Divides and RulesPosted: 24/11/2012
Immigration is a political issue, and a divisive one at that. There are those that want restrictions increased to relieve perceived pressure on the state and job market, and those that think they are ineffective and unhelpful for Britain’s economy and culture.
Family immigration I have always viewed as a unique area in this debate – since the main thrust of the campaign against the rule changes is a moral one; not identified by economic or cultural arguments. Indeed, the economic arguments used in justification for the rule changes we have repeatedly dismissed as pointless in light of ‘no recourse to public funds’.
But to criticise other sorts of migrants as somehow responsible for the axe falling on British sponsors is to bark up the wrong tree. A statement being often repeated, socially and now in the media, is that other European citizens have a greater right to family life here than British citizens. While this is true, it certainly isn’t their fault, and it is extremely important not to interpret this as foreign citizens being favoured over British citizens. It’s a point that I believe risks undermining and distracting attention from our intentions, towards one of EU membership and reducing the rights of citizens and non citizens to the lowest outcome – that if ‘we’ can’t have families then ‘they’ shouldn’t either.
Before July 2012 we all had a right to a family life, qualified in different ways. Then, that right for British citizens became qualified beyond all practicality – while the government was unable to affect change on the rights of EEA nationals. But it would be an act of extremely misguided faith to suggest that withdrawal from the EU, and subsequent restrictions on EEA nationals would bring back the right to a family life to British citizens. One must remember that with ‘no recourse to public funds’ already a criteria for family sponsors, it is only the desperate act of saving face that is driving the rule changes, so the government can claim to meet it’s manifesto pledge on reducing net migration. Diminishing the rights of EEA nationals (by withdrawing from the EU or otherwise) would only help them preserve their reputation; not exchange one group’s rights for our own. This is not least because the government plans to abolish the Human Rights Act itself – locking out even further human rights protections, than the ones sponsors are denied already.
The truth is, family reunification has been a staple part of the EU’s human rights framework for decades. The European Convention on Human Rights is the bedrock of domestic human rights protections in the EU’s member states – including Britain. It strikes me that if the EU can sustain protections for a private family life, even while it bears down on its own borders, then there is no reason why British citizens should not be appealing to this higher principle – that we are Europeans too (like it or not), we have these rights in other member states, so why not in our own country? – It’s a far more rallying cry to me than ‘if we aren’t allowed a family life, then they shouldn’t be allowed one either’.
Our campaign simply cannot be allowed to fall into camps over European nationals – their rights haven’t changed, it’s ours that have. As such, European nationals represent the standard that we are striving to restore – by arguing that we should attempt to strip European nationals of their right to a family life, is to consign our own struggle to redundancy; since we will all then be eligible for a means-tested non-EEA relationship in the UK.
In my view, it’s precisely the obsession with sovereignty over home affairs which has resulted in such unfair measures being exacted against sponsors; while all other European nationals have better protected rights, derived from a European level.
The greatest disservice we could do to our fight and to other sponsors and families is to start carving up migrants as the deserving and undeserving – and with such laudable aims, it would be dangerous to leave ourselves vulnerable to divide and rule within the wider immigration and EU debates. We all have the right to a family life under the UN Declaration of Human Rights; one which needs to be realised fully for British citizens and residents too. Pointing the finger at others won’t strengthen our argument, but merely chip away at the credibility of our cause.
Finally, one thing we lack is optimism, and understandably so. When cheated out of a family by your own government, it’s easy to scorn others who have not. So I want to appeal to EEA nationals to join the campaign to restore the right to a family life for British sponsors too, 1) because tensions between Britain and the EU may recoil onto your rights too, and 2) because you demonstrate and exercise a standard of rights we once shared, and long to have back.