Set Up for Failure: UK Prime-Minister Approaching Point of No Return

Be careful what you wish for. As UK Prime-Minister David Cameron bravely insists on pushing through far-reaching reforms of the EU labour market – doublespeak for introducing checks on the free movement of people across the union – his yet-to-be defined plans were unceremoniously shot down by a missile fired from Berlin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have none of it and told Mr Cameron his island nation will be cast adrift should he persist in this plan. Mrs Merkel warned the prime-minister that he is perilously close to a “point of no return” which, once reached, will see Germany abandon its efforts to keep to UK in the European Union.

Besieged by Nigel Farage and his jolly band of isolationists, Prime-Minister Cameron is desperately looking for ways to curb immigration. One plan is to introduce an annual cap on the number of national insurance numbers issued to newcomers from EU member states. Another suggestion has the Home Office order the deportation of EU citizens who after three months have failed to secure a job in Britain and are unable to support themselves.

“While pretty much everything under the sun is debatable in Brussels – precisely one of Mr Farage’s many beefs – the four freedoms are not.”

Not normally susceptible to reason based on hard facts, Mr Farage’s ongoing rant against the European Union – neatly delivered in, admittedly brilliant, one-liners – thoroughly misses the point. His prediction of December 2012 that millions of Bulgarians and Romanians would flock to Britain was widely off the mark. Last August, the Office for National Statistics tabulated just over 150,000 immigrants from both countries. Also, non-EU immigrants still outnumber union citizens established in Britain by a 2-to-1 ratio.

Prime-Minister Cameron is now hemmed in between the rhetoric of Mr Farage and the iron will of Mrs Merkel. Small wonder he seeks to escape this less-than-enviable predicament. It’s a tall order. Whereas Mr Farage will not likely be swayed by reasoned arguing, Mrs Merkel adheres to a logic that bears no arguing at all.

At its core, the European Union is built around four basic freedoms: The free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. Together, these four freedoms constitute the bedrock on which the EU’s edifice was erected. When the Swiss recently attempted to limit the free movement of people, they were brusquely told by Brussels to either conform or get lost. Switzerland may not be a full member of the EU, the country did sign an association treaty that commits it to following EU legislation.

While pretty much everything under the sun is debatable in Brussels – precisely one of Mr Farage’s many beefs – the four freedoms are not. To question them is akin to expressing doubt on the Pope’s allegiance to the Mother Church. German Chancellor Merkel just reminded Mr Cameron of that plain and simple fact.

The interesting bit is that the quandary is, in fact, not half as bad as it would seem at first glance. Under current EU rules, no country is required to offer social benefits to citizens of other member states who are unable to support themselves and have only recently arrived. The rules clearly state that immigrants are not to burden the host country’s social services in any way. Full entitlement is only gained after a presence of five years, during which time the immigrant will presumably have paid taxes and contributed to whatever social programmes are offered.

While restricting access to the UK labour market remains a no-go area and deporting EU citizens is simply impossible, there is not a single impediment to the UK denying recent arrivals welfare benefits. There is simply no obligation whatsoever to provide newcomers with council housing or any other form of social assistance.

Then again, this brewing storm in the proverbial teacup is not at all about Mr Farage or the EU as much as it is about the phenomenal ineptitude of Prime-Minister Cameron. While he may deserve some credit for keeping Scotland in the UK, Mr Cameron does not seem overly talented in the art of brinkmanship.

By shouting from the rooftops that he will not pay the country’s EU dues, all the while knowing there is no way out, Mr Cameron sets himself up for failure. By stating that he will curb immigration from other EU member states, Mr Cameron places a bomb under the EU. He should not be surprised that others will promptly defuse it and tell him to quit being subversive.

Some battles need not be fought. The UK is perfectly able to limit the fallout from increased numbers of EU immigrants without running afoul of EU legislation. The country should perhaps also pay its EU bills for, curiously enough, the extra €2.1bn the UK is expected to pay is the result of Britain’s own revised statistical procedures. By the way, nobody asked or required the UK to review the way it handles economic data.

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