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David Cameron promises to withdraw Britain from the European Union (yes – I mean it)

Summary:
In his speech to Conservative Party Conference, David Cameron said this: But we know the bigger issue today is migration from within the EU. Immediate access to our welfare system. Paying benefits to families back home.

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In his speech to Conservative Party Conference, David Cameron said this:

But we know the bigger issue today is migration from within the EU.

Immediate access to our welfare system. Paying benefits to families back home.

Employment agencies signing people up from overseas and not recruiting here.

Numbers that have increased faster than we in this country wanted…

…at a level that was too much for our communities, for our labour markets.

All of this has to change – and it will be at the very heart of my renegotiation strategy for Europe.

Britain, I know you want this sorted so I will go to Brussels, I will not take no for an answer and when it comes to free movement – I will get what Britain needs.

Free movement of people within the European Union flows directly from the concept of EU Citizenship. Indeed, more than that – prior to 1993 Europe was called the "European Community" and the switch to the name "European Union" was connected to the establishment of EU citizenship. We are citzens, with those red EU passports, of what the EU's official website refers to as a "political union" – hence "European Union" not simply "European Community".

The most fundamental feature of being a citizen is that one can move freely within the political union of which one is a citizen. A British citizen can move freely within the UK; a US citizen can move freely within the US; an EU citizen can move freely within the EU. EU citizenship has many other aspects, also – including rights to vote in certain elections, access to some benefits entitlement and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

To restrict the rights of EU citizens to move freely to the UK would be to withdraw the UK from the EU citizenship area – i.e. from the European Union (for that is precisely, both in fact and in origin of the name, what the "European Union" is). Perhaps, if someone agreed to this, the UK could continue to be part of a "European Community" (though free movement of persons was largely in place even before EU citizenship – for those with a taste for such expressions, EU citizenship is a "sufficient condition" for free movement but not a "necessary condition" for it) despite being outside the "European Union", but there is no doubt that Britain would not be in the European Union if free movement were abandoned and hence EU citizenship withdrawn for UK citizens.

Now this may all seem rather semantic – so, the Prime Minister would negotiate that Britain would be in a European Community, and being in that would be the "In" option in an "In/Out" referendum? So what? Isn't that just word games?

It is not just word games, for three reasons. First, the substantive point is absolutely clear. One of the "Four Freedoms" of the Single Market is free movement of persons – along with free movement of capital, goods and services. Having a Single Market means having free movement of products (goods and services) and factors of production (capital and labour). Saying the UK wants to restrict free movement of persons but stay in the Single Market makes precisely as much/little sense (and for precisely the same reasons) as would saying "The UK wants to impose tariffs on imports from Germany and France but remain in the Single Market" or "The UK wants to impose capital controls on investment into Italy but remain in the Single Market". Restricting free movement would, in substance, be withdrawing from the Single Market and hence in substance withdrawing from the EU. The substantive question is unambiguous. The only thing left to consider is the semantic question – whether withdrawing from free movement would be called "withdrawing from the EU" or not. Since the EU is the zone of EU citizenship and EU citizenship means free movement, the answer must be "Yes – the UK would not be in the EU", though we might perhaps still be in some other form of "Europe".

The second reason it is not mere word games is that many schemes for "withdrawing from the European Union" involve continuing to participate in some other form of "Europe" – e.g. the "Norway option" of continuing to be in the European Economic Area. "Out" hasn't normally meant "no Europe", merely "exiting the European Union". But exiting the European Union is precisely what any form of restriction on the free movement of persons entails, by definition.

The third reason is that there are many folk to whom it will matter what it's called – on both sides. Many folk that would find an arrangement with our European friends perfectly amenable if its details were described would vote against it, if it were called "Being in the EU" and many other folk who would like that same arrangement would vote against it if it were called "Out". So let's be clear: whether one called the UK's arrangement that restricted free movement of persons "Being in Europe" or not, it certainly cannot be called "Being in the European Union". Cameron's promise to restrict the free movement of persons decides that point unambiguously.

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Andrew Lilico
Dr Andrew Lilico is Executive Director and Principal of Europe Economics. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs and Chairman of the IEA/Sunday Times Monetary Policy Committee.

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