There is much excitement in the British media about someone called John Longworth being removed for saying something and now Boris Johnson getting into trouble for doing the opposite of what he accused others of doing to Mr Longworth. I simply cannot – despite the efforts of my friends on both sides of the Brexit debate – get particularly excited by either story. Especially not when they are lined up against the dramatic news that emerged from yesterday’s EU summit on solving the migrant crisis.
The Financial Times account of the draft deal proposed by Germany and Turkey is jaw-dropping (featuring great reporting from Alex Barker and Duncan Robinson).
— Financial Times (@FT) March 8, 2016
Here is what is proposed: migrants in Greece will be forcibly returned to Turkey; the EU will then operate a one for one policy on taking migrants and placing them in EU nations; Visa liberalisation, offering travel rights within the Schengen area to 75m Turks, will be fast-forwarded to this June; and Turkey’s accession to the EU will be accelerated. Some of this – the visa liberalisation – has been mooted and discussed in Brussels for some time, but I bet very few British voters knew about it. They will find out, when there is a referendum on. In that referendum, much of the British political class is desperate for free movement (which will follow for Turks eventually if Turkey gets in) to not become a major issue in June. Good luck with that now.
1) The migration deal proposed by Merkel as it stands is downright bonkers. Try and imagine the distressing scenes with TV crews on hand in April, May and June as thousands in Greek camps are removed by force, and sent to Turkey, which they paid a lot to leave.
2) Does Chancellor Merkel realise there is a referendum happening in Britain in June or does she not care about the result? Add this deal to the recent insulting speech by Jean-Claude Juncker and one really starts to wonder.
3) When news of it emerged late last night, quite a few commentators thought it was all a fuss over nothing, because it is bound to be squashed. Turkey has long been in the queue, and so on. This is to apply ultra liberal rigid rationalism and London dinner party thinking to a subject which for many Britons, particularly older Britons, is visceral and heartfelt. They never really got to vote on free movement and mass migration, and now the EU is at it again, at the worst possible moment.
4) Try this thought experiment. Go back twenty five years and ponder what most sensible people would have said on being told that by now anyone from Romania, Bulgaria or (eventually) Turkey could come here. People would be astonished. No British government would allow it, surely? That’s a recipe for cultural tension and pressure on public services. Yet piece by piece that is what happened, and the polls show voters outside London are not at all happy about it. The lovely idea that is free movement (enshrined in the Treaty of Rome when the EC had only six members) is delusional in a Union of 28 (plus Turkey). You might say that people will just have to jolly well get used to disruption, uncontrolled migration and creative destruction, although this sounds like the ultra-liberal version of the revolutionary cry that to make an omlette you must break a few eggs. Many people have no desire to be the eggs that get smashed. They don’t want to be disrupted any more than they can avoid. And on June 23rd they have a vote on all this stuff.
5) Merkel’s proposed deal matters – potentially a lot – because the strongest card that the Remain campaign possesses in Britain’s EU referendum is stability and a measure of security. This undermines that offer, even if the migrant deal is quashed. It demonstrates that the most powerful EU leader is prepared to start remaking migration policy and the EU at high speed, in a highly questionable manner. What will they try next if the UK votes to Remain?
One further observation. I ask, again, is Merkel actually any good? She is a giant of our age, someone who is highly skilled when it comes to getting and holding power. But what’s it for? What does she do with it? This latest initiative is her worst since she declared last year that everyone could come to Europe.