30,000 reasons why the rhetoric on immigrants claiming benefits can stop now

Should we be scapegoating 'scrounging' foreigners? New figures on the number of Brits claiming benefits across the EU suggest otherwise

Click to follow
The Independent Online

You can just imagine the conversation at Ukip HQ. “What’s this about some new immigration figures – 30,000 foreigners leaving their own country just to go abroad and scrounge off the system, not working and claiming benefits at the expense of local taxpayers? Bloody disgrace… what’s that… sorry… what did you say? They’re not foreigners? They’re British people claiming benefits in Europe? Oh… right…”

These are the figures from a recent Guardian report which found that 30,000 Brits are claiming unemployment benefits in countries across the EU. The report also discovered that British claimants in richer EU states outnumber those from the same countries in the UK – British claimants in Ireland outnumber Irish claimants by five to one and Germans by four to one. And that many Brits get far better benefits in other EU states than they would here.

But this more balanced, two-way picture of immigration hardly fits in with the hostile rhetoric of politicians like Nigel Farage, who paint an immigration picture of Europe which is uncannily similar to the opening credits of Dad’s Army (minus the Nazis, of course).

In fact it leaves Farage looking a bit like the hapless and clueless Private Pike from the same programme. However, as befits a good episode of the sitcom, it is the pompous and misguided leader who is left with most egg on his face.

David Cameron (our very own Captain Mainwaring), has already outlined long-term plans to curb immigration by targeting EU citizens on benefits in the UK. In a speech at the end of last year he called for all unemployed immigrants who didn’t find jobs after six months to be deported and for all working immigrants to be stripped of in-work benefits for their first four years in the country. Cameron's further demand that all EU citizens must have a job offer before they move to the UK is likely to be rejected by the European Commission, as it risks infringing one of the EU’s founding principles of freedom of movement.

But the figures on the number of British citizens living on benefits in EU countries makes a mockery of these demands, and reveals their hypocrisy. The same rules would lead to the forced repatriation of tens of thousands of Brits who would then be claiming unemployment benefits in the UK. Just think how surreal that could be – we might have Nigel Farage denouncing a new wave of immigration, a wave made up of British ex-emigrant-immigrants. “Damn those ex-emigrant-immigrants coming over here, scrounging off the British taxpayer. Why don’t they go back to where they came from? Oh, they have.”

Cameron is due to meet Angela Merkel in London today to discuss his plans on EU immigration reform ahead of the G7 Summit in June. Let’s hope that the German leader has read the report and will point out these inconsistencies. And if the subject of immigration in this country has come to resemble the plot of Dad’s Army, we can only hope that our dear leader will ignore the scare-mongering cries of “we’re doomed!” and listen to the far more sensible advice of “don’t panic Mr Mainwaring!”