Everyone’s favourite unelected European was doing the broadcasting rounds this morning, popping up on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show to tell David Cameron that he can forget any plans to cap the number of EU immigrants in Britain. Here’s what José Manuel Barroso had to say:-
“Any kind of arbitrary cap seems to be not in conformity with Europeans laws. For us it is very important – the principle of non-discrimination. The freedom of movement is a very important principle in the internal market: movement of goods, of capital, of services and of people. By the way, I remember when prime minister Cameron called me to ask the commission to be tough ensuring the freedom of movement between Gibraltar and Spain.
The British citizens have freedom of movement all over Europe. There are 700,000 living in Spain. So the principle of the freedom of movement is essential, we have to keep it.”
Coming on the day that Cameron floated his idea to impose caps on the number of National Insurance numbers issued to EU immigrants, this sends a clear message: forget it, Dave. Negotiate about the number of EU nationals given benefits; hell, boot out the unemployed ones if you like, that’s in the rules. But when it comes to work, no EU member is allowed to discriminate against the members of any other EU member in anything.
The Portguese politician has spent years providing soundbites that play well in Ukip campaigns. Even more than the disgruntled voters of Clacton or Rotherham, or this or that defecting Tory, Barroso may be the individual most responsible for Ukip’s enduring appeal.
Today, specifically, Barroso told British viewers that EU membership could help protect against… the Ebola virus.
‘David Cameron wrote to all of us about Ebola,’ Barroso told Marr, adding: ‘What would be the influence of a prime minister of Britain if it was not part of the European Union? His influence would be zero.’
The deadly fever, mind you, has no apparent preference in the geopolitical status of its victims. Though as Rod Liddle points out in his latest Spectator column, this has so far, mostly, been a ‘disease which kills poor black people.’
Having reached the end of two terms at the EU helm, Barroso will be moving on from his Commission Presidency at the end of this month. He remains, however, as dogged as ever in not-addressing Britons’ concerns about Europe.
Citing Ebola seemed a particularly ham-fisted way for Barroso to try to gin UK support for the Union, liable as it was to only prompt relief at the wide English Channel and Bay of Biscay that separate Brits from, say, Spanish victims of the disease. Happy Sunday, Nigel Farage.
[UPDATE] The Tories lost no time in responding to Barroso, saying – in effect – that it doesn’t matter what he thinks is possible; that they bested him before and will do again. A punchy Grant Shapps, the Conservative Party chairman, told Sunday Politics:
‘Barroso’s only the latest person from Europe to tell us we’ll never get what we want. But remember, we were never going to get the rebate that Margaret Thatcher successfully got; we were never going to get to pull back powers but we’ve done that for a whole lot of competences; we were never going to get a cut in the EU budget, people said that was impossible, but David Cameron’s negotiated that. There are lots of impossible things that we’ve managed to do in Europe.’
Schapps also declined to be baited on how he would vote in a hypothetical all-or-nothing choice on EU membership. He said:
‘If we don’t get the change that people want to see then it doesn’t matter how I vote, people will get that vote – 47 million voters in this country can make that decision for themselves: is the deal we’ve got the right one? That’s the advantage to having a referendum, but there’s only one route to a referendum – you’ve got to have a Conservative government. Nobody else is going to provide it for you.’