Blind defenders of ‘free movement’ sound like US gun nuts

by Kevin Meagher

“When the facts change” John Maynard-Keynes famously remarked, “I change my mind”. No such intellectual pragmatism informs the thinking of outgoing EU Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso.

He has been in valedictory mood, telling a gathering at Chatham House today that David Cameron’s wish to reform the EU’s provision for the free movement of people – partly responsible for Britain’s three million extra immigrants over the past decade or so – is “illegal”. Moreover, an arbitrary cap on EU migrant workers coming to Britain “can never be accepted.”

Given all political change involves altering laws, he is technically correct on the legality point; but he’s also being obtuse. For Eurocrats like Barroso, free movement is an inviolable principle and he will brook no dissent. His mind is closed to the possibility of change – and that there is even a problem to address at all. (Although I dare say it helps that he comes from a country like Portugal, not particularly noted as an economic powerhouse sucking in migrant workers).

It certainly used to be a benign enough principle, in the days when it meant handfuls of Belgian architects could go and work on French hydro-electric projects. It was an affordable sop to Euro-integrationists in a union of 12 or 15 countries with economies that, while different, were not wildly so.

Not to the point where millions of people used to up-sticks and move countries to better their lot. But in a union of 28 states, including many former Iron Curtain basket cases, the right to move and work anywhere within the EU is a cast-iron guarantee that millions will abandon the cold, prospect-less East and move West for a better life.

They can’t be blamed for doing so, especially when they get to access free healthcare, housing and social security payments, far beyond the standards of their countries of origin. But Western Europe is now dealing with the consequences of failing to understand and respond to this overwhelming demand for self-improvement.

And Britain is more impacted than most. Our (too) liberal economy, (over) generous welfare system and (relative) lack of racism – certainly compared to pretty much anywhere else in the EU – sees us bear the brunt of a policy now disastrously out of control.

Just like US gun nuts defending their “right to bear arms,” there is a qualitative difference between the original intention and the modern manifestation of this “freedom”. Just as a single-shot musket is not the same thing as an automatic assault rifle, the pace and volume of migration in the EU over the last decade is not what the signatories of the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act intended, or envisioned ever happening.

Our EU partners need to be reminded of this and David Cameron is absolutely right to seek to do so. And a Labour government will face exactly the same dilemmas, so there is little for Ed Miliband to gain by seeing Cameron fail in his bid to restore some sanity to the free movement regime.

Of course, Cameron may be motivated because he feels Nigel Farage’s beery breath on his neck, but Labour should be concerned about defending the contributory principle on which our welfare state is based and about free movement underpinning a neo-liberal labour market that uses migrant workers to undercut our own.

Perhaps Senhor Barroso’s remaining time at the Commission would be better spent urging other Member States to improve the lot of their own people and offer them something more than life as a cheap export?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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25 Responses to “Blind defenders of ‘free movement’ sound like US gun nuts”

  1. Ex labour says:

    I was with you Kevin right up until your penultimate paragraph where you drop into the usual labour drivel. Since when has our welfare system become contributory ? Ask the feckless and work shy who live near me and they will gladly tel you they have not lifted a finger for years yet still manage to fund their smoke and drink habits along with Sky TV subscriptions from benefits quite easily. Clearly the requirement to contribute is not there.

    Neoliberal ? Complete tosh, this government is nowhere near that definition.

  2. wg says:

    A brave piece and one I agree with.

    The only thing that I would add is that a whole tier of people have gained exponentially from this process – it is the most vulnerable who have born the brunt of this redistributive agenda.

    Being on the same level as those who have been shunted aside I can vouch for their anger, and I hope to see the demise of those members of the last Labour government who didn’t give us a second thought.

  3. James Reade says:

    So Labour commentators have succumbed to the sad beggar-thyself rhetoric of Tories in response to Ukip. Very sad.

    Those of us that defend free movement defend the best possible arrangement for our economy. The moment we restrict that, the moment our growth potential is reduced.

    Apparently, though, in defending basic economics, that makes me akin to a US gun nut. So because I don’t change my ideas about what the right policy is based on public opinion but instead on the facts, I’m the nutcase around here? Really?!

    Apparently, our welfare system is over-generous? Have you recently consulted, say, the OECD, on how generous our benefits system is?

    Labour’s best period on immigration was when it was in power – back then it didn’t cater to protectionists, and low and behold the economy grew as strongly and for as long a time as in living memory. Coincidence?

    And, appallingly, our leaders now apologise for this successful economic policy.

    And yet somehow those of us who defend free movement are the wingnuts. It’s a pretty messed up world.

  4. 07052015 says:

    How do you like your scroungers ex labour ,rich or poor? -tax avoiders/evaders cost the country 35bill-the tax gap estimated by hmrc -or welfare fraud estimated by government at 1 bill.Both underestimates imo.

    The differences

    1 one is 35 times the other
    2 one lot are rich and are motivated by greed ,the other are lazy ,depressed,unskilled,illiterate,no self esteem you call it
    3 as you say you know the welfare scroungers they live down your way but you havent got a clue about the rich scroungers or their methods cos they live elsewhere.

    Tories wont do anything about rich scroungers nor will ukip.Tbf blair and brown both turned a blind eye.

    Miliband might ,just might,be different -what have you got to lose ?

  5. Landless Peasant says:

    Well if it’s any help I for one would be more than willing to relocate to Portugal if you can guarantee I’ll still get my dole. I’d even forgo the “SKY TV, booze and fags” that some Right-wing loons imagine I enjoy out of £68 per week JSA! 🙂

  6. Landless Peasant says:

    One thing I won’t do, however, is vote for a Labour Party that supports isolationist policies based upon xenophobia, racism, or Nationalism. I have no problem with immigration.

  7. Madasafish says:

    No doubt all those in favour of free immigration will be happy to pay a annual surcharge to provide extra schools, hospitals and other state facilities to cater for the increased population.

    As I don’t see any of them volunteering, I assume that they think someone else should pay.

  8. Dave Roberts. says:

    Just doing my own straw poll across the Guardian CiF and various left/Labour websites what is apparent is the massive shift of opinion in recent years against uncontrolled immigration from wherever. Or was it always tere but Labour voters and supporters were afraid to say what they felt?

  9. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Ex Labour

    The only “scroungers” are the Rich parasites that have all the wealth. There should be a Cap on Corporate Welfare, currently costing the taxpayer £85 Billion p/a, which makes a complete mockery of Austerity and Welfare reforms. Foreign workers are not the enemy, our enemies are the Rich.

  10. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Madasafish

    What do you think Taxation is for?

  11. Tafia says:

    Well if it’s any help I for one would be more than willing to relocate to Portugal if you can guarantee I’ll still get my dole.

    You will get Portugiese entitlements as per Portuguese law. So of you pop.

    Incidentally, why are you on JSA? Why are you not working? If there is a job that is within your capability then you are legally obliged to take it – if if you don’t want to do that, and quite correctly. You can find a job you want to do later – at first just find a job. Since I left school in 1975 I have been on benefits for exactly 10 days. I’ve done jobs I didn’t like and didn’t even want to do in the first place – but doing anything, absolutely anything is better than being on benefits.

    a Labour Party that supports isolationist policies based upon xenophobia, racism, or Nationalism. Restricting the inflow of foreign labour during periods of economic difficulties is none of those. Likewise restricting no the access of non-nationals to the benefits system (both in and out of work) and things like social housing and healthcare isn’t any of those either – it’s actually an economic policy.

    what is apparent is the massive shift of opinion in recent years against uncontrolled immigration from wherever. That has always been there amongst Labour’s traditional blue-collar core vote. It was the faux-workers party created by Blair that suppressed it.

  12. Ex Labour says:


    The Tory government were forced to crack down on tax avoiders and guess what ? Yes the tax revenue fell – but you dont want to hear that of course. The 1% as the lefties like to call them, contribute nearly 30% of our income tax revenues. So what happens to the NHS, education and benefits if they moved their assets and stopped paying tax ?

    Labour encouraged mass immigration and the blue collar Labour voters such as bricklayers, plasterers, electricians and carpenters are suffering. Why do you think UKIP is prospering in Labour heartlands ?

    In the meantime the benefits bunch in my area dont give a toss, and why should they? it doesn’t matter to them, they still get their payout every week and to say they are depressed is a laughable lefty excuse. They are certainly not illiterate, I know because I went to school with most of them.

    Our tax system is a shambles but why when people have worked hard, maybe built a bsuiness and reaped the benefits, do the left want to penalise them ? Its the politics of envy as your comments make clear.

    As for me i’m just an ordinary working person sick of having my pocket dipped and double dipped by Labour, so that my ex school mates can have their beer, fags, Sky Tv etc. I cant afford it, but they use MY money to do it – FFS !!!!

  13. bob says:

    Dave Roberts:

    During the great terror under Blair and Brown to even think uncontrolled or poorly controlled immigration was a bad thing, in particular, if voiced within the public sector would either get you disciplined, dismissed or sent for re-education by so called diversity training officers.

    Now many Labour supporters where I live in Liverpool are moving towards UKIP or are not voting at all.

  14. Landless Peasant says:

    US gun nuts my arse. The UKIPPERS are like the US Tea Party.

  15. Robin Thorpe says:


    I think that your argument is undermined by the excessive use of pejorative hyperbole. I do appreciate that immigration is perceived to be a big issue, but it is not really a big problem. There are concerns that are linked with immigration, such as an increased strain on education and healthcare services and low-pay, but these are symptoms of wider problems.

    Without immigration we will not be able to pay for the pensions of the baby-boomers. Without immigration we will not have people with the right skills to make our economy strong. There may be nearly 2m unemployed, but we can’t convert all of them into skilled, productive workers overnight.

    I understand your premise – that people should not come here simply to receive benefits, although the number who do this is really low. I might even agree with the notion that free movement of labour could be interpreted as freedom to move to a specific job, i.e. you are offered a job before you enter the country. I do not agree that our welfare system is over-generous or that immigration is disastrously out of control.

  16. Laura says:

    While concerns about potential negative impact of immigration need to be addressed, why do you vilify East Europeans? There are plenty of Italians and Spanish who recently come to do low paid/low skill work in the UK. But no, this article make it look as if it is only East to West migration that potentially creates problems. And of course, nothing is mentioned about highly skilled (architects of otherwise) EU migrants that come here.

    These ridiculous generalisations about EU/East European migrants make this debate so extreme. Some say that these migrants abuse/take advantage of the system/depress wages and some say that any who have immigration concerns are racist. Can we be more balanced?

    Also,your suggestion – with no evidence – that EU migrants come for healthcare and “free” housing in the UK is misleading and reinforce stereotypes. People come here mostly for work or study.

  17. 07052015 says:

    Ex labour -no need for a surcharge -migrants by and large pay tax and ni which pays for infrastructure.

    Just to be clear -the only new taxes I would want is a financial transaction tax ,a tax on empty property and a progressive council tax.For the rest I want the rich and international companies to pay in the same way you and I do ,pay whats due.Read my lips no increase in taxes.

    However doing an al capone on a few prominent tax evaders would send a good message -its not a game you know.

  18. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Tafia

    “why are you on JSA? Why are you not working?”

    I’m on JSA because I haven’t got a job, not that it’s any concern of yours. I apply for dozens of jobs per fortnight, as required, everything from Packer to Admin. Assistant, Warehouse Labourer to Production Operative, Receptionist to Retail Assistant, but I never even get an interview, why? because I’m unemployable. Employers can take their pick now, and they are not likely to employ a middle-aged man who hasn’t worked for years, who has health problems, an (historic) criminal record, no driving licence, no CSCS card, no vocational skills, no references, and a diagnosed Personality Disorder. Oh, and Medication that prevents me from operating machinery. Perhaps all that has something to do with it? There are many varied reasons why people are forced to claim the State Benefits to which they are Rightfully entitled. Why do you ask?

  19. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Tafia

    “I’ve done jobs I didn’t like and didn’t even want to do in the first place…”

    So have I, in fact every job I’ve ever had. And I have had plenty of jobs in the past, from Builder’s Labourer to Tax Office Assistant, worked in Engineering, Textile Mills, production factories, offices, painter, printer, gardener, you name it I’ve done it. Some via Agencies, some cash-in-hand, some on the books. I’ve shovelled shit with the best of ’em. Worked my bollocks off for a pittance. But when you end up in my situation it counts for nothing as none of it was specialized, none of it sustained, none of it skilled, and it was in the 70’s/80’s. Employers don’t want to know. They want people in their 20’s/30’s who have worked recently, or older staff with unblemished records and real skills. I even have a BA Hons. Degree. Counts for nothing.

  20. Landless Peasant says:

    At one time you could get a job ‘just like that’, call in at any local textile mill and get a start as a ‘Bobbin Ligger’, but the local textile industry is no more. The mills have either been demolished or converted into flats. We have no industry and no jobs. There were no CVs back in the day either. I remember going after a job at a mill as a young man and met an old bloke there who looked about 80 and the only question he asked was “now then lad, do you think you’ll be alright here?”. No CRB Checks, no CV, no NVQs, just work – and a wage. Now they expect you to have a mountain of BS certificates and expect you to work for nowt. My first ever job was in a huge factory that built tractors and employed 3,500 people, now all gone, no factory just an housing estate. The country is fooked, and I’m just sitting it out now ’til I either retire or die, whichever comes first. And I’m past caring which it is.

  21. Tafia says:

    You can get the Job Centre to fund a CSCS card. You can also get them to fund Asbestos Awareness and Manual Handling, First Aid at Work, Fork Lift Truck and an SIA licence to be a security guard. All you have to do is tell them not having them is an obstacle to work. I help loads of people get them – even 60 year olds. In the meantime go and work in a charity shop for free.

  22. BenM says:

    “Just as a single-shot musket is not the same thing as an automatic assault rifle, the pace and volume of migration in the EU over the last decade is not what the signatories of the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act intended, or envisioned ever happening.”

    Ok, prove it.

    It is hard to envisage the goal of integration without envisioning people moving freely all over the continent to seek work.

    So I think here you’re indulging a false assumption.

  23. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Tafia

    My Jobcentre DOES NOT fund CSCS Cards. I don’t know about the other things you mention, Asbestos Awareness and Manual Handling, First Aid at Work, Fork Lift Truck, but I’m not interested in any of those things either. As for “In the meantime go and work in a charity shop for free”, go fuck yourself. The charity shops are already full of unwaged workers who have been mandated to to do it under threat of starvation. You can’t move for them, they’re all tripping over each other.

  24. Tafia says:

    My Jobcentre DOES NOT fund CSCS Cards.

    Well they do round here. Obviously unemployment isn’t that bad in your area.

    And the reason you should get a job in a charity shop or something ios because it stops you dwelling and becoming bitter – which is what you are doing.

  25. Nick Crofts says:

    Kevin, how disappointing. An economically illiterate argument that Farrage himself might have deployed.

    It may be politically difficult to acknowledge the social, cultural and economic benefits enjoyed by Britain resulting from the free movement pillar of the Treaties; but that does not mean that those benefits are not real.

    What cannot be disputed is the British diaspora across the EU – 250,000 UK citizens chose to exercise their freedoms and go and live elsewhere in the EU each year – a million Brits on the Costas alone. What of them, and their rights?

    The movement of people across the Single Market is perhaps the greatest legacy of the Thatcher Governments. We continue to benefit from it to this day.

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