Sunday, July 31, 2016

"Gastarbeiders" are not immigrants - and most workers who come here from EU countries are the former

The Brexit campaign was heavy on slogans and light on detail as we are now seeing as the Government grapples with the fact that there had been no contingency planning at all in the event of a "Leave" vote. The Brexiters slogans were all of the type that is intended to get those they were aimed at nodding and saying "Yeah, Right on !" Or some such. "Take our country back" and all its pseudo-patriotic variants challenged us to respond. "You mean you want foreigners to take decisions not Brits" was the frequent response when we tried to explain. There's no answer to that leading question is there?

The slogans were simplistic and disingenuous - not least on immigration. Nigel Farage's "Breaking Point" poster was vile, fraudulent but effective. Much more cerebral, but often just as disingenuous, were the contributions to the debate of the likes of long-standing intellectual Eurosceptics like Daniel Hannan and Tim Montgomerie. Both (and a few more like them) were not averse to the odd bit of polemics and were quite quiet when their fellow "Leave" campaigners like Farage and Arron Banks spoke from the gutter. It was Farage wot won it and no doubt Tim and Dan would say that his grubby means were justified by the ends. The public got Farage's message and that tipped the balance.

A notable example of the point that misleading sloganising was not restricted to the bigots is in Tim Montgomerie's tweet above. This passes the "Yeah, Right on" test perfectly. Of course we should treat all foreigners who want to emigrate to the UK fairly. No discrimination. Moral and principled. Except that it's nonsense. This is not a point about the EU single market and directly linked free movement of labour policy. Obviously at a Treaty level that is the reason that French and Germans have a right of abode in the UK which Indians or Australians do not have. No. My point is that, irrespective of this, not all nationalities are equal in their interest and motivation in coming to the UK - and that not all so-called "immigration" is the same.

Let's take the latter point first. Only a minority of EU nationals are "immigrants" and I suspect that very few of these are French or German. There are believed to be around 270, 000 French nationals in the UK.  Most of them are here to work under the "free movement" rules. They are not "immigrants" they are mostly "Gastarbeiders" in the useful German word which has no direct English language equivalent. Most will, in due course, return to France. The same applies to the similar number of Germans here. The interchange of workers between Britain, France and Germany has been going on for a long time and (many would argue) has no downsides to it at all for Britain or for the individuals themselves.

Montgomerie contrasts the French and Germans with Indians and Australians. This is a curious combination because, I would suggest, there is little in common between Indians who want to come here and Australians. Yes there are plenty of highly educated Indians with special skills who might like to be a Gastarbeider  for a while to enhance their careers. And exactly the same applies to most Australians. Neither group are "Immigrants". This has nothing to do with "immigration" policy and everything to do with what the free movement of Labour rules negotiated between Britain and India/Australia. And with the individual circumstances of each case.  But as we know there are plenty of Indians who do want to migrate to the UK - especially those with family already here. Most of these will work when they get here but they are not Gastarbeiders - they are here to stay. We may or may not wish to allow this, to apply controls and/or to apply a quota. That is why we have an immigration policy. 

So in comparing French, Germans and Australians (who are mostly not migrants at all) with  Indians (who mostly are) is not comparing like with like. If we are no longer to be part of the free movement of labour in Europe (which would be a sad and retrograde step) we can at least replace it with a time-limited work permit system. And to be fair I agree that this should apply to Gastarbeiders of any nationality and that it should be subject to certain rules. What we above all need to do is not to confuse the (1) transient and short duration phenomenon of people moving from one country to work for a period with (2) immigration - which is a very different subject.     


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