Saturday 5 September 2015
On the basis of no good evidence, against the certainty that the referendum will not be held in the first part of next year (and will most likely be held in October 2017), three of the self-appointed "no" campaigns have allowed themselves to be bounced into premature launches of their campaigns.
First out of the traps is Nigel Farage, who yesterday cemented his tactical blunder by turning the Ukip launch into a diatribe on immigration, with the case for leaving the EU scarcely mentioned.
And, carrying the penalty of his premature start, Mr Farage has even had to run with a misnamed campaign, using the slogan Say No to the EU, even though the Electoral Commission has recommended changing from a "yes-no" contest to "remain" or "leave" – a recommendation that the Prime Minister has already accepted.
It is a fairly basic principle in referendums that the parties should campaign on the proposition that will be on the ballot paper, which means that, like it or not, we are now the "leave" option. But such is Mr Farage's keenness to get his ego out on the road, that detail has been dispensed with. Ukip will not (initially, at least) even be fighting on the actual referendum ticket.
Perhaps this is just as well, for the least we have to do with Ukip and is obsession on immigration, the better it will be for the overall campaign, notwithstanding that two of the other groups are also launching prematurely, and without yet knowing what agenda Mr Cameron will be setting.
Given that our analysis suggests that Mr Cameron will leave the ballot to the last possible minute (hence October 2017), and will be fighting on a two-referendum front, with the promise to negotiate for a new "associate membership" deal – then putting the final deal to a second referendum – the issues currently being raised by the putative "leavers" will probably not even factor in the public's choice.
What, in essence, Mr Cameron will be doing, is offering a new relationship – which was precisely what he proposed in his January 2013 Bloomberg speech – to be negotiated as part of a new EU treaty which will be on the stocks by 2022. Then there will be a ratification referendum as part of the "treaty lock", which we be used to gain public approval for the deal.
There is, of course, a possibility that this scenario will not come to pass, but there is still plenty of time to run the public phase of a campaign without yet having to launch, keeping the power dry until we know which way Mr Cameron intends to play his hand.
On that basis, it is far better to have a short, sharp public phase, with the most intense period confined to the last ten weeks, rather than a long-drawn-out drone which will not be able to focus on the actual case over which the battle will be fought.
In order to win, we wrote recently, we need to develop the art of winning. That requires strategy, based on what the enemy is likely to do, not on obsessing about the issues we feel to be important. Strategy, however, has never been the strong suit for a party which, despite gaining four million votes at the general election, managed to halve its parliamentary representation, from two to one.
Now, at least, Farage is being consistent, displaying his continued inability to think strategically, leading his troops into a cul-de-sac which can only detract from the overall campaign, as he fritters away money and energy on a pointless venture.
The big question, though, is whether the other two group will follow Farage into the cul-de-sac and prove just as strategically inept, notwithstanding that they are already committed to the mistaken belief that the campaigning should start early.
Both these groups, respectively the "no campaign" and "TheKnow.eu", will have to undergo a rapid rebranding, or they too – as well as being premature – will also be fighting the wrong campaign. It falls to us to make up the shortfall.
Friday 4 September 2015
As the migration crisis continues to gather pace, the one thing that continues to be omitted is any reference to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Refugees (and the 1967 Protocol).
Not only does there seem to be a collective and wilful memory loss, there also seems to be another complete lapse when it comes to the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, specifically Article 18. In black and white (reproduced above), it states:
The right to asylum shall be guaranteed with due respect for the rules of the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 and the Protocol of 31 January 1967 relating to the status of refugees and in accordance with the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (hereinafter referred to as "the Treaties").
In their "wisdom", the EU Member States have sent a message to the oppressed and deprived peoples of the world that, as of right, they can come to Europe and claim asylum. This is a totally unconditional right, and one that appears to have been granted – at the time - without the first idea of the consequences.
Now, with the thousands heading across the Mediterranean, and the many more crossing over into Greece and thence northwards to Germany, the "colleagues" are finding to their horror that the oppressed and deprived are taking them up on their new-found "rights".
Perhaps where we are dealing with is group cognitive dissonance, if there is such a thing. Having created an impossible situation, they are now set on ignoring the root cause and thus completely failing to deal with the consequences of their own (or predecessors') actions, or their own hypocrisy.
Having given what amounts to an open-ended invitation to asylum seekers from throughout the world, the nations of the EU then erect a series of barriers preventing them taking up that invitation, forcing them to take increasingly hazardous routes in order to exercise the rights they have been given.
Thus, the tragic outcome of the rash inclusion of a "right" that we could not afford to give, and failed to understand the consequences, is that no-one benefits – not even the refugees who are now swamping the system to the extent that state after state is no longer able to cope.
To deal with this mess, therefore, there is an urgent need for creative solutions. But nothing is going to work until the flow of migrants is contained. The right to asylum must be removed from the Charter. In figurative terms, before mopping the bathroom floor, it is necessary to turn off the tap that is causing the overflow.
If there is any political upside to this, the total inability of the EU to confront its own failures has at least offered Ukip the opportunity to propose effective and humanitarian solutions, thereby demonstrating to a wider constituency the inadequacies of the Union.
Yet, as we have seen over the years, Ukip has consistently failed to step up to the plate, eliding asylum-seeking and refugees with immigration in general, without beginning to understand what is at stake.
And it is that failure – bizarrely the failure properly and responsibility to address the EU's failures – which, as Autonomous Mind points out
, is triggering a backlash. This is so profound that even the Telegraph
Such is the stupidity of Mr Farage's party that in its own immigration policy
it asserts that it will "maintain [the] principles of UN Convention on Refugees for Asylum and have immediate review of the asylum process which aims to speed up rights to Leave To Remain and discover logjam on those declined asylum statuses".
In other words, the very things the EU is seeking to do and which are attracting the criticism from Ukip supporters, are embodied in Ukip policy – with the Party supporting the UN instrument which has given rise to the problem in the first place.
Sadly, Ukip's dereliction is matched by the ignorance of the legacy media, which has shown consistency only in its complete inability to report the refugee crisis intelligently. To that extent, the media are allowing Ukip to escape more pointed criticisms, that show up the full extent of its inadequacies.
The opportunity, as Pete North
suggests, is to leverage acceptance of more refugees against reform of the Refugee Convention. Had Ukip chosen that route, it would have captured the high ground and we would be supporting it. As it stands, no sane person could do anything other than disown the Party.
Thursday 3 September 2015
If one believes in coincidences, then Daniel Finkelstein's article in the Times is just one of those coincidences – just like Matthew Sinclair's article in the Telegraph, both extolling the virtues of associate membership, without actually mentioning it.
Sinclair – out of the blue, he would have us believe – dreamed up with soul-mate Andrew Lilico, Commission shill extraordinaire, the idea of splitting up the EU into the eurozone and non-eurozone member states. And now, up pops Finkelstein to tell us that, "Europe can survive only if it splits in two".
In this total coincidence, Danny the Fink – as he likes to be called – tells us that David Cameron "must push for the troubled eurozone to become a superstate and the UK to be part of a looser trading bloc", thus putting him alongside the Sinclair/Lilico with exactly the same solution. But this was all totally spontaneous of course.
There again, if you don't believe in coincidences – and there are too many similarities to be generous – then this is part of a co-ordinated process to soften up public opinion prior to Mr Cameron suddenly discovering the merits of something which he will claim to have negotiated but which – as we know – was pre-ordained.
The problem is that, at a very superficial level, the idea of a two-tier EU looks attractive, and there are a number of soft eurosceptics who see associate membership as an acceptable alternative to leaving. Some even argue that this status makes it essentially a "semantic question" whether we are in or out.
Finklestein in his spontaneous exposition calls in aid David Owen's resuscitated book, Europe Restructured, which happens to mention pulling in Norway and Iceland into a new grouping, although Owen is talking about "a looser free trade area clearly based on independent nation states", which isn't on offer.
What in fact is proposed is a situation where the eurozone states will leap ahead into a new phase of political and economic integration, leaving the "outer zone" members to remain in the EU much as it is, rebranded as associate members.
Necessarily, there will be all sorts pretence, dissimulation and downright dishonesty from the ranks of sympathetic journalists and political placemen, all to confuse the issue and to prepare the ground for the grand finale.
But whatever the background noise, the die is already set. Even recently we saw in Süddeutsche Zeitung an interview with French economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who is suggesting that there should be "radical reform" at the latest by 2019, anchored in a new EU treaty.
Macron says, "We must now prepare all the changes of the EU Treaty", and argues that, if his party is re-elected in the 2017 elections, "France and Germany are behind us". In 2018 or 2019, he adds, Europe should stand on a new and better foundation.
And it is that treaty, negotiated and agreed after Mr Cameron's deadline for the EU regulation, which will set the parameters for the associate agreement. But those details will not be known by the time the UK electorate goes to the polls, permitting the Prime Minister a great deal of flexibility as to how he describes his "victory".
But the only way he can get away it, though, is to spring this on the public at the last possible moment, giving little time for critical analysis. With the help of his obedient ciphers, he will hope to pull the wool over the eyes of the public in what The Boiling Frog calls "the Cameron ploy".
Despite this, Mr Cameron has an incredibly weak hand. He is entirely at the mercy of the "colleagues" and can only work within the parameters they will set. No matter how much his useful fools dress it up, there is always the Bertelsmann/Spinelli Fundamental Law to bring them back to earth.
And that is the way the game is being played. For an indeterminate period, but quite possibly for the next two years, there will be a soft-sell on associate membership by any other name. In fact, the only name that will never be used is associate membership".
The thing is, we're already on to it. They can't disguise it, and it is not going to be the great "victory" that Mr Cameron wants it to be. No matter how much the ground is prepared for him, it will always be his ploy.
Wednesday 2 September 2015
Say the words of the song: "Should I stay or should I go? … If I go, there will be trouble; And if I stay it will be double; So come on and let me know".
And now the answer, according to the Electoral Commission should not be "yes" or "no". Instead, on the basis of research conducted for it, the Commission has decided that the answer should be "remain" or "leave".
In the view of the Commission, the government's current proposal: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?", gives the "perception of bias" and is "not balanced".
As an alternative, it is recommended that voters should be asked whether they wish to "remain a member of the European Union" or "leave the European Union", with the ballot paper to look something like the specimen below.
This was flagged up some time ago by The Boiling Frog
, with the Electoral Commission having already expressed its reservations about a straight "yes-no" response.
In theory, the difference with worth eight or nine points to us "leavers", for which there is much rejoicing, even if Mr Cameron was suspiciously quick to agree to the change. But not all is necessarily what it seems.
There is quite obviously a difference between perceptions expressed to polling companies before the campaign gets underway, and responses after a period of intensive campaigning. After all, the whole purpose of a campaign is to promote the "brand" and imbue it with positive associations.
Arguably, an effective campaign would narrow the "yes" advantage, making the new options less attractive, especially as neither lend themselves to punchy slogans. The "leave" campaign will never convey as much force as the simple "no" proposition.
Interestingly, Coventry University's Matt Qvortrup tells the Guardian
he welcomes the change – but only because it avoids a protracted debate over the question.
He believes it actually doesn't make a difference. "If you try to use leading language in a referendum question, you are actually far more likely to get a no vote, because the public is immediately suspicious", he says – citing Charles de Gaulle's constitutional referendum in 1969, as well as in Quebec in 1980 when the question was also massaged.
The most crucial decider, Qvortrup thinks, is a unified campaign. "People respond to that, campaigns where one side is not working together do not succeed, when there is a camp within a camp".
And that, with the launch of Farage's personalised campaign
, seems as far away as ever. The Ukip leader is determined to position immigration as the lead issue
, wholly attributable to the EU
, displaying his usual inability
to master detail and ignoring the refugee convention dimension.
campaigning on an "intellectual battle" over who governs Britain, insists that immigration is "utterly central" to British voters' concerns about the EU.
However, the lack of unity and Farage's approximation of a loose cannon, is almost certainly less of a problem than the failure to develop a coherent strategy amongst the "leavers".
The crucial point here that the initiative in this campaign remains with Mr Cameron, who has yet to reveal his hand. He seems remarkably relaxed about backing off
from key commitments, apparently scrapping demands for full British exclusion from EU employment laws, and he also reported as willing to make concessions
on purdah and even rules on referendum spending.
This suggests a man that has abandoned his original "renegotiations" strategies and is relying on something entirely different. We are increasingly taking the view that Cameron is preparing to gamble all on "rebranding" the UK relationship with the EU, along the lines of the expected associate membership.
We are convinced that the stage-managing of this ploy, at a late stage in the campaign, will drive the government's strategy, making an apparently powerful case for continued membership of the EU.
In detail, though, this will be very weak, but it will need a spirited and well-prepared counter-attack to negate the apparent advantage. That should be dominating our strategic thinking for, unless we can neutralise Mr Cameron's "play", we will not get the opportunity to roll out our own strategy.
Against this, the precise nature of the question is small beer. In strategic terms, this fight is winnable if we come well-prepared.
Tuesday 1 September 2015
Something that very few people seemed to have picked up in the torrent of reporting about the migration crisis is the ONS observation that there were 25,771 asylum applications in the UK for the 12 months to the end of June, which was substantially lower than the peak number of applications of 84,132 in 2002.
When irregular migration into Europe is at an all-time high, however, it might be worth noting that in 2003, there was the Le Touquet Treaty under which provisions, the UK was permitted by the French to station immigration officers in their ports, thereby preventing asylum seekers reaching British territory to claim international protection.
By 2005, the level had dropped to 25,712 and, by 2009, applications declined further, falling to 17,916 in 2010. Since then, the numbers have risen each year to reach 24,914 in 2014, but nowhere near the 2002 peak.
It is reasonable to assert, therefore, that French cooperation has had a significant effect on asylum seeker numbers in the UK so much so that, while Germany braces itself for 800,000 this year, our levels will likely remain at around two percent (or less) of gross migration.
If anything, the situation is likely to get better. With Britain pumping £35 million in three years to secure the Calais ports (part of the so-called Evian arrangements), Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, is claiming that Calais port and the Eurotunnel site are now "fully under control".
"Countries from where migration is coming must hear this message", he said yesterday: "Today the Franco-UK borders are fully under control. To come to Calais is to throw yourself into a dead end".
This comes as France is preparing, with the injection of £3.6 million of EU funding, to turn the makeshift "jungle" into a fully-equipped reception centre, the upshot of which is that migrants will be processed on French soil and will no longer be able to move on to the UK to claim asylum.
Between the UK and France, this is intergovernmental cooperation, which owes nothing to EU treaty law, the effect of which is actually to ensure that the UK is scarcely affected by the Mediterranean migration crisis. Contrary to the media reports, the combination of French assistance and the Channel is keeping Mr Cameron's "swarm" at bay.
Nevertheless, this does not stop the likes of Damian Green parading his ignorance, with the inane comment that Britain would face a mass influx of refugees from Calais if the country voted to pull out of the EU.
On the face of it, the intergovernmental arrangements in force would be unaffected by UK withdrawal. Even if we can't exclude the possibility of retaliatory action by France, the bilateral arrangements should hold, despite Green claiming that France "would not be under any obligation to prevent migrants from crossing the Channel".
It is this sort of ignorance, however, that is dominating the debate. Whether it is Teresa May, confusing freedom of movement with freedom of establishment, the muddle over the Schengen area, which is irrelevant to the current crisis, or the continued confusion over terminology, few pundits seem to have taken the trouble to understand the technicalities of this complex issue.
Most of all though, the abysmal standard of reporting by the media has elided the problem of irregular migration and the entirely separate and much greater problem of regular migration. So distorted has the coverage been that if you ask people for an image to represent the problem, migrants boarding trucks in Calais will come to the fore, when the true representation should the arrivals halls at Heathrow.
Sooner or later though, it will dawn on the majority that, by comparison with the rest of Europe and in absolute terms, we don't have a refugee crisis.
But, as we see with Libby Purves in the Times writing: "I can't be proud of a barbed-wired Europe", the broader crisis represents a significant failure of EU policy. This should benefit the "no" campaign if the issue is handled responsibly and sensibly – and positioned as a major policy failure.
To do that, though, the "no" campaign and its supporters need a much better grasp of the issues, and the ability to vanquish the ignorance that is dominating the debate. Currently, they show no signs of acquiring either.
Monday 31 August 2015
Many people were dismayed yesterday to see in the Sunday Express assertions that the "no" campaign is in chaos, after merger talks between competing groups broke down.
The groups involved are said to be Business for Britain, led by Matthew Elliott, and TheKnow.eu, led by Ukip donor Arron Banks. And according to Banks, the process started when the groups were approached by a Tory donor who suggested a merger "to create a vast, unstoppable, mega 'no' campaign".
Now we are told, the discussions have broken down, attributable entirely to Mr Elliott who insisted on becoming the campaign's chief executive, a move which Mr Banks rejected. And, as might be expected, this "evidence" of discord has been seized upon by Breitbart which thus claims that the "establishment" campaign may lose us the referendum.
On the other hand, Autonomous Mind believes there is little to choose between these two groups and the other player, Ukip's Nigel Farage. Between them, he feels, they have ensured that the "no" campaign is all but beaten. Not least the behaviour of Nigel Farage in using the referendum campaign as his own personal platform is going to do much to discredit the cause.
Pete North has his own observations and conclusions not dissimilar to AM. The crucial point he makes, though, is that there may need to be a subsidiary or branch of the official "no" campaign working under a different identity to differentiate itself from the white noise created by these groups.
However, it is not just these groups which are creating white noise. There is no more reason to trust the Sunday Express on this story than any of the many others it produces. There is far more to the Elliott/Banks story than has yet to emerge, and some assertions which the paper makes are unreliable.
In some senses, the situation is not quite as bad as the Express paints. There are moves afoot which, if not entirely satisfactory, hold out some promise of making a useful contribution to the fight.
For the moment, though, we have a different sort of noise - on the immigration crisis
. This, for the moment, the media is determined to turn into a major political event. Yet, with probably more than two years to run before the referendum, what is dominating the headlines right now may well be a distant memory by the time the voters head for the polls.
And if Mr Cameron ever did have any ambitions of conducting an early poll, these must surely by now be abandoned. There can be no gain for the Prime Minister in asking the nation for its decision with the media in such a febrile mood.
Those who were banking on an early poll have miscalculated – more so since the dynamics of a prolonged campaign are very different than those of the sprint, where all the arguments must be compressed into a short period.
Crucially, there is a measure of all three of the high-profile "players". All have allowed themselves to be bounced by the media speculation (on the basis of no good evidence) into starting their campaigns this September – a month which starts only a day from now – instead of biding their time.
When we should be planning, recruiting, organising and – above all – training our people to provide a coherent, well-disciplined force, we will see energy frittered away on ill-conceived, premature campaigns by people who have little understanding of the complexities of EU politics and the forces ranged against them.
Ironically, Banks is to bring in an immigrant from the United States to tell us how to run our strategy - even if one has yet to find a Septic who had any serious understanding of the EU and its related politics.
That apart, the idea of a "vast, unstoppable, mega 'no' campaign" is something of a fantasy. A single campaign at this stage would simply have meant errors being perpetrated on a bigger scale than they are already. At least currently, there is some competition and creative tension.
It is only this which allows us to be vaguely optimistic. Unity around flawed ideas and tactics would simply have meant the death of the "no" campaign. There is time yet – but getting the strategy right is far more important. And that will probably have to come from outside these self-appointed groups anyway.
Sunday 30 August 2015
If more immigrants come to this country from non-EU states, and the asylum seekers who arrive then claim protection under international law, how can it be said that "immigration and EU membership are synonymous"?
Yet this is precisely what that idiot Farage is saying, writing in the ghastly Breitbart that: "The immigration debate is changing before our eyes, and it's how we win the EU referendum".
His idea of fighting the referendum is to make the public realise that immigration and EU membership are synonymous, based on his strong belief that "open door immigration and security concerns will be the dominant issues in the upcoming referendum campaign".
Reinforcing this "belief" is last month's Ipsos-MORI "leading issues poll" which Farage calls in aid, citing the "staggering eight per cent rise in respondents naming immigration as the number one issue" during the month of July. "Fifty percent", he crows, "said that immigration and border controls was their main concern with the economy trailing behind at 27 percent".
We actually had a look at this poll, and the finding is hardly surprising as the polling company itself noted that migrant camps in Calais continued to dominate sections of the media.
Even then, Farage overstates the finding. There were two parts to this poll, in which the questions were spontaneous - i.e. respondents were not prompted with any answers.
In the first part, respondents were asked to name "the most important issue facing Britain today", whence the percentage nominating "immigration" or "immigrants" actually came out at 32 percent. Only when asked to nominate "the main/other important issues facing Britain" was the figure of 50 percent reached.
In other words, even after a torrent of publicity on the issue, the proportion of people who felt that immigration was their main issue struggled to reach a third of those responding.
Then, from this, there is no indication whatsoever of the proportion of respondents who regard leaving the EU as the solution to the problem – much less the numbers who would be prepared to vote "no" in the referendum because of immigration.
On the other hand, because it is a spontaneous poll, respondents were free to nominate any subject they wish. And there we have an interesting response on the EU. Only two percent regarded this as their most important issue, and only eight percent thought it an important issue at all. Clearly, if people thought that the EU was the main reason for the immigration problem, a higher score would have been recorded.
We have, of course, been here before. When Mr Farage put immigration at the top of the list in the general election, only eight percent of those eligible to vote actually turned out for Ukip. Again to put immigration at the top of the list is more than a mistake. It is insane, a tactic which is almost certain to damage the "no" campaign. Farage is wrong on his facts, is misreading the poll evidence and is making a major tactical blunder.
Sadly, nothing is going to stop this ego on stilts damaging the cause. Farage is already set to mount his roadshow during September, parading his stupidity before his adoring supporters, who will doubtless cheer him to the rafters as support from the general public drains away.
Once again, therefore, we're back in that familiar position of having to distance ourselves from this man and his supporters, making it clear that he does not speak in our name. The man has lost it – he represents only his own stupidity. He should have no part of the "no" campaign.
Saturday 29 August 2015
Now, courtesy of the BBC, we learn of the intervention of the UN in the migration crisis. Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon has stepped in to tell us that "much more is required" to prevent the deaths of migrants fleeing to Europe, calling for a "collective political response" to avert "a crisis of solidarity".
He is thus calling on EU Member States to "expand safe and legal channels of migration" after declaring himself to be "horrified and heartbroken" at the latest loss of life, including 71 migrants found suffocated in a lorry in Austria and some 200 people feared drowned after two boats capsized off the coast of Libya.
"A large majority of people undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan", says the Sec-Gen, adding that: "The international community must also show greater determination in resolving conflicts and other problems that leave people little choice but to flee".
But, while the media in general and even the mighty BBC seems content to ignore the role of international law, not so Mr Ban who is, after all, the custodian of the very same.
He calls on nations "to observe international law on asylum requests", and not to "force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution". This, says Ban, "is not only a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings".
With his speech writer obviously working overtime on the clichés, he then concludes by telling us that: "This is a human tragedy that requires a determined collective political response. It is a crisis of solidarity, not a crisis of numbers".
This, however, has not been the only intervention by the UN. A few days ago, António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees urged the EU to speed up the formulation of an adequate collective response to this "unprecedented crisis".
Joined by the French Minister of Internal Affairs, Bernard Cazeneuve, who was on a visit to the Swiss city, Mr. Guterres called on European countries not to deal individually with the migration crisis.
"It is clear", he said, "that Europe has the capacities and the size needed to meet the challenges, assuming that it shows unity and jointly assume this responsibility".
In the view of Mr Guterres, "Taking into account all the human tragedies that these people have suffered, it only makes sense that we must act; we must act quickly; and must act effectively".
This, though, was not entirely an exchange of clichés. Guterres called for increased resources to be allocated to development cooperation, as well as humanitarian assistance. He noted that the support program to Syrian refugees was only funded only up to 41 percent, while only 21 percent of Turkey's costs are covered.
He also called for accelerated implementation of EU decisions taken on improving reception and registration of refugees, but also relocation and resettlement. The latter, he observed, "would likely require much higher figures than those that have been proposed so far".
And there we have at last the international agenda laid bare. What we, the UK doesn't have, though. is a direct voice in framing this agenda. The UN is addressing itself to the EU – the UK does not have a voice.
If we are to deal with this crisis on our own terms, we have to break out of this claustrophobic tryst and deal direct. Global policy should be made by equals at a global level – not fixed up between the UN and the EU, and handed down for us to obey.
An independent UK is a necessary precursor to resolving this crisis.
Friday 28 August 2015
Trailing in our wake, the media have suddenly cottoned onto the importance of language in describing the current migration crisis and, in the self-referential way that they do, are making a complete mess of discussing it.
The open shots were fired by Aljazeera which, just over a week ago, announced that it was no longer going to use the term "migrants" in relation to the Mediterranean er … migrants.
The "umbrella term", its writer Barry Malone decided, was "no longer fit for purpose" when it comes to describing the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean. It had, he wrote, "evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative".
For reasons of accuracy, we were then told, the director of news at Al Jazeera English, Salah Negm, had decided that his network would no longer use the word migrant in this context of the Mediterranean. It would instead, where appropriate, say "refugee".
The problem here, of course, is that it is wholly inaccurate and therefore unwarranted to assert that people casting off in a boat from, say, Libya, are refugees. To be a refugee is to conform with the definition in the 1951 Convention on refugees, and is a status which can only be determined in respect of any single person by an examination of his of her personal circumstances.
Nevertheless, the theme was picked up by the Washington Post which a few days later asked whether it was time to "ditch the word migrant".
Interestingly, this paper cites Judith Vonberg, writing for the Migrants' Rights Network, who argues against Aljazeera's prissiness. "By rejecting the term and using 'refugee' instead as a means of arousing the empathy and compassion we should be feeling towards these people, Al Jazeera gives credence to the illiberal voices telling us that migrants are not worthy of our compassion", she writes.
Instead, Vonberg argues that the word migrant should be "reclaimed" as a fair and neutral description of people crossing borders.
This, of course, takes us right back to where we started, opening the way for Lindsey Hilsum on Channel 4 to ponder over which word to use – refugee or migrant – failing to come to a conclusion.
That then gives Camila Ruz of the BBC News Magazine an opportunity to pontificate. But, after prancing around the territory, even the mighty BBC fails to come to a conclusion. All Camila Ruz manages to do is observe that the shifting language of migration might seem petty to some but to those involved in the debate there is no doubt of its importance.
She then concludes with a quote from Rob McNeil of the Migration Observatory, who says: "Words matter in the migration debate".
And indeed they do, as we were pointing well before these journalists started realising something was amiss. But it is Don Flynn, director of Migrants Rights Network who has the answer, embedded in the Camila Ruz piece. Rejecting the term illegal immigrant, he argues that it is "better to say irregular or undocumented migrants".
Oddly, even the word "undocumented" may be inaccurate, as some will have documents of a kind. That leaves us with the term "irregular migrant", which is actually what is used by the professionals and many agencies in the field.
In the end stage, individuals sitting in a camp in Calais, poised to make the journey to England, may be categorised from a choice of labels. If they conform with the Convention definition, they will be refugees.
On the other hand, they may not strictly conform with that definition, but it may be judged that to return them to their countries of origin would breach their human rights, in which case they are afforded a more limited form of status called "Discretionary Leave".
If they fulfil neither criteria, they may be judged as economic migrants, but may be given temporary leave to remain – for a short time, allowing them to get their affairs in order – if they agree voluntarily to return. Only if they do not, and in most other cases, do they become illegal immigrants.
The point is that "irregular migrant" is a value-free term. It describes people who are not moving from one country to another in a "regular" fashion, without in any way seeking to describe their actual status. And that, as a generic, seems the most appropriate term to use.
Friday 28 August 2015
Perhaps one of the more interesting things about yesterday's ONS release of migration figures was the relatively low-key response.
The news in itself is far from happy. Net long-term international migration for the 12 months ending March 2015 stands at 330,000, up 94,000 from the same period last year. Immigration is recorded at 636,000 (up 84,000) and emigration at 307,000 (down 9,000), the net figure representing a statistically significant increase from the 236,000 recorded in the year ending March 2014, and is the highest net migration on record.
Net migration of EU member state citizens increased to 183,000 (up 53,000), with a gross of 269,000 (up 56,000). The total included 53,000 Romanian and Bulgarian (EU2) citizens, almost double the 28,000 in the previous 12 months. There was also an increase in non-EU net migration to 196,000 (up 39,000), with the gross increasing to 284,000 (up 23,000).
For a slightly different period, to the year ending June 2015, there is another important statistic.
Compared with the 636,000 people coming here (in a slightly different period), there were 25,771 asylum applications (main applicants). For all the turmoil and publicity about migrants at Calais, this represented an increase of ten percent compared with the previous 12 months (23,515). Furthermore, the number of applications remains low relative to the peak number of applications in 2002 (84,132) - just before the conclusion of the Le Touquet Treaty.
The largest number of applications for asylum came from nationals of Eritrea (3,568), followed by Pakistan (2,302) and Syria (2,204). Of the total applying, 11,600 people were actually granted asylum or an alternative form of protection. That amounts to less than two percent of the gross total (1.8 percent) and three percent of net migration.
The main thing that comes over from these raw data therefore is that non-EU immigration exceeds immigration from EU Member States. The least of the problem is that which is given the greatest amount of attention and publicity – asylum seekers. Such is the effect of the media obsession.
Focusing on the real issues, we can see that the greatest problem is non-EU migration – which is not mandated by the EU and which would be unaffected by withdrawal from the EU. And these are most likely to become permanent migrants, as opposed to incomers from EU member state, the movement of which tends to be relatively fluid.
But with now eight million foreigners permanently resident in the UK (defined as those born outside the UK of non-UK parents), no one can argue that this government – any more than the last – has the immigration problem under control.
Measures such as tightening up the housing market and enforcing the minimum wage are slow to take effect, and are of relatively minor effect compared with the "pull" of relatively higher-paid jobs in a buoyant economy. But there is no case for saying that leaving the EU, per se will remove the problem, when so many immigrants are from non-EU countries.
Business interests are claiming that they need the constant flow of immigrants to keep the economy buoyant, but they so often speak with forked tongue. Cheap incomers put a damper on the wage increases that would occur where labour shortages arise, and save on training costs and other overheads arising from employing indigenous labour.
On that basis, the over-riding impression is that the government is not actually committed to reducing immigration, and is merely going through the motions – a situation that seems hardly likely to change should a referendum result bounce an unwilling David Cameron into leaving the EU.
The essence, therefore, has to be that EU membership is not the dominant issue when it comes to immigration. Arguably, the root of the problem is a government that is not yet convinced that immigration should be substantially reduced, and is not committed to taking action to keep numbers down.
To that extent, the focus on the EU could not only be a distraction, but a dangerous one. Linkage of immigration and EU membership by anti-EU campaigners could backfire if and when we fail to win the referendum. The implied approval of continued EU membership might be taken as agreement to the current levels of immigration from EU member states.
Either way, it cannot be assumed that concern for the increasing level of immigration will necessarily translate into opposition to the EU. Even if it does, we have no evidence that any such concern will reflect in greater support for leaving the EU.
As White Wednesday and others have remarked on their Twitter accounts, we see immigration increase, while support for the EU remains stubbornly high – go figure. To the extent that immigration is a government problem, as Peter points out, we are better keeping the issues separate.
The best we can argue is that leaving the EU would enable us better to focus on solutions at regional and global levels but it would be unwise to assert that leaving, per se, will bring us any direct relief.