Richard North, 17/12/2013  

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I broke the habit of a lifetime (almost) last night and watched Panorama, the subject being "the Romanians are coming?" The BBC have offered a a trailer, which focuses on the role of the police. The overall effect of that, in my view, was pretty flat.

But what did sound the alarm were the comments from Immigration Minister Mark Harper. You had to deconstruct the language he was using, but my firm impression was that he was confirming, in spades, my observations that the government is relying on "renegotiation" after the general election, in order to deliver any change.

This was the closing line of the programme, the narrator Paul Kenyon telling us that: "This isn't just a debate about Romania and Bulgaria but about the future of our relationship with Europe, and how we might be able to change it".

It doesn't seem to matter how many times this is said, but "freedom of movement" is fundamental to the treaties. Change is non-negotiable. It can't happen without treaty change and that needs a convention, an IGC and unanimous agreement – from all 28 member states. And that simply isn't going to happen.

The legacy media, as always, is slow on the uptake, but it seems to me that the Conservatives are not even trying any longer. They've run out of options and given up, retreating into fantasy politics that are less credible by the day. But then, some might say, what else is new?

Paul Goodman in the Telegraph gives a partial explanation for the Government's inertia, with the Mills amendment to the Immigration Bill, but that cannot explain it all, or even the greater part of it. This seems to be an situation where the political elites have run out of ideas, and confidence. They simply don't know what to do.

In a way, it is rather amusing to how a rag-tag army of Romanians and Bulgarians are set to bring down the establishment, except that it isn't really that either. What perhaps is the killer is the display of powerlessness. You have a bunch of Roma camping out in Park Lane and the authorities (Vagrancy Act notwithstanding) seem unable to do anything about them. 

Then you have Mr Clegg having an attack of the vapours, with the BBC giving it full frontal in a piece that tries its best to tell us we are over-reacting, while misrepresenting the government position – which is hardly surprising because the government has yet to make its position clear.

What is never said, of course, is that the government has been caught out – and comprehensively so. There are all sorts of measures that it can take to prevent the "abuse of free movement", as it likes to style the problem, but the fact is that it is caught in a vice of EU provisions. Not only is there the freedom of movement to deal with but also the prohibition on any action which discriminates on the grounds of nationality.

Therefore, while there are specifics which the government could in theory implement, they would immediately bump up against the no-discrimination rules. To get round that requires a virtual redesign of the benefits system and the NHS. Such tasks are beyond the immediate capability of this (or any other) government, which is thus wedged firmly between a rock and a hard place.

That leaves Mr Farage's party the relatively easy task of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes (or that he is stuck between a rock and a hard place). Fortunately for him, Farage doesn't need any coherent policies in order to point this out, which is just as well as he doesn't have any worth talking about.

All he has to do is stand by and point, while the government and the establishment in general displays their own powerlessness. But, all that does is leave a political vacuum in its wake.  Sadly, we will then see politics defy the very laws of nature. Mr Miliband will walk in to take the crown: vacuum will replace a vacuum.

I suppose it had to come to that eventually, so all we can do is borrow from Mr Blair's 1997 slogan: it can only get worse.

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