Sky News recently trumpeted that according to an ‘exclusive’ poll by professional research company Survation, the UK is currently split right down the middle over EU membership. When asked ‘Do you think that the UK should remain a member of the European Union?” it said, 51% of those polled said NO and 49% said YES. Oddly, even though Survation’s own website describes this as a “statistical dead heat”, http://www.politicshome.com/ states that the poll “makes it clear what voters want”.    

Delve a little deeper, however, and the author of the Sky News report admits that these headline-grabbing statistics disregard the number of ‘don’t know’ responses. So in actuality, when asked whether the UK should remain a member of the EU, 44% said yes, 45% no and 11% don’t know. So it is only by excluding over one-tenth of those polled that we get to the 51% wanting out, the real figure in fact being only 45%.  I am already starting to get a headache.  

Naturally, immigration is at the very top of the list of our concerns with 65% of survey respondents wanting control over immigration between EU countries returned to the UK.  Cue glee from UKIP. The report concludes that Britain’s future in Europe ‘sits on a knife edge’. Even though any referendum is likely not to occur until 2017 (if at all, see below), some 51% can already be sure that they ‘want out’ (again of course, disregarding the ‘don’t knows’, but let’s not complicate things).  I suppose that one attraction of being so clear as to your vote so far in advance is there is no risk of your opinions becoming cluttered up with any actual facts, but we shall let that pass for now.  

 The immediate backdrop to this current storm is two-fold (or actually three-fold). Firstly, immigration restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians are set to lift on 1 January 2014.  Secondly, Croatia is now confirmed to join the EU on 1 July 2013, albeit with time-limited work restrictions akin to those imposed on their previously newbie Romanian and Bulgarian EU buddies. A current e-petition at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions which has amassed over 100,000 signatures calls on the Government to continue restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarians for a further 5 years, citing as usual the “flood” of Poles to the UK as reason for this.

Here’s the thing, however – the Government cannot actually do this. Its hands are tied by the ‘EUSSR’ (as one particularly excited member of the public commenting on the Sky News piece lovingly coins Brussels).  Under EU law, the UK Government cannot put any further restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians beyond 1 January 2014, however much the public or ‘e-petition.com’ wants them to.  So therein lies the current political problem, explaining perhaps why the debate has now rolled on to talk of a full-blown referendum.  Above I referred to a third reason for the current storm, which is, of course, the next UK general election scheduled for 2015.  That being the case, why isn’t Mr Cameron promising a referendum until 2017? It is just immigration going back to being a political football with even Labour being forced to re-think its position on a referendum, according to reports this week.  If that particular ball can be hoofed into the long grass until well after the election, none of the parties will need to tackle their essential impotence on the point until another day, despite UKIP’s yapping away around their feet. 

If ‘the powers that be’ cannot reduce net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ (which they can’t), then they will promise voters a referendum on the EU as a placebo. And in this vein, albeit with significantly less fanfare than Sky News, the Home Office has published a public Call for Evidence on ‘the Government’s Review of the balance of competencies between the UK and the EU’. Working alongside the Department for Work & Pensions, the focus of this Review is on ‘the free movement of persons’, one of the fundamental Four Freedoms which comprise the EU internal market. It is an impact-based assessment on the movement of EEA nationals and their families on the UK economy and labour market, as well as its societal and cultural repercussions. More succinctly perhaps, ‘What have EU migrants ever done for the UK?’

The closing date for responses is 5 August 2013 and more information can be found via the Gov.uk website. 

NB, Mr EUSSR, only responses based on ‘objective, factual information’ are required, from respondents with ‘a key area of expertise’ in this area.  Sorry, and all that.