This weekend just past has yielded some interesting developments in the ongoing battle between Ukip and the Conservatives, with Merkel adding her weight to the fray. This could have a serious impact on Mr Cameron’s electoral prospects.
Here, I tend to be cautious about British papers which tell us about events in Germany which affect the UK. Often the UK editors are more interested in “planting the flag” and give such issues far more prominence than the German press, usually hinting at an amount of exaggeration. In this case, though, a report in the Telegraph has originated from Spiegel, with an English language translation in Deutsche Welle.
Thus, we can take it for real that Angela Merkel has told Minister David Cameron that he is approaching a “point of no return” with his proposed immigration policies. If he continues to push for measures which are not in accordance with EU law, “that would be it”.
Only last week, Merkel was telling the Sunday Times that “Germany will not tamper with the fundamental principles of free movement in the EU”. Admitting that immigration and social benefits were “controversial questions that we [Germany] are also discussing”, she warned that a solution for these problems should not principally endanger freedom of movement for EU citizens.
This really does impale Mr Cameron on the horns of a dilemma, as he is having to fight off pressure from his backbenchers, typified by Stewart Jackson, MP for Peterborough, one of the seats heavily affected by immigration and potentially at risk from Ukip.
Jackson is declaring that, if the prime minister doesn’t take immigration seriously, he’ll lose the election – meaning that he, the backbencher, may lose his seat. This is the man, though, who in 2012, brought forward a 10 Minute Rule Bill calling for a EU Free Movement Directive (Disapplication) Bill. He was referring to Directive 2004/38 and he tells us he was seeking to “nuance and finesse the Directive”.
The idea, says Jackson, was to toughen up areas like access to welfare benefits, healthcare and housing, criminal records checks, and the administration of EU migrants documentation. He also wanted to take the best practice of other EU countries like Spain and Germany which, he avers, “took a more robust approach to protecting their public services, national security and labour markets”.
Jackson, like others, though, has totally neglected the effects of the ECHR on immigration, and how much of the stresses to the system arise from this source rather than directly from the EU. Careful study of the treaties, for instance (Articles 45 & 49 TEU) does not reveal any explicit provision for dependents of workers, making ECJ intervention, as in the Metock case highly suspect.
This is reflected in the Commission website on freedom of movement, which refers only to “workers”. The openings for families are set out in secondary legislation, such as Directive 2003/86/EC on the right to family reunification and rights established by Article 45 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, granting “freedom of movement and of residence” to EU citizens. These, however, are supposed not to apply to the UK (or Poland), by virtue of Protocol 30.
Since the UK has opted out of 2003/86 and “citizens’ rights” in the Charter do not apply (if Protocol 30 is to mean anything – a highly contentious issue), the only enforceable provisions which require the UK to admit families and dependants lie with the ECHR and Article 8 thereof. And these have been established almost entirely via case law.
When it comes to taking on UKIP, therefore, the Conservatives could just as easily undermine the party by pledging to break the grip of the “judge-made law” of the ECHR. This would go a very long way towards easing immigration stresses, by excluding many of the non-economic actors. A focus on this, rather than the EU, could open up a new front for Mr Cameron.
Hedging its bets as to where UKIP stands, though, is yesterday’s Observer, which puts the cash issue higher up the pecking order than immigration. Resentment about payments to Brussels and the Ukip phenomenon are intimately related, the paper says. According to the paper, “It matters not that the extremely nasty Ukip organisation actually draws money to finance itself from the EU it opposes. Ukip is crazy enough to urge our withdrawal, as are far too many rightwing Tory MPs, and the prime minister is running scared”.
The Mail on Sunday, on the other hand, seems to think that what UKIP supporters might call “smears” are the way forward, outing the incredibly surviving political group in Brussels, and Mr Farage’s rather dubious Fascist friends. The paper turns then to another rather insalubrious friend of Mr Farage, the egregious Annabelle Fuller, who is close to having her collar felt by Mr Plod.
Putting all this together, the battleground for the contest with UKIP is beginning to shape up, with three weapons on the ground – immigration, EU funding and “sleaze” – being deployed. The ECHR is waiting in the wings, but will doubtless be given more prominence as time passes.
If the ECHR gambit is employed, the Conservative hand on immigration is perhaps stronger than it looks at the moment. The funding question, though, Makes Mr Cameron look weak, especially as he is going to have to pay the £1.7 billion to the EU.
And, at the moment, “Teflon” Nigel seems immune to reputational attacks, making his many detractors wondering what it takes to bring him down. Even behaviour and that of his foot-shooting colleagues do not seem to offer any immediate opportunities for his political opponents.
Like stones in a pond which sink without trace, though, the inadequacies of the Party do pile up and, in ther view of Brackenworld, UKIP’s lamentable policy statements continue to demonstrate exactly why the party shouldn’t ever be allowed to get control of anything.
As regards Labour, though, there is that great gift bestowed upon the party – the amazing incompetence of Mr Miliband. Against that , it would be hard not to make some “solid progress”, even if that amounts only to 4.7 percent of the electorate.