A recent, highly reported, concern among many Britons has been the large numbers of immigrants making their way to the UK from the EU, whether it be in search of much sought after jobs or, as some argue, to exploit the welfare system. David Cameron’s Tory Government pledged to reduce net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ in an effort to appease the electorate and draw attention away from UKIP. However, problems arise due to the UKs commitment to the EU which has an underlining principle of the free of movement of people. It is this barrier that is thwarting David Cameron’s Tory party from giving credence to such pledges mentioned. Most recently, the latest obstacle from the EU is Angela Merkel who is reported to have said she would rather the UK leave the EU than it reform its immigration policy thus threatening the free movement of people.
Two predominant issues arise from this, first is David Cameron has said that reform of immigration is one of the main policy proposals he will focus on when renegotiating the UKs position within the EU. Secondly, following the previous is that if reform on immigration is unachievable with the UK as an EU member then it is likely the anti-EU rhetoric will grow stronger parallel to the the possibility of the UK leaving the EU.
UKIP are without a doubt the rising political party in the UK and evidently the first issue of the impact on renegotiation will have a profound effect on UKIPs position in the UK. The dominant argument David Cameron’s party has for the electorate to not vote UKIP is that he can achieve reform within the EU. However, as identified, such reform looks impossible if other member states follow the line of Merkel and thus what begins as an issue of embarrassment for the Tory party transcends into a bolstering success for UKIP as their support will grow. The economy is important here too as although it is reportedly growing many people still feel a sense of vulnerability in employment and with immigration in 2013/14 at 243,000 (ONS) the failure to reform the openness of borders within the EU will accumulate increased fears over the competitiveness of jobs and drive people further towards UKIP, wounding the main political parties.
Alternatively, If the Tory party are fully committed to delivering immigration policy but don’t want to face the humiliation of losing voter confidence to UKIP they have two options: the first is to press ahead with reform regardless, which is what George Osborne has said will happen because it is in the UKs ‘national interest’, and hope that the EU doesn't react negatively; the second is to bring forward a referendum planned for 2017 and allow the public to choose whether the UK remains in the EU.
The consequences of the first options pursuance are unknown. The EU may demand the UK retract the reform or face expulsion or alternatively they may actually accept it as the UK is a key member within the EU. Aside from the EU, the fact the government is pressing ahead with reform will play well for the Tory party as it shows them fighting for the British public although there will certainly be a sense it is strategic given the general election is only months away. The second option is feeble but possible nonetheless as it would give a clear indication as to whether the government should press ahead with reform or simply leave the EU altogether, though the 2017 referendum already attracts scepticism as it is without an earlier one being proposed.
As the UK and EU clash over such policy reform, the events of the coming months will have a profound impact on the UKs position within the EU. The outcomes are unpredictable and only time will tell as to the UK government's commitment to reform and the EUs opposition of it.