Politics journalist and Morzine lover David Freeman is back with a second article on the potential impact of BREXIT on the ex-pats, tourists and season workers of Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz.
The EU referendum campaign started last weekend. Within hours of David Cameron firing the starting gun in Downing Street the emotive nature of the arguments became clear.
David Cameron described a vote to leave the EU as a “leap into the dark”, a phrase he has repeated on a number of occasions since. There were appeals for loyalty, accusations of self-interest, Boris Johnson joined the leave team and Ian Duncan Smith said that if we stay in the EU we are more likely to suffer a Paris type terrorist attack. The rhetoric is going to become more extreme as the vote approaches and each side will be trying to scare us into voting as they wish.
The reality is that neither the “stay in” nor “the leave” camp really know what the World will look like on the day after the referendum, and that we, the voters, have to take everything that is said by the politicians with a large pinch of salt. Having said that, it is probably fair to say that a vote to leave will lead to a far more uncertain future than a vote to stay.
However, there are some realities that cannot be ignored. Immigration and open borders has been a major driver of the campaign to leave. If the UK does leave the EU there is no doubt there will be huge political pressure to make immigration into the UK more complicated and difficult from EU countries.
As many have commented there is a huge French community in the UK who will want to stay. The South Kensington area of London feels like the centre of Paris, and London is, if you look at the number of French people living there, the sixth largest French city. They bring activity, jobs, investment and they like our tax system. They even have a minister in the French Government who looks after French expatriates living abroad. A high proportion are wealthy people who have been able to move to London, which is getting more expensive by the minute. They will find a way to stay, whether the UK stays in or leaves. This is because they have money.
Current immigration laws in the UK allow anyone from anywhere, Europe or not, to move to the UK if they can invest £2,000,000 in UK shares or bonds. You can come from anywhere if you want to set up a business and have £250,000 to invest and will create jobs. You can come from anywhere if you get a work permit because you are highly qualified for a job. So the UK borders are open to the World if you are wealthy, well qualified or lucky.
The same is true in France. In fact nearly every country has an immigration system that allows the wealthy of the World to move and live where they want. Some countries in the EU even offer EU passports to people from all over the World if they can invest enough money.
It is the rest of us, without those resources, that have to rely on the free movement that the EU allows. You don’t need £2,000,000 or £250,000 or an impressive degree to move within Europe at the moment. That could change.
So if we leave the EU and as a result French citizens and others find moving to the UK more complicated and expensive, its highly likely France and other countries in the EU will treat people from the UK in the same way. In short, if we make it more difficult for, say, the French or the Germans to enjoy the benefits of living in London, why shouldn’t they make it more difficult for the British to enjoy the benefits of living in their countries.
There is no doubt there will still be trade, and the wealthy and well qualified will be able to apply for work permits and visas to live where they want. It wont be impossible, but those without substantial resources will find living and working in the mountains in Europe more complicated.
As has been pointed out, the tourists will still travel and London and Paris and the other capitals of Europe will want to make sure their tourist trades continue. But the tourists will be short-term visitors, who can’t stay and work.
In the last two days, the pound has fallen against the Euro. The big fall came when Boris Johnson announced he was siding with the leave team. The credit rating agencies whose opinions are so important when it comes to the cost of UK borrowing, have predicted a downgrade in UK debt if we leave. It seems likely that holidays in Europe will become more expensive for British tourists, unless our departure from the EU triggers the break up or fear of a break up of the EU itself.
Ian Duncan Smith suggested on Sunday that a Paris style terror attack was more likely if the UK stays in the EU. He pointed out that the attackers were able to plan the attack in one country and conduct it in another. But he failed to mention the important fact that the UK is not part of the Schengen system. There are border controls and passport checks between mainland Europe and the UK.
Referring to the tragic and horrendous attacks in Paris on day one of the EU referendum campaign, in a political context, was surprising for a politician who projects a more gentle exterior than some. However it shows how emotive this debate has become.
On the other side of the argument, David Cameron suggested last week that if we left the EU, the present arrangement, the Le Touquet Treaty, with France whereby we station immigration officers on the French side of the Channel may end. He was trying to project the idea of the jungle refugee camp in Calais erupting on the English side of the Channel. The reality is that the majority of refugees trying to get to the UK seem to be stopped at Calais at the moment. That depends on French cooperation. No one knows if France will be happy to keep the refugees on their side of the Channel if we are no longer in the EU.
We have all seen the terrible pictures of refugees, desperate to escape conflict in the Middle East, taking huge risks and crossing treacherous stretches of water in the Mediterranean to reach Italy or Greece. It is surprising more haven’t tried to do the same to cross the Channel. It remains to be seen whether David Cameron’s predictions materialize.
The deputy Mayor of Calais Philippe Mignonet, told the BBC: “We will have to cancel these agreements, because England won’t be in Europe anymore. So that will really be a foreign country for us.” However other politicians in France have said the system will remain.
The Boris Factor – principle or ambition?
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, joined the “leave” campaign on Sunday night. We all know he is charismatic, well known, and having him on board is a huge boost for the leave team. He is very ambitious and even people on the leave side take the view he has made the decision as part of his assumed longer-term plan to become Prime Minister one day, rather than because of a long held principled position.
He has said it was a very difficult decision for him, and one that seems at odds with his statements in the past. He writes a column for The Daily Telegraph where he has explained why being in the EU is good for London, and therefore for the UK. Those columns have been forgotten this week as he puts the other argument.
If the first few days of the campaign are anything to go by, we are all going to be saddened by the level of debate and tired of hearing “EU” over the next four months.
Register to vote!
However, if you are a British citizen, whether you want to stay or leave, the most important thing is to vote, and if you live in the Alps and wont be in the UK on 23rd June, then register for a postal vote or vote by proxy and you can do that at www.gov.uk and search for postal vote registration. It is very quick.