Blog: February 2016
Just as the referendum debate begins in earnest, tomorrow sees the publication of ONS’ Quarterly Migration Statistics. As ever, the headline numbers for net migration will be closely scrutinised, and in particular flows from the EU. Forecasting migration numbers is even more of a mugs’ game than economic forecasting in general, so I won’t even try, but here are some things to watch out for:
Within the rules of the club, Prime Minister Cameron achieved as much as could be expected on Economic Governance from the European Council negotiations. But the gain in flexibility may turn out to be rather less significant in practice.
The agreement recognises two quite different visions for the European Union. Eurozone nations seek closer economic and political union, while UK negotiators wish to safeguard its current economic and political sovereignty.
On the same day that the Prime Minister was negotiating his “emergency brake” on the payment of some in-work benefits to EU migrants, the Treasury answered a Parliamentary Question asking how much EU migrants actually claimed in benefits, and how much they paid in tax. The response: “The information is not available”.
For some time opinion polls have shown that the public sees immigration as one of the most important issues facing Britain.
The government’s partial and selective release of some data on EU migrants and in-work benefits has been widely reported. What has been released is enough to make it still more obvious that the Prime Minister’s claim that 40 percent of recent migrants were “dependent on benefits” was, at best highly misleading.
The Economic Governance reforms sought by the Prime Minister seem anodyne next to red cards and emergency breaks. Yet the issues raised in the negotiations go right to the heart of the UK and EU problem. The immediate aim is to pacify Euro sceptics, but the coherence of the arrangements will eventually be judged on financial markets.
The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, wrote today to the members of the Council (EU Heads of Government) setting out his proposals for a "new settlement for the UK within the European Union". What does the proposal mean for free movement of workers in the EU, immigration to the UK, and our in-work benefit system? My very quick (apologies in advance for any inaccuracies or oversimplifications) are as follows.