how EU migration would be reduced.

The starting point for the second group within Labour’s ranks is scepticism about immigration. But they appear not to have thought much beyond this.

In Denham’s article yesterday, he rails against the principle of freedom of movement, saying, “for the foreseeable future it would be better if fewer EU immigrants came here,” but then within a couple of paragraphs says, “give no ground on the case for being in the EU.”

Newsflash: the two are mutually exclusive.

Unless John Denham thinks Angela Merkel is lying, the French are going to radically change their European policy and the eastern European and southern European states are also going to set aside their existing policies too, there will be no radical change to freedom of movement and he is living in fantasy land.

Labour is in a bad enough position on immigration. Adopting the Denham line would make it even worse.

At the moment, when Ed Miliband talks about, “bearing down on immigration,” and apologises for Labour immigration policy a decade ago, the message that voters hear, loud and clear, is that Labour accepts too many people were let into Britain.

But when they then ask how Labour will stop people coming into the country, all Labour spokespeople talk about is enforcing the minimum wage and stopping labour market exploitation.

All very laudable but nothing to do with reducing the numbers of people entering Britain. No wonder the public conclude that Labour is actually lying when it says sorry for past immigration.

Taking John Denham’s approach would exacerbate this problem.

Essentially Labour would then be saying that EU immigration was a problem, freedom of movement was the cause and that when push came to shove with the EU, we’d be shoved. We’d stay in the EU, accept freedom of movement and lump it on immigration.

This is a doorstep car crash waiting to happen.

For all those like John Denham who wring their hands in concern about EU immigration, there is only one logical way: the Ukip way. The sole credible route to reducing EU migration is to leave the EU.

Alternately, for those that want to stay in the EU, which presumably includes Ed Miliband, there is another option: stand up and make the case for immigration, particularly EU migration.

This isn’t a counsel of starry-eyed idealism, but practical politics. If Labour is not prepared to leave the EU then the benefits of immigration must be set out, otherwise Labour will always be on the losing side of the argument.

There are manifold benefits to EU immigration for Britain. Without doctors and nurses from the EU our NHS would suffer, EU migrants put a lot more into the public purse than they take out – over £2,600 per year according University College London – and millions of British jobs depend on international investment that is contingent on Britain being an open, trading economy in the EU with all that entails.

Labour’s leaders might have been squeamish about making this case, but while Ed Miliband and most of his shadow cabinet seem trapped like rabbits in Ukip’s headlights, there have been broader signs of positive change in Labour.

On Saturday, at the Progress conference, Owen Jones drew chuckles from the audience with his unequivocal backing of Tony Blair’s intervention on immigration. Diane Abbot said similar. Chuka Umunna, giving the keynote address, stressed repeatedly that Labour could not out-Ukip Ukip.

A Labour coalition that brings together the left, the Blairite centre-right and the union movement is a powerful alliance; one that will potentially redraw the internal party dividing lines on immigration, regardless of what Ed Miliband might or might not say.

There is an important debate to be had on immigration, a debate that is bound up with the case for Britain’s membership of the EU.

Some MPs and party members might feel that the imperative to reduce migration necessitates leaving the EU. Others will feel that benefits of the EU, and of freedom of movement, mean that we must stay in the club.

But no-one should be under any illusions, this choice is binary. Either we stay in Europe, most likely with some tightening of access to public services for migrants but with the principle of freedom of movement untouched, or we leave and can choose to cut EU migration.

Pretending to be able to do both, to stay in the EU while ending freedom of movement, is dangerously delusional.

Yesterday, either John Denham wilfully wrote something that he knows to be almost impossible, or demonstrated some truly atrocious political judgement. Whichever it is, doesn’t really matter. What does, is that his recommendations are given the widest possible berth.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut and Director of the Migration Matters Trust

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25 Responses to “At least Ukip’s EU and immigration policies are consistent. John Denham can’t even manage that.”

  1. Nikki says:

    The benefits issue is not about out of work benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance, ESA or Income Support but about IN WORK benefits such as Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. The migration study you refer to found that EU migrants are less likely to claim the former but more likely to claim the latter. The in work benefits are only available to those on a low wage, so this clearly shows that EU migrants are more likely to be in low skilled, low paid employment and needing welfare support to top up wages and meet housing costs. So John Denham is clearly right when he says most EU migrants would not get into the Country if the rules that are applied to non-EU migrants were applied to them. You say stopping access to benefits will not make a difference to numbers coming, that is true for out of work benefits but if access to the in work benefits I’ve mentioned, is stopped then this will drastically reduce the numbers because they would not be able to afford housing etc.

  2. paul barker says:

    Surely the worst thing about Denhams article is the way hes trying to woo back racist UKIP voters with classic “dog whistles” ? As Denham points out Labour have a long history of Xenophobia, going right back to Keir Hardy.
    Dan Hodges thinks that Denhams article is essentially the speech Milliband planned to make but abandoned at the last minute, afraid of opening Party splits. All part of Labours “strategy” of grabbing votes from anywhere, at any price.

  3. LB says:

    Without doctors and nurses from the EU our NHS would suffer


    Crap I’m afraid. They are only needed because the state refuses to train Brits for the jobs

    Pretending to be able to do both, to stay in the EU while ending freedom of movement, is dangerously delusional.

    Read the treaty.

    If its “public policy”, you can cut migration. See Cyprus for that where they made it public policy to stop free movement of capital.

    You can sack all migrants in the employ of the state under the treaty too.

    You can crack down and remove illegal migrants.

    You can say, no welfare for migrants.

  4. Dave Roberts says:

    Paul Barker. What are “dog whistles”? The far left love this one but I have never been able to get an explanation.

  5. Tom Miller says:

    “it’s a fair assumption that benefit restrictions will have virtually zero impact on the net flow of EU migrants into Britain.”

    Why? It will not mean an end to EU immigration, but it will mean an end to a level playing field. This can tip markets.

    For some people it will tip the balance into them deciding to stay home rather than chance it, especially if we are talking about people likely to temp or do contract work.

    That’s a lot of jobs which will become worse bets as a result, here and elsewhere.

    Freedom of movement with less movement – is that what we actually want though?

  6. Carly says:

    Why do those at the top of the Labour Party fail to grasp hardly anyone wants to stop all immigration, but according to the polls over 77% of people want to reduce immigration? Why do people like the writer of this article present the issue as a false choice between no immigration and no restrictions at all? Immigration has only become an issue at the top of voters concerns because of the over one million people that have come in, in the last 12 years, since a large number of Eastern European Countries joined the EU. Before this Britain had a manageable immigration system and up until the year 2000, immigration never went over 100,000 net. I cannot believe people are demonising John Denham, what he is saying is sensible. Why does the Labour Party want to support a mass immigration policy that hurts the very people our party represents and was founded to represent?

  7. Given the government’s own figures indicate that only 4 in every 100 EU migrants claim Job Seekers Allowance.

    Ah, Job Seekers Allowance, but how many are claiming working tax credits? It’s best to use the term BENEFITS and not try hiding behind just one! This figure rises drastically when applied across the board. It is also safe to say if they weren’t here, there would be less indigenous claiming ‘BENEFITS’!
    The only answer is to withdraw from the EU and negotiate a trade deal on the way out, given that the Euro-zone will be stagnant for the next ten years,we could negotiate a good deal!

  8. paul barker says:

    On “dog whistles” the phrase comes from those ultrasonic whistles that dogs can hear & humans cant, much more popular in The States than here.
    The trick, used by both Left & Right is to find some innocuous form of words that your potential voters will understand differently from the surface meaning. Its particularly useful if what the voters in question want is widely seen as unacceptable or too extreme.

  9. Robin Thorpe says:

    There are quite a few interesting comments here for Atul to chew over; most of them do have something to add to the debate. I do agree with Atul that the way the John Denham article was written was quite provacative and unnecessarily draws dividing lines between migrants and the indigenous population.
    The issue of freedom of movement is, I think, an important tenet of the EU. It would not be possible to retain freedom of movement for goods and capital but remove freedom of movement for people. Being part of the EU entails that we agree to this.
    The issue of the 4 out of 100 claiming JSA is applicable because they are people who are claiming welfare payments without paying into the system. People who receive in work welfare payments receive assistance from the state because they pay tax; they are contributing to the revenue. The people who receive these payments need help because their employers choose not to or cannot pay them enough money to live on.
    The availability of low skill jobs is an issue and is linked to immigration but providing sufficient opportunity for people to earn a living should be the issue, not whether our brothers and sisters from Europe should be able to work in the UK. Maybe all of us should do less and get by on less income so that more people can work? I only work 50 hours a week to pay the rent; not because I aspire to be “hard-working”

  10. Tafia says:

    Given the government’s own figures indicate that only 4 in every 100 EU migrants claim Job Seekers Allowance

    And how many get Family Tax Credits, Child Credits, Housing Benefits, Free school meals, free prescriptions et etc.

    And what percentage are filling low skill and no skill jobs whilst our young and our redundant rot?

    And how many end up in social housing whilst at the same time we have an acute shortage?

    Sooner or later they will end up buying houses under help to buy – a scheme underwritten by indiginous tax payers that can’t even get a council house.

    Immigrants to this country – both EU and non-EU should be restricted to skilled workers who have a job to go to and that employer is guarenteeing a minimum of 12 months work. They should not be allowed any benefits at all – including WFTC HB etc until they have done at least 2 years full time work and they should have to have private medical insurance for the first 2 years. They should also deposit with the Home Office a deposit to cover their return home should they lose their job before the 12 months are up. (Perfectly allowed under current EU regulations)

    Unskilled labour should only be allowed in on temporary permits and only when our internal unemployment rate is below a set figure – say 2%.

    Any non-UK subject convicted of an offence involving theft, fraud, drugs or violence, or drink driving should be held in custody on conviction and deported within 72 hours. If they wish to Appeal deportation, they can but only from their home country. (and no, that doesn’t breach the ECHR)

  11. Trofim says:

    “the NHS / Health and Social Services would collapse etc”

    That argument is a condemnation of Britain, its education system and the
    unwillingness or inability of 2.3 million unemployed to contribute to society.

    We would, of course, manage. But all economic arguments are meaningless,
    essentially an afterthought, for leftists, because:

    (1) leftists believe that human beings are better for mixing with those of other
    races and cultures (2) leftists believe themselves to be morally superior to
    others and therefore (3) they believe that is morally justifiable to impose
    multiculturalism even on those who who do not wish it.
    For the left, the imposition of multiculturalism is a moral crusade, an article
    of faith. It cannot be wrong. It is axiomatic.

  12. John Reid says:

    The Fact that Diane Abbott took to twitter to dismiss Hoey/field/Mann and Stringer, as dog whistles, and then she said that Denham had at least brought some sensible view to the argument, is clearly daft,
    I’ve not agreed with Atul in the past,but here he points out that Denham has changed his view as Denhams article now, isn’t that different to the Hoey/field/Mann letter and Abbott in trying to make out Denham is admirable and field/Hoey/Mann aren’t show how silly she is,

  13. Dave Roberts says:

    Thanks Paul Barker. All is more or less clear. I ave always found tat it is the far left that use the phrase so I will discount it as having any real meaning.

  14. dwll says:

    Debating an article like this is rendered pointless by the fact that the author is sponsored by the City of London Corporation to lobby in favour of business interests that want immigration. See paragraph 8 here for source:

    What is actually in the interests of working people doesn’t get a look in when this sort of article gets written.

  15. Paul says:

    “In Denham’s article yesterday, he rails against the principle of freedom of movement, saying, “for the foreseeable future it would be better if fewer EU immigrants came here,” but then within a couple of paragraphs says, “give no ground on the case for being in the EU.”

    Newsflash: the two are mutually exclusive.”

    This is incorrect. as LD has suggested above, but without going into detail, the Lisbon Treaty allows for migration to be curbed on the grounds of ‘public policy’. It’s Article 45. There’s no need for treaty change, though there is a need to change the 2004 Directive which tightened the interpretation of this (as it stood pre-Lisbon).

    This is all possible, as long as it’s balanced by a shift in the freedom of movement of goods and services (articles 30 to 32 of Lisbon allow this) to allow accession/Southern states to internally devalue and therefore converge overtime.

    Possible, yes. Likely at this stage? No. But it’s incorrect to say that Labour couldn’t be a leading force if it wanted to go down this route (one I don’t personally support).

  16. John reid says:

    Dowll, I thought the headline made this clear this article was from a certain point of view. So him putting what he believes, was always going to be bias,

  17. BenM says:

    “Immigrants to this country – both EU and non-EU should be restricted to skilled workers who have a job to go to”

    The inanity and hopeless lack of comprehension of migration amongst the anti-immigration zealots is exposed here.

    What is a “skilled” worker?

    And seeing as the vast majority of immigrants DO come here with work to go to, that surely means they have a “skill” some employer or other requires?

  18. paul barker says:

    Some of the comments seem to me to raise the difficulty a lot of people on your half of the left (Labour/Communist/Green) have with Freedom. The point about “Freedom of Movement” is just that anyone can live & work where they want. Its not about Economics but individuals having more choices, more power over their own lives. For us on The Liberal half of the Left it seems like a no-brainer.

  19. Tafia says:

    BenMWhat is a “skilled” worker?

    I would have thought you would have the brains to check with the DWP. Apparently not.

    It is someone with a specialist skill or ability, that holds some form of verifiable and recognised qualification in a trade, occupation or specialist skill.

    Paul Barker – in that case you are wildly out of step with core EU countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy and therefore do not want us to be more ‘european’. Welcome to the club.

  20. Bob Has says:

    How great to read the replies & see that labour has not completely lost its marbles.
    If the disillusioned ex labour voters could read the retorts of Nikki, LB ,Carly Trofm and BenM i’m sure they would no their future Could be in good hands. But as they now perceive that they have been sold down the river by previous labour & current regimes. Who seem to have forgotten who they were supposed to be looking out for as THE LABOUR PARTY. And see no sign of the common sense written by the mentioned by the named commentors i fear the working class voters will drift awy in their millions! I agree with Nikki.

  21. John Reid says:

    Bob has, I take it you mean Tafia as an ex labour voter ,not Dave Roberts or Ex- Labour himself, regarding some of the comments of Carly Nikki. Etc. I couldn’t believe the comment, why do labours front bench think that the public want restrictions on immigration, they don’t, apart from the 77% that do!!

  22. Ex Labour says:

    To be fair there has been some sensible comments on here and it does seem that finally some Labour supporters realise that uncontrolled immigration from the EU is being driven in some part by the benefits on offer. Unfortunately we can do little about it unless we amend treaties or take unilateral action – by the way other EU counties have done this on occassions.

    You will always get your looney left contingent like Ben M, and unfortunately this is about the third blog from Atul where he conflates immigration and racism in some incoherent fashion. Any more “heads gone” stuff like this and we will have to put him in the Medhi Hassan bracket.

  23. Tafia says:

    Ex-Labour we can do little about it unless we amend treaties or take unilateral action

    There is nothing stopping us taking unilateral action and never has been. Germany, France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Denmark and probably many more put sever restrictions on non-nationals (even from other EU countries) claiming in and out of work benefits.

    The only reason we don’t is because we don’t want to – which makes the mess we are in an even bigger condemnation of our political class.

  24. Ravi says:

    The article gained widespread coverage including Mirrors readers, job done! Target was 0.5M working class who voted UKIP. Next shadow ministers article in Guardian, keeping Labour middle class sweet! Labour Campaign team job done! .

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