As Conservative Eurosceptics digested David Cameron’s long-awaited speech on immigration, they had a familiar sense of disappointment and anti-climax.
Their hopes had been raised by recent headlines suggesting the Prime Minister would propose a cap or quota on EU migration to Britain.
These reports were encouraged by some Cabinet ministers and Downing Street, before it belatedly tried to apply an emergency brake to the speculation. Cameron started it: only eight weeks ago, he made a dramatic promise to the British people when he addressed the Tory conference. Deliberately looking the TV cameras in the eye, he said on EU migration: “It will be at the very heart of my renegotiation strategy for Europe. Britain, I know you want this sorted so I will go to Brussels, I will not take no for an answer and when it comes to free movement – I will get what Britain needs.”
Yesterday, he abandoned his attempt to smash the EU’s tablet of stone on the free movement of people after running into strong opposition in other EU capitals. He tried to mask his retreat by promising yet another crackdown – a four-year wait for EU migrants before they can claim in-work benefits such as tax credits.
Cue more “Cameron gets tough” headlines in Tory-supporting newspapers yesterday after a Downing Street spin operation. In fact, the Prime Minister’s speech was much more balanced than the advance billing suggested. He spoke about the benefits of both immigration and EU membership, showing he has learnt from at least some of his previous mistakes.
By focusing on in-work benefits, he dropped the Tory canard that the big problem is EU migrants coming to the UK to claim benefits. As his critics have long pointed out, the vast majority come here to work.
Cameron had listened to Foreign Office advice: there was no point in making an impossible demand on free movement, but there is an appetite in several other EU nations for benefit reforms. Yet it won’t be easy to get the new European treaty he acknowledged would be needed.
Some countries would have to hold a referendum on it, and their leaders would be wary in the anti-politics age of staging what would become a vote of confidence in themselves. I doubt very much that a new treaty could be a done deal before the in/out referendum Cameron has promised in 2017 – not least because Germany and France have general elections in that year.
10 things immigration has done for Britain
10 things immigration has done for Britain
1/10 The Mini
The 1959 classic, that is, perhaps our greatest piece of industrial design, a miracle of packaging and revolution in motoring. Its genius designer was Sir Alec Issigonis, who was an asylum seeker. His family, Greek, fled Smyrna when Turks invaded this borderland in around 1920, and he wound up studying engineering at Battersea Polytechnic. He went on to create that most English of motor cars, the Morris Minor, as well as the Austin-Morris 1100, all much loved products of his fertile imagination.
2/10 Marks and Spencer
Once upon a time there was no M&S in Britain, difficult as that may be to believe. We have one Michael Marks to thank for our most famous retailer, and he was a refugee from Belarus, arriving in England in about 1882, and soon after set off to flog stuff around Yorkshire. He eventually teamed with Thomas Spencer to create the vast business we know today.
And many other TV shows created, funded and otherwise produced by that largest of larger-than-life characters, Lew Grade (also a world class tap dancer). The man who dominated commercial television gave us memorable entertainment such as The Prisoner, the Saint and brought the Muppets to Britain (a sort of fuzzy felt wave of immigration), as well as puppet shows where you could see the strings. All this from a penniless Jew from Ukraine, born Lev Winogradsky, who escaped the pogroms in Ukraine with his family in the 1890s. His nephew Michael Grade has also done his bit for British television.
4/10 The House of Windsor
Or the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha until George V prudently rebranded the family during the First World War. Well, our royals are a pretty German bunch, as well as having various types of French and other alien blue blood coursing around their veins. ‘Twas ever thus. There was William the Conqueror, Norman French, who certainly broke the immigration rules; William of Orange, a direct import from Holland; the Hanoverian King Georges, the first barely able to speak English; Queen Victoria, who married a German, Edward VII, who couldn’t stay faithful to his wife, a Danish princess; George V wed another German princess; Edward VIII married an American (though she hardly visited England and prompted his emigration and exile); and the Queen is married to man born in Corfu. The embodiment of the British nation, to many, but one thinks of them as quite multicultural really.
5/10 I Vow To Thee My Country
Our most patriotic hymn was the product of a man named Gustav Holst (pictured), born in Cheltenham, but of varied Swedish, Latvian and German ancestry, who adapted part of his suite The Planets to put a particularly stirring and beautiful poem to music, just after the Great War. As the second verse has it, “there's another country/I've heard of long ago/Most dear to them that love her/most great to them that know”. Imagine if the Holst family had been kept out because the quota on musical European types had been reached.
6/10 Curry and Cobra
Chicken Tikka Masala is, so they say, a dish which not only the most popular in Britain but specifically designed to cater for European tastes. For that we probably have to thank an Indian migrant, Sake Dean Mahomed, who came from Bengal to open the first recognisable Indian restaurant, the magnificently named “Hindoostanee Coffee House”. History does not record if a plate of poppadoms and accompanying selection of pickles and yoghurts were routinely placed on the table for new diners, but we do know that we had to wait until 1989 to taste the ideal lager for a curry - Cobra. That brew was brought to us by Karan (now Lord) Bilimoria, a Cambridge law graduate who hailed from Hyderabad.
7/10 That big red swirly sculpture at the Olympic Park
Or Orbit, to give it its proper name, the work of Anish Kapoor, who arrived in 1973 from India and had the artistic imagination to fill a power station.
8/10 The Sun
Love it or hate it, and many do both, this has been a symbol of much that is successful and a lot that is awful in British journalism since its inception in 1969. In its turn it spawned the Page 3 Girl and some nastily xenophobic headlines. All the stranger when you consider its creator was, of course, Rupert Murdoch, born 11 March 1931 in Melbourne, Australia.
OK, Karl Marx’s philosophy was not much of a gift to the world, but for a while it seemed like a good idea. Though we might not dare admit it, Marxism still has a few insights to offer to anyone wanting to understand the workings of capitalism, though too few to excuse everything that was done in its name. Born in Germany spent much time in the British museum and the British pub, buried Highgate Cemetery. Oddly, his ideas never really caught on in his adopted homeland.
10/10 The NHS
They came from many, many backgrounds, including Ireland, the Philippines, east Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa, as they still do, but the contribution of the black nurses who came to the UK from the Caribbean to heal and care for is a debt of honour that must be recognised. It so sometimes forgotten that it was Enoch Powell, then Minister of Health (1960-62), who campaigned to recruit their skilled nurses to come and work over here. One abiding legacy we can thank Enoch for.
Cameron also bowed to Foreign Office advice not to demand a special deal for Britain, which would have gone down like a lead balloon in Brussels. Instead, he argued that his proposals would be good for the 28-nation bloc. He did not put a gun to the EU’s head by threatening to recommend withdrawal in the referendum if his demands are not met. There was an implied threat but it was not as strong as Conservative Eurosceptics had hoped; pro-Europeans judged that he had stepped back from the brink of “Brexit” (British exit).
Cameron has also been listening to George Osborne, who is worried about fears in the business community that the Tories’ EU strategy has put the UK on a slippery slope to “Brexit.” Perhaps the Prime Minister got the message when he spoke at the CBI conference earlier this month. Ed Miliband got a better reception than he did after promising never to put Britain’s place in the EU at risk. Hence Cameron’s statement yesterday that he wanted to get a deal that would allow the country to stay in.
His attack on Ukip was strong but, unlike Miliband in his “fightback speech” this month, Cameron did not summon up the courage to name Nigel Farage or his party. Presumably, he did not want to offend the Tory supporters who have gone over to Ukip.
Inevitably, Tory Eurosceptics who chose to believe the hype in recent weeks felt let down. “He has done his Grand Old Duke of York act yet again,” one complained. The good news for Cameron is that, with an election coming, many Tory Eurpohobes will moan about his EU strategy in private rather than public. “We don’t like it, but we have to realise that divided parties cost votes,” one senior backbencher said. “MPs with marginal seats are saying that we cannot afford to be talking to ourselves on Europe.”
Cameron allies pointed out that the Eurosceptics will never be satisfied. As one adviser put it: “If they say they are happy, it begs the question – what is the point of them?” Yesterday’s speech was not designed to make immigration a big issue at next May’s general election. In fact, the aim was the very opposite.
In private, Cameron speaks of “getting the boulder [immigration] off the road” so the Conservatives can focus on the economy, which they regard as their trump card and Labour’s Achilles heel. The timing of The Great Speech was dictated by the Chancellor’s autumn statement next Wednesday, which will put the economy centre stage. It was also timed to eclipse embarrassing figures on Thursday showing that net migration had risen to 260,000, reminding voters of the Tories’ target to reduce it to under 100,000 by next year.
Significantly, the Prime Minister declined to play a numbers game yesterday, saying only that his package would “reduce significantly EU migration.” But the damage has been done. By missing the target he set in 2010, Cameron has made his task of convincing a sceptical British public on this issue much harder. His broken promise, for which he refused to apologise, will return to haunt him and plays into Ukip’s hands. “I’m a politician, trust me” doesn’t work any more.Reuse content