Richard North, 18/09/2016  

In a typically robust column, Booker takes on the immigration myths being perpetrated by the "lunatic fringe" brexiteers, under the headline: "If you think Brexit will bring us control of our borders, you are sadly deluded".

Anyone wanting evidence that the European Union is in a state of near-terminal crisis, he writes, should have listened to last week's "State of the Union" address by Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission president.

Observing that "never before have I seen such little common ground between our Member States, so few areas where they are prepared to work together", Juncker had nothing to offer but dead platitudes. Nothing new. No trace of vision.

Indirectly, however, he did again point up the irony that the greatest obstacle to Britain finding a satisfactory way to extricate herself from this mess is now coming from the very people who were most vocal in campaigning to leave the EU: those hard-line "Brexiteers" who insist that we cannot remain in the EU single market because it is far more important that we should "take back control of our borders" to halt the tide of immigration.

The first problem with immigration is that it is too often discussed in grotesquely oversimplified terms. Of course some of it is socially unwelcome. But some of it is highly beneficial. The difficulty lies in sorting out which is which.

Even more relevant is that simply leaving the EU will not give us back "control over our borders" when much of the problem derives not from the EU at all but from our obligations under international treaties, such as the UN Convention on Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

By far the largest single component in UK immigration, 18 percent of it, mostly from Pakistan and the Indian sub-continent, derives originally from the right to "family reunion" enshrined in Article 8 of the ECHR.

The idea that we can "take back control of our borders" becomes even more fanciful when we consider the huge expansion of enforcement which would be needed to keep a bureaucratic eye on all the 37 million foreigners who enter Britain every year, the vast majority of whom, as tourists, students or on business, then leave again.

The only part of that immigration which could be affected by leaving the EU is that which takes place – much of it beneficial – under the EU's "freedom of movement of workers"; and to stop that, the more naive Brexiteers insist that we should sacrifice our right to continue trading in the single market, presenting us with massive problems of a different kind, which they seem determined not to recognise.

The ultimate irony is that the only sensible way in which we could legally exercise at least some control over migration from the EU is one which would also allow us to continue trading freely with the single market: by remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA) and joining Norway in the European Free Trade Area.

Although Norway has not chosen to exercise it, this would give us the right under Article 112 of the EEA treaty to claim partial exemption from the EU's "four freedoms"; and thus to impose some limit on migration from the EU we deem to be harmful.

This is the "safeguarding" principle, common in international treaties, which David Cameron asked for in his pitiful attempt at a "renegotiation" last February; and which was inevitably refused because it is not open to members of the EU. But it is available to members of the EEA outside the EU, who can unilaterally claim it without any need for negotiation; as, for different purposes, both Lichtenstein and Iceland have demonstrated.

So obsessed are our Brexiteers with their wishful-thinking alternatives to remaining in the single market – each as unworkable as the rest – that they are determined to close their eyes to the one solution which, to a great extent, could enable us both to have our cake and eat it. If they got their way we would not only lose the cake but be left with nothing to eat in return.

That is the riddle Theresa May and her more sensible advisers need to confront before invoking Article 50, to trigger negotiations unlikely to begin until after Germany and France have held next year's crucial elections.

Meanwhile the EU itself stumbles blindly forward into the dark, without any clearer idea of how to solve the ever more pressing problem of its own future than President Juncker was able to offer last Wednesday.

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