Tough times, tough rhetoric

About five years ago there were between 250 and 750 thousand Brits in Spain alone, and many more spread around the rest of the EU. But then it started raining – damp British summer after sodden winter – and the ex-pats came back, taking our jobs, claiming our benefits, sending net immigration figures through the roof… But what is to be done? Given the remarkable correlation between wet summers and returning Brits it’s no surprise that a proposal to run a negative ad campaign about British weather never saw the light of a rainy day.

(Everyone keeps going on about European immigrants coming here – but did you know that there were a million British people living in Europe!? Stuff that to their immigration statistics.

More than 62 million, surely, given that Britain is actually part of Europe too, actually?

What?)

Politicians got straight to the nub of the issue last summer. You may not realise, but some of the Brits returning from abroad have (brace yourselves) a foreign spouse. A minimum income requirement for Brits bringing in foreigners should help quell the influx, with a threshold neatly set above minimum, living and London living wages. But just as the government started stripping rights from her majesty’s subjects, it dawned on them that British subjects are also EU citizens protected by EU rules on free movement and can get around the minimum income thing by working in Europe, sorry, in a different European country, for a bit before carrying their spouse in under the threshold. Honestly, what’s the point in getting into government if you can’t even sort out, ahem, I mean look after, your own?

But not all the government’s tactics have been frustrated. They kept their eagle eye trained on free movement rules, reorienting their efforts towards the motley bunch of European horses that have been coming here, eating our grass, taking jobs from our cows… Not any more though, once the amendments to the tripartite agreement come into force this spring.

And it took some skill for the tories to rush crucial changes to benefit rules through parliament before restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian free movement were lifted in January. The vote revealed – wait a sec, was there even a division? Oh no, right, because a. the Home Office changes the rules all the time without bothering the legislature and b. when did any EU migrant actually manage to get out of work benefits in less than three months anyway? Tough times call for tough rhetoric.

Undeterred by the straightjacket of EU law, last week’s debate on the immigration bill moved on to a new field of attack. The prime minister’s legal advisers made him warn parliament against voting for a popular tory amendment proposing to deny criminals their right to family life. The front bench withdrew their support with great reluctance. Bloody good amendment, agree with the sentiment, what what. They kept the legal advisers well away from another amendment giving the Home Secretary powers to strip Britons of their citizenship without trial, just like during the Great War. All part of the centenary celebrations this year, no doubt. Amendment passed 297 to 34. Jolly good show.

Another opportunity to prove their mettle arose the very next day, in the form of a finding from Strasbourg that Britain’s benefit payments are so stingy as to be in violation of the European Social Charter. Lunacy! Why should the government listen to the unaccountable and unelected Council of Europe anyway?

Someone please hide the Human Rights Act where no-one can find it.

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