Perhaps the most startling claim of the government’s pro-EU leaflet is that ‘We control our own borders’. For me, perhaps the primary reason for leaving the EU is to regain control of our borders, so I did a bit of a double take when I saw that our government was pretending that we already have such control.
It transpires that what they mean is that we are not part of the Schengen Area, and have retained border controls, by which is meant the right and the means to stop people when they physically enter the UK, check their passport or identity card (and visa if required) to ensure that they are allowed to come into country, and check their baggage also for anything that is banned or restricted or liable for duty.
The Schengen Agreement, which was originally separate from the European Community, was incorporated into EU law through the Amsterdam Treaty, which was signed in October 1997 and came in to force in 1999. The UK and Ireland secured an opt-out from it at that time. As with the euro, I suspect that many who read:
would assume that this was something achieved by the Cameron government rather than that of Major (their part up to May 1997) or Blair. Nevertheless, it may be admitted that our position in the EU, with its opt-outs, does allow us to retain border controls, as defined above.
Much more problematic, however, is what is written on page 12:
We do not have control of our borders. With very few exceptions, any EU national is free to move to England to live and work here. To quote from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford:
EU citizens are a key group as they enjoy free movement within the European Union and the government cannot limit their rights to live and work in the UK in the same way that it does for non-EU nationals.
If we cannot limit the number of people moving here from the other 27 EU nations, then it seems to me that we do not control our borders, in the most obvious and important sense of the expression. We can check their passports and their baggage, but we cannot in general refuse entry nor even limit how long they stay. So it is not true, if the words are used in their more natural sense, to say that the UK has ‘kept control of UK borders’.
‘We control our own borders’
Somewhere between truth and falsehood is the following claim on page 10:
Here, one might say, the government tries to redefine ‘we control our own borders’ to mean ‘we maintain border controls’, which is a different thing, as I have argued. Along the same lines, but more stark, is the following on page 11:
Again, what this amounts to is an attempt to redefine by our government to redefine the meaning of words to suit their purposes. They want to be able to say ‘We control our own borders’, even though in fact we don’t, in the normal sense of the words. We have border checks, but we do not have the ability to restrict the number of people coming to live here from EU countries.
A false counter-argument
On page 10 of the pdf, the leaflet says:
Some argue that leaving the EU would give us more freedom to limit immigration. But in return for the economic benefits of access to the EU’s Single Market, non-EU countries – such as Norway – have had to accept the right of all EU citizens to live and work in their country.
This is an outrageous and false counter-argument to our claim that by leaving the EU we could regain our ability to restrict immigration from EU countries. It is well known that if we were to choose the Norway (EFTA-EEA) option, we would thereby be accepting the provision for freedom of movement of people within the EEA. That is why those like myself who want to regain this control over immigration do not propose joining the EEA, or even EFTA (which allows freedom of movement of people within EFTA nations). Those like Richard North who prefer that we remain in the Single Market (for a time), accept that we would have to accept free movement of people from EU and EFTA nations.
So the government’s counter-argument is false. Those who advocate regaining the ‘freedom to limit immigration’ do not propose that we remain in the Single Market, and therefore we would not have ‘to accept the right of all EU citizens to live and work in [our] country.’