"I dislike immigrants more than you do." This seems to be the thrust of current political campaigning, and last week gave Ukip its second MP. When I went to live in the Netherlands 35 years ago, it was to be closer to my girlfriend. I had no private income and few marketable skills. I quit my degree to go, much to the consternation of my working-class parents because I [like Neil Kinnock] was the first in my family to go to university. Once there, not working was not an option. I became a painter of the Dutch school – that is, I got a job painting Dutch schools.
Getting that job was not easy. To get the verblijfsvergunning, or "permission to stay", beyond an initial three months, I had to show I had a job. However, my job applications would only be considered if I had already secured a verblijfsvergunning. All very catch-22.
Not only that, but I would not be eligible for any benefits until I had been in full-time employment for a set period (at least six months, as I recall). This was a time when "free movement of labour" was meant to be easy.
My point is that this all seemed perfectly reasonable to me at the time, as it would to most EU migrants now. People come here to work. They are not the feckless layabouts of caricature. I worked for two years in the Netherlands during which time I was only a burden upon the Dutch taxpayer for two weeks (during the particularly harsh winter of 1981, when the building industry froze to a halt). For the rest of my time there I was a taxpayer.
Fast forward to now. That girlfriend became my wife 33 years ago and is the mother of our two children. Anya moved to Britain in 1982 as a trained nurse. Unlike, I suspect, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, Nick Clegg's partner, or Kirsten Mehr, Nigel Farage's wife, she was told to register with the local police as an "alien". She has now lived here longer than she lived in her home country. For most of those years she has worked in the NHS and is now an advanced nurse practitioner. She has never received benefits (beyond child allowance and paid maternity leave) and has spent almost 28 years dutifully paying her taxes.
I share all this now, not to blow anyone's trumpet, but to underline what the Confederation of British Industry, University College London and others have told us in recent weeks: that EU migration is a force for good. It is also a two-way process, with up to two million UK nationals living in the other 27 EU states.
Last month, my wife's NHS unit was visited by Theresa May, in her capacity as the MP for Maidenhead. During her visit she encountered, as well as my wife, dedicated staff from Ireland, Spain, Iraq, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa. You would think the obvious conclusions would not have been missed by the Home Secretary. I don't think we're feckless. Are there no politicians who will stand up for us?Reuse content