Capping EU immigration may be illegal, UK warned

Welcome to the UK: The Prime Minister plans to limit the numbers of EU migrants © PA

David Cameron says he will cap the number of EU citizens coming to the UK. The EU President says its member states will never agree to that. So is the government now heading for the EU exit?

The former Portuguese prime minister Jose Manuel Barossa describes himself as an anglophile. For the last ten years he has been President of the European Union, but is standing down next month. On a visit to London last weekend he took the opportunity to warn the British government.

He said there is not the slightest chance that David Cameron’s plans for putting a cap on EU immigration would ever be accepted by the other EU member states. Indeed any attempt to do so would probably be illegal. He also said that if the UK left the EU it would be an ‘historic mistake’.

Cameron announced last week that he intended capping the numbers of EU citizens entering the UK. However all EU citizens have the right to live and work freely in any EU country — it is in the EU’s charter of fundamental rights. The single market depends on the free movement of money, companies, goods, services — and people.

However the UK Prime Minister, and leader of the Conservative Party, has come under considerable pressure to curb immigration, ever since the Clacton by-election a fortnight ago gave UKIP their first MP in parliament. There will be another by-election in Rochester next month and his remarks are to encourage those voters tempted to vote for UKIP to stay loyal to the Tories. The general election is next May and if the Conservatives are to have any chance of forming the next government they need to head off the challenge from UKIP.

Although UKIP’s key policy is that the UK should leave the EU, much of its support comes from voters who like its much harsher policies on immigration. The Coalition Government has attempted, with some success, to reduce immigrant numbers from outside the EU, but as a member of the EU it is unable to prevent EU citizens coming here.

Should I stay or should I go?

Some in the UK believe that Cameron is quite right to try to negotiate a limit to the number of EU citizens coming over the channel. They believe that workers from poorer countries are undercutting British workers’ wages and taking their jobs, as well as placing a serious strain on housing, schools and the NHS. If the EU doesn’t understand these problems, then the UK should leave it as soon as possible.

Others believe that Cameron is simply digging himself into a hole. He needs to sound tough to prevent Tory voters switching to UKIP, but when the EU members refuse to let him change the charter of fundamental rights, the only response he can make is to take the UK out of the EU. Many think that would be an economic disaster. Migrants from the EU and elsewhere are essential for the running of the British economy. Cutting the UK off from Europe and the world would indeed be an ‘historic mistake’.

You Decide

  1. Should there be a cap on EU migrants coming to the UK?
  2. Should the UK leave the EU?


  1. Research how many people of different nationalities from the EU currently live in the UK and also how many UK citizens live elsewhere in the EU. Create an infographic with a map to show how Europe’s nationalities are spread throughout the continent.
  2. Write a letter to your MP making the case for tighter immigration or for not placing curbs on EU migrants.

Some People Say...

“The UK will be much happier when it leaves the EU.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why does this matter?
The current row over immigration is threatening to become the first step towards a British exit from the European Union. This would be a major event which would determine a great deal of every UK citizen’s future — jobs, security, ease of travel and the economic wellbeing of the country. If it is going to happen, it would be better if it was thoroughly discussed, rather than stumbled into by accident.
Can the Prime Minister really curb the number of EU migrants?
It seems highly unlikely as it would require the permission of every one of the other 27 member states and would alter one of the basic rights on which the EU is formed.

Word Watch

Single market
The EU single market came into force in 1993, establishing the free movement of goods, people, services and capital. Companies can sell their products anywhere in member states and consumers can buy where they want with no penalty. EU citizens can live and work in any other country and their professional qualifications are recognised. Currencies and capital can flow freely between member states. Professional services such as banking, insurance, architecture and advertising can be offered in any member state.
Douglas Carswell was the Conservative MP for Clacton. When he switched party to UKIP in August this year, he resigned his seat in order to let the Clacton voters choose again at a by-election. They re-elected him with a large majority and he has now taken his seat in the House of Commons as UKIP’s first MP.
The latest opinion polls suggest Labour would get 35% of the votes, Conservatives 32%, Liberal Democrats 7% and UKIP 16%. This implies that Labour would have an overall majority of 30 seats in the House of Commons and so would form the next government.

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