EU Migrants: Benefits in the Firing Line

It would be hard to be jovial about the new year if your home or job was under threat. However, that is the reality for EU migrants in the UK, welcoming in a new year of uncertainty. Moreover, the cost of EU Migrant benefits is right in the cross-hairs, too.

As last year drew to a close, Theresa May was still dodging a commitment to guaranteeing the security of EU migrants in post Brexit UK. For some reason she seems to be clinging onto the stalemate situation of demanding that the EU shows its hand on the issue first. Demanding that UK expats are protected before she will return such a gesture could be a dangerous way to play the EU negotiation game.

One of the main problems with the position is that it appears to be entirely political. Both the TUC and British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) have made it clear that from their perspective it makes good business sense to guarantee the security of EU migrants. Assuming that their opinions are free from party political bias, it would be sensible to assume that their views are completely economically and employment focused. So what exactly is May’s problem?

EU Migrant Benefits were a key Brexit weapon

Besides claiming that EU migrants were “taking all our jobs,” one of the most heard complaints from Brexit voters was that there were simply too many immigrants using up “our” resources. Stretching the NHS, filling up housing, or unfairly using benefits without paying into the country, were all common complaints. Just how accurate those complaints were leading up to the EU referendum is an entirely different matter.  Now we have to focus on how they affect negotiations leading up to Article 50 and Brexit.

The media language being used around the issue is still a telltale sign that all is not well. “Crackdown” suggests automatically that something is wrong and rules are being broken or abused.  Of course there will be anecdotal examples, but as a general rule EU migrants have it no easier than UK nationals, and are in fact entitled to less by default. When it comes to the idea of taking housing, EU migrants are no longer allowed to claim housing benefits with their first four years in the UK anyway.

Add to this May’s assertion that there is no “magic bullet,” it seems that the hyperbole of war and aggression is at the forefront of her mind.  Whether this is meant to appease the Brexit voters by being seen to be doing something proactive, it’s hard to tell. Nevertheless, as I have said before: the UK needs to remember that we don’t hold all the cards. We can’t expect to leave the team and still get to decide who else plays the game.

Freedom isn’t Free

The argument always come back around to trade deals and what we expect to get, and what we want to turn away. We don’t want to be burdened by fishing quotas, but we still want to enjoy the benefits of trading imported fish at great prices. We want to control our borders to low paid workers, but we want our workers and retired expats to be allowed to continue to enjoy their retirements with great ease in EU countries.

One of the biggest challenges for the UK to face is that the concerns we have don’t necessarily match those of the EU. The priorities are not the same. That might also be because it was not necessarily business and economic voters who were on the Brexit side. The financial sector was gravely concerned about the effect on the pound and the long-term economy.  Big businesses worried about their profit margins.  Local people argued about their local issues. Given that only around 25% of the population actually voted to leave, it’s hard to clearly understand why the vote went the way it did.

And that is why the Tories are struggling to come up with a plan. They needed a plan that they could make sure they could deliver by the end of the current reign on power.  Let’s face it, if they get this wrong there will be no coming back at the next general election.  In order to achieve that anyway they need to ensure they keep their regular voters happy whilst winning enough new voters to win over the backlash from their own performance with the nation.

Taking pot-shots at EU Migrants

The Tories are not popular with people on benefits as it is – some might even say their “leadership” has been utterly cruel, particularly for those who are too ill to work. Juggling all these balls at the same time makes targeting spending on EU migrant benefits no simple political task. EU negotiations are not dependent on national or local benefits issues and the EU is growing increasingly impatient about the whole affair.

And therein lies the problem. Before holding the whole referendum it would have been far more sensible to have viable, workable plans for either result.  David Cameron got caught out being complacent – making a promise in 2015 to hold a referendum and the not spending a year drawing up at least some kind of framework. So now we are left with a Tory government taking pot-shots at EU migrants, and opening the floodgates for the media to jump on more EU migrant benefits stories.

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