Cameron is sowing the seeds of fascism
Cameron emerged seemingly triumphant from this week’s meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk. As expected, three of his four criteria for supporting Britain’s continued membership in the EU – that is, the three largely meaningless ones – were more or less agreed. But Cameron also claimed victory over the one that was expected to be the sticking point: a four-year ban on in-work benefits for new EU migrants. Under existing treaties, EU nationals working in the UK are entitled to be treated the same as British citizens. However, Tusk has now agreed that Britain should be allowed to apply an “emergency brake,” which would block benefits to EU workers in Britain in certain ‘emergency’ circumstances. As yet, exactly what circumstances would qualify as ‘emergencies’ remains undefined, but according to Reuters, what Cameron and Tusk have in mind is the country’s “welfare system [being] under excessive strain”.
If agreed to at the upcoming EU summit on February 18, this would set a dangerous precedent. Such a deal would establish the principle that a country’s supposedly binding treaty obligations can be overridden any time a government can claim its public services are under pressure.
An “emergency brake” procedure, in fact, already applies in relation to certain aspects of EU migrant policy; member states can temporarily stop accepting refugees, for example, on grounds of ‘national security’. However, Cameron’s argument that such a brake can now be triggered simply by pointing to pressure on public services constitutes a significant lowering of the bar. After all, in an age of recession, austerity and systematic corporate tax avoidance, which country does not already face “excessive strain” on its public services?
It is not difficult to see how this precedent is likely to be used by EU member states to justify the shredding of their obligations under other treaties they are signatories to – such as the 1951 Refugee Convention. Cameron’s ‘reform’ would give any EU state a legal basis for arguing that they are free to block refugees entering their countries so long as they can point a strain on public services.
Combined with Cameron’s successful strong-arming of the EU last year to adopt a policy of blowing up refugee boats, this sets the stage for a total inversion of EU refugee policy: from ostensibly giving refuge to those fleeing war and persecution to actually intensifying the persecution and war on such refugees by blocking their access to safe havens, tearing up the 1951 Convention and bombing their boats.
This would be particularly gratuitous given the EU’s heavy responsibility for creating these refugees in the first place. EU member states (chiefly Britain and France) have been the prime supporters and sponsors of the wars on Libya and Syria (even more so than the USA); and it was the EU who agreed in 2013 to allow arms sales to the Syrian terror groups now destabilizing the country. This is in addition to the EU’s disastrous free trade policies, which are set to bankrupt entire swathes of industry in neighboring countries such as Ukraine and Egypt, forcing millions into unemployment and destitution. This is not even to mention Europe’s historic role in the global warming that is likely to create perhaps the biggest refugee exodus the world has ever seen.
Europe should be demonstrating its commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention by developing and extending the quota system agreed last summer, and pushing recalcitrant nations such as Britain to accept it, rather than setting the stage for reneging on those commitments altogether. And if it wants to reduce refugee numbers, it would do well to re-think those policies, which it still continues to pursue, which have done so much to create them.
The ‘over-riding’ of treaty obligations is not the only precedent that is being set by this deal. By allowing national governments to discriminate against migrants, it is highly unlikely that this discrimination will end with a temporary ban on in-work benefits. Rather, as economic conditions worsen, it will pave the way for ever more draconian measures being taken against non-nationals; indeed, this deal will likely be seen by future historians as having opened the floodgates to a fully two-tier, if not outright apartheid, labor system.
If migrants can be denied in-work benefits, why would we not, further down the line, hear calls to exempt migrants from the minimum wage, for example? By the by, such exemptions, far from being a disincentive to migration, would actually be an incentive for companies to recruit more migrants. Even in their current proposed form they create such an incentive, especially if companies are also to be exempt from paying migrants ‘in work benefits’ such as sick pay, maternity cover and so on.
Finally, on an ideological level, the whole framing of the debate serves to firmly implant the link in people’s minds between collapsing public services and immigration. The reality is that it is not immigrants who are creating the ‘strain’ in British public services; it is the slow breakdown of the global capitalist economy combined with the government’s commitment to financing the debt incurred by the 2008 bankers’ bailout – the biggest transfer of wealth from public to private hands since the enclosures – at the expense of investment in public goods. Yet the constant, daily, association of the disastrous consequences of ‘austerity’ with immigration is carving its way onto the public imagination in an increasingly fascistic manner.
Creating this false association between collapsing living standards and immigration is a key strategic component of the government’s preparation for the next economic crash. Given that none of the contradictions that led to the 2007-8 crash have been resolved, such a crash is inevitable, and it is not only Marxists who recognize it. Last month, Royal Bank of Scotland economists warned of a “cataclysmic year” urging its clients in the bank to “Sell everything except high quality bonds.”
“This is about return of capital, not return on capital,” they noted, adding, “in a crowded hall, exit doors are small…China has set off a major correction and it is going to snowball. Equities and credit have become very dangerous.” London, in particular, it argued, “is vulnerable to a negative shock. All these people who are long [buyers of] oil and mining companies thinking that the dividends are safe are going to discover that they’re not at all safe… Risks are high.”
JP Morgan are also worried, advising their clients to “sell on any bounce” according to the Guardian. So too are Albert Edwards, a Societe Generale expert, who suggests that the US market may be set to sink by 75 percent, and Harry Dent, who correctly predicted the 2001 dotcom crash, the 2008 subprime crisis and China’s recent stock market decline.
Dent believes that “Housing prices will start to fall by as much as 40 percent over several years… unemployment will surge… many state and municipal governments will be forced into default…and the federal deficit will balloon to as high as $1.5 to $2 trillion…The recession is NOT over yet. $100 trillion of the $225 trillion in loans, bonds and stocks across the world…will simply disappear.”
When this happens, it will be much harder than last time to deal with. As the Telegraph noted recently, paraphrasing a report by HSBC’s Stephen King, “we have used up almost all our fiscal and monetary ammunition, and may face the next global economic downturn with no lifeboats whenever it comes.”
The consequences are almost unthinkable. And the British government, at least, wants to ensure that we are ready to blame, not the most culpable, but the most vulnerable.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.