Tannock: Mozambican migrants can vote in the UK referendum, but my Slovak wife can’t

MEP Charles Tannock [Flickr]

The UK referendum on Europe is heavily stacked in favour of the Brexiteers, MEP Charles Tannock told EURACTIV Slovakia in an exclusive interview.

Charles Ayrton Tannock is a British politician, psychiatrist, and Member of the European Parliament for London, for the Conservative Party.

Tannock spoke to EURACTIV Slovakia’s Andrej Furik.

What do you think the result of the upcoming referendum will be?

At the moment, I am very pessimistic. [The interview was taken before the murder of Jo Cox on Thursday (16 June).] We’ve now a few days to go and the opinion polls show a very consistent lead for Leave. It’s not good at all at this stage of the campaign. We should be well ahead.

On the economics, we [the Remain side] win hands down. Unfortunately, we are witnessing a very dishonest campaign by the Brexiteers, who made up all sorts of things about the EU – partly based on ignorance, partly prejudice, and partly, even when they are corrected, on deliberate lying and disinformation.

Now, having decided they can’t win on the economics – after they tried to discredit all the major authorities – IMF, Bank of England, Treasury and so on, on the economic impact of Brexit – they now focus exclusively on the immigration story, about controlling our borders and controlling migration.

They conflated European migration with non-European migration, even though it has been pointed out many times that the majority (70% over the last 15 years) is non-EU migration (to Britain). The EU citizens that have come have been younger, fitter, work hard, contribute to the economy, take out less than they put in, and they are absolutely essential to man the public services, including the health service, construction industry and our service sector and so on.

The EU migrants themselves (around 3 million) have no vote. So, the irony is, if you were somebody arriving from a country like Mozambique, with no connections to Britain at all, you have a vote in the referendum. Somebody coming in from the EU, like my wife, from Slovakia, who lives in the UK for 12 years now, she has no vote. I consider that very unfair myself.

The British expats, who have been abroad for more than 15 years, lost their vote, so many of the Brits in Europe (Spain, France etc.) who would have voted Remain, lost their vote.

So it’s heavily stacked in favour of the Brexiteers.

Do you think the Remain campaign has done enough to overcome this?

Not enough has been done to make the case to the British voters that the British economy has actually done extremely well over the last few years in the EU. We’ve got good growth rates, we have very low unemployment, and there is no evidence that the EU migrants are taking their jobs. In fact, the Europeans have largely done jobs which Brits weren’t prepared to do.

I don’t think my side has made a strong enough positive case – what the EU does for you – everything from the freedom of movement, to students, to be treated abroad when you’re sick, the quality of the air you breathe, the food you eat, all these kind of things that are practical advantages for an average member of the public.

They have talked about the risks, which I think in fairness are genuine. I don’t think the PM tries to scare. He’s trying to point out that there is a serious risk to the economy. There is a serious risk to peace and security in Europe.

The other side speaks of a democratic deficit, and nobody understands the EU well enough to challenge them half the time. I have been here a very long time and I am constantly aware of people misquoting, saying the laws are made by unelected officials in the Commission, when they are actually made by an elected parliament and elected governments in the Council of Ministers.

The Sun’s editor, which is a big tabloid in Britain supporting Brexit, is saying the EU is going on an ever closer integrationalist, federalist agenda, (that) we can’t stop it and we will be sucked into it. The editor of the Sun quoted the five presidents report as the evidence, which was entirely for the Eurozone, which Britain is not part of and never will be, and that that report was blocked in the Council by the Germans. Sadly, the BBC wasn’t informed enough about the EU to challenge his assertion

What will be the consequences of Brexit for the UK?

It depends on the deal that will be negotiated. I do not accept that there will be an easy ride for Britain. Why would there be? Why would the EU give us a generous package, no penalty on exit? If they did that, they would encourage the entire project to unwind. Why would the Germans want to stay in the EU if the Brits can be outside and enjoy all the advantages without any costs? I am expecting a hard deal and I am expecting economic problems for Britain.

It is going around, that the House of Commons has an inbuilt majority which is pro-Remain, but if there is a Brexit vote to leave, they may try impose on the government. Even if it’s, say Boris Johnson, as PM, but whoever the PM is, the leader of the Tory party becomes PM automatically if Cameron goes, which is very likely, sadly. The least worst option is a Norwegian EEA style status for Britain.

Personally, I think it is a terrible solution for Britain. We won’t shape or make the legislation, we’d pay most of the money, and we have to adopt most of the legislation But at least we have the free movement of the people and we have access to the single market, which are the two big pluses. But I really can’t see why we are giving up the EU to become Norway. For a big country, it is ridiculous.

There will be a big battle going on between those Brexiteers who are absolute sovereignists, who want to be just WTO and totally unconnected to any of the European commitments, scrutiny or supervision. Because even the Norwegian model does involves a supranational authority over national jurisdiction. Sovereignists won’t like that. And those who are obsessed about immigration, they won’t like the fact that Norway has got more migrants from the EU per capita than Britain does.

How can Brexit affect the EU?

Brexit would be a geopolitical catastrophic mistake, not just for Britain and its economy and our own future, but also destabilising the entire European project. Who knows what the consequences will be if there are other countries, where there is a big rise in nationalism because of large migration movements (Holland, Austria, France etc.). If there is a Brexit, it will be seen as a model.

Well I am very worried. There is a real danger that we will see other countries follow, unless the EU plays very tough with Britain in terms of the package. There is a real risk if they demand a referendum in let’s say Holland, you might get a same result.

You are a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. How would a Brexit affect the foreign policy of the EU?

I think it weakens both. It weakens the EU, because Britain is a major player, part of the Security Council, has the most effective armed forces in the EU together with France, and is a nuclear power as well. Britain has strong links with the US and the Commonwealth. Britain is a very useful member that links the EU in various directions. It also takes out Britain as a major military power in terms of links with large chunks of (former colonies in) Africa.

I was talking to the new ambassador to the African Union, who said it’s going to be much more difficult to sell the EU to African countries if the UK is gone, because many of these countries have historical links with Britain. I think the CFSP will be damaged.

The UK alone, on the other hand, loses its leadership role. For instance, the Eunavfor Atalanta maritime anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia has been a great success story, and it has been a Royal Navy-led operation. If the UK leaves, it will no longer be commanding such missions.

What are the expectations in the European Parliament from the upcoming Slovak presidency of the Council?

To be fair, I don’t think we have talked about it a great deal. People have been so focused on the other crises, everything from the migrant crisis to Brexit and keeping the eurozone together.

How is the Slovak position on migration regarded in the European Parliament?

The kind of hard line that Fico takes is respected, actually, by the most of the political right and centre-right We respect the sovereign right of a country like Slovakia to determine its immigration policy.

Slovakia has played hardball, and so far it seems to be getting away with it. But whether the Commission will try to impose fines… If the Commission starts to demands huge amounts of money (€250,000 per refugee), I think Slovakia might be pushed into a kind of Brexit scenario.

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