Ellen Layzell, Politics reporter, calls out both sides of the EU debate for fearmongering.
Edited by Isabel Aruna.
The topic of the moment seems to be the relationship between Britain’s possible exit of the European Union, and the refugees and migrants. Like many things in this ongoing EU debate it is difficult to know who’s right. What is easier to know is who has fallen into a default position of fearmongering (spoiler: both sides), which isn’t really any use to anyone. For example, David Cameron has recently mentioned in a pro-EU slur that leaving could mean refugee camps in Britain (which would obviously be a travesty) ; if we stay he can arrange a new deal to ensure different in-work benefits for EU immigrants who have been in the UK for fewer than 5 years. Both sides of the EU argument are accusing Cameron of solely making cosmetic changes to the UK-EU relationship while pretending they’re game-changers, but the Euroskeptics continue to fear-monger about the levels of immigration.
Firstly regarding the issue of refugee camps. Cameron suggested that if we leave the EU, we must set up camps in South-West England, because currently much of our border controls between the UK and France are organised by the French, so if we vote to leave the EU the Calais ‘Jungle’ will basically have to come to us. However, in reality these border controls with France are unrelated to the EU. They are due to the Sangatte protocol, a bilateral agreement first introduced in 1994 in order to increase the speed of entry and exit procedures on the Channel tunnel route. They have more recently been extended to the Eurostar and ferry ports. Now, France may end the treaty if we leave the EU, the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve said that leaving the EU “will always result in countermeasures.”
Though, Cazeneuve has suggested France would give two years’ notice to end the arrangement, so there would be no shock ‘influx’ of migrants, and thus the camps would be unnecessary due to people being able to claim asylum. According to Alan Travis from The Guardian, the most likely scenario is the creation of an immigration detention centre. So all this worry for nothing, really.
However, the Vote Leave forces have not been much better in terms of fearmongering. In an interview on BBC Newsnight the former Portuguese Prime Minister and the former European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, stated Cameron’s proposed policy to cut benefits for new EU migrants would not make any difference to levels of immigration to the UK. This has led Arron Banks, co-founder of Leave.EU, to continue the increasing discourse of the UK’s ‘lack of power’ and to predict impending “catastrophe” because of the migrants. As Barroso points out, though, “people from the UK emigrate [to the rest of the EU], too” – the open borders work both ways. One of the only sensible voices in all of this discourse has been that of Yvette Cooper, a senior Labour MP and the chair of Labour’s refugee taskforce, who has correctly suggested that Cameron’s dealing with the refugee crisis has played into the hands of the Vote Out forces. She’s also suggested that the Schengen system (which allows people to travel freely without border checks) is out of date and needs to be dropped. Of course, the only way to change this (for the UK and the rest of Europe) is to stay within the EU, but Cameron must ensure that these changes will happen or the Vote Out campaign can continue to pander to the general public’s fear of immigration rather than addressing the true economic benefits of a potential Brexit.
One thing this discourse is doing is dismantling loyalties, left, right and centre. In this way, the discussion is exceedingly interesting. However, we must have a measured discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of staying in (or leaving) the European Union and, as it seems to be very much on the British people’s minds, the impact of the immigrants we receive instead of proposing cosmetic changes to appease the general population. Fearmongering cannot lead to the British public making informed decisions about the EU, but Cameron, as Cooper points out, must begin to deal with the EU’s problems head-on.