The Brief – A Brexit foretold

The Brief is Euractiv's evening newsletter.

Theresa May’s government formally started pulling up the drawbridge between the UK and the EU on Wednesday.

Whether or not EU nationals will eventually be required to have a job paying more than £30,000 before they can make the UK their home is irrelevant. The immigration White Paper spells out the direction of travel in dazzling technicolour. The number of EU migrants to the UK is expected to fall by as much as 80% over the next five years. Suddenly the Channel feels a lot wider.

This seemed unthinkable back in 2005, the high water mark for British left-liberalism. Tony Blair’s Labour government comfortably won a third term in May of that year. One of the Conservative’s billboard campaigns proclaimed that “it’s not racist to worry about immigration”. The response of Labour and the Liberal Democrats was essential to say ‘yes, it is’. In retrospect, the Tories were right.

But hubris was in the air. When the EU-10 joined the bloc in 2004, the UK did not impose any restrictions on freedom of movement, unlike Germany. Several years later it became clear that the Home Office’s forecast of 13,000 extra European migrants moving to the UK was a wild underestimate.

The warning signs were there. In both the 2004 and 2009 European elections, UKIP topped the poll in much of provincial England.

But the average of 50,000 EU migrants making their lives in the UK each year would not have been a problem if Labour and then the Conservative governments had given extra financial support to the communities that were adversely affected in the form of longer waiting lists for healthcare, school places and housing.

They did not. These were fatal mistakes, and the liberal elite – most of whom are europhiles –  have paid a high price for their high-handed arrogance. For a group that prides itself for its tolerance, liberal Britons treated their countrymen with surprising disdain.

Brexiteers may say that the desire to claw back national sovereignty was their main motivation in the 2016 referendum, but it was the public’s desire to curb migration that won it.

Business leaders may protest at the effects of migration curbs on their firms and the wider economy, but my guess is that most Britons will welcome the government’s goals, if not necessarily the means of getting there.

Britons may well have a busy time at the polls in 2019. A second referendum is, if still unlikely, no less likely than a ‘no deal’ Brexit or Theresa May’s unloved deal being approved by MPs. Nor is another general election. But many of Britain’s liberals are still unable to understand the anger felt by the left-behind who voted for Brexit, and would do so again.

Migration lies at the root of it. Until the Brits accept their failure to take provincial England with them, and that nothing was to address the negative effects of freedom of movement on public services and jobs in some regions, the UK will remain bitterly divided, regardless of whether she eventually leaves or remains.

The Roundup

by Alexandra Brzozowski

For our fellow Americans 2018 ends with a bang as US defence secretary Mattis resigns, and President Trump year ends in chaos. In his annual end-of-the-year media extravaganza, Russian President Putin accused the US of raising the risk of nuclear war.

Meanwhile, the Dutch consider dragging Russia to an international court over the downing of flight MH17 after talks over responsibility ground to an impasse.

Belgian government melt-down has been avoided. Although King Philippe accepted the resignation of PM Michel, he asked the cabinett to stay on as caretaker government until May.

A you ready for a nightmare before Christmas? One of them could be the lack of a legal framework on cybersecurity risks for children’s toys.

Governments should pay attention to the consequences of their policies and compensate vulnerable groups that could be hit by new taxes, the OECD warned.

In a pre-Christmas attempt to reduce tensions in Catalonia, the Spanish government decided to hold its weekly cabinet meeting in Barcelona this time. Separatist pro-independence groups are not amused.

More than three million young people are unemployed in the EU. EURACTIV travelled across Europe to find out how the Cohesion Fund helps them.

On a less cheerfull note: With climate change, life in the Gulf could become impossible, writes Jonathan Gornall, warning this could create social upheaval on the grandest of scales.

The EU’s bid to phase out regulated electricity prices looked set to win approval from EU member states until the ‘yellow vest’ movement killed it. In an end-of-the-year move, truck emissions rules got the green light from EU capitals, but tough talks loom.

Our last edition of Tweets of the Week for 2018  features an episode for festive cheer, we have a musical round up of the EU bubble year.

Look out for…

This is the last EURACTIV newsletter of 2018. We will be back in your inbox on January 7th, 2019.

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