Errors that would make a first year law student blush
The world was watching yesterday as Prime Minister David Cameron set out his vision for the European project — and Katie Hopkins had something to say about it.
The controversial columnist — who last week announced that she was setting up ‘The Society for White Lawyers’ — slammed Cameron’s proposals in a Daily Mail column entitled ‘The five freedoms Dave must get back from Europe if he wants us to stay’.
What she has written will drive law students crazy.
The thrust of the predictably contentious piece is that Cameron’s approach to negotiation is “waffle and piffle”. There are, she says, five “simple things” that “most people want” from the EU, and it’s Cameron’s job to fight for these.
But it’s certainly not what Hopkins fans are going to get — because all of her suggestions have a very shaky legal grounding.
Control of our borders
Hopkins: “Until we can get a same-day doctor’s appointment without having to pretend to cry to a receptionist we’ve never met, Britain is full.”
One of the most basic fundamental principles of the European project is the establishment of European citizenship, and the correlative right to “move and reside freely within the territory of the Member states”, so what ‘control’ Hopkins is pining for I do not know.
The number of European migrants living in the UK is very similar to the number of Britons living in other member states. It’s a two-way street, and if the UK imposes stricter border controls, who’s to say where this will leave British citizens living in other member states if they decide to follow suit?
And is Britain really full? In terms of population density, the UK only ranks 51st in the world — well behind the likes of Belgium and the Netherlands. According to Rupert Baines, CEO at UltraSoc, people have misconceptions about the “fullness” of the UK because of its under-investment in transport and infrastructure.
Traffic jams and busy rush hour trains give the impression that the UK’s population is at breaking point, when other parts of the country are practically empty.
Proof of work
Hopkins: “Australia has a perfect format for this. If you can work and we need your skills, you’re in. There is a camp at Calais for a reason, Dave. And it’s because our welfare system makes us look like El Dorado.”
Workers have, and always have had, the strongest rights to free movement across Europe. According to the Court of Justice in the case of Raulin, a person will only be considered a worker for the purposes of EU law if they are engaged in “genuine and effective” economic activity, to the exclusion of work that is purely marginal or ancillary.
Hopkins then goes on to use the well-used ‘benefits tourism’ argument — that the UK’s welfare system attracts EU migration like magpies to a shiny object. This argument is thrown around a lot, but UCL’s Migration Research Unit Professor John Salt suggests that immigrants are actually less likely to claim benefits than native Britons and, in fact, immigration may well be a benefit to the country, as opposed to a drain on the welfare system.
The 2008-09 newcomers from Eastern Europe paid 37% more in taxes than they received in benefits and from public services — but people born in Britain paid in 20% less than they received.
Control of our law
Hopkins: “We need British Justice, not European Justice. Prisoners, you will not have the right to vote. This is because you are not always capable of making sensible decisions — as evidenced by the fact you are now obliged to provide oral favours to your cell mate for a cigarette.”
Hopkins has made the standard first year law student rookie error here by assuming that all law with the word “European” in it must be a product of the EU. Someone has actually pointed out this distinction in the column’s comments, to which one reader has replied “Facts don’t matter much on this page – you’re in UKIP territory” — which says it all really.
The topical issue of prisoner voting rights, the thought of which Cameron famously said makes him “physically sick”, relates to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and more specifically a 10-year-old ruling made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The ECtHR found in favour of prisoner John Hirst, and ruled that a ban prohibiting British prisoners was unlawful.
But Cameron and Hopkins do not fear: the soft law status of ECtHR rulings means that the UK is not legally bound to incorporate the ruling into domestic law which, unsurprisingly, it hasn’t.
Control of our economy
Hopkins: “We have had enough of spending £350million a day on Eurocrats. I’d rather spend it on schools, the NHS and our military.”
The single market economy was an idea plugged by the British — and it is believed that every UK household “earns” between £1,500 and £3,500 annually because of it.
The money paid by the UK does not simply disappear. It is used thoughtfully to better the lives of European citizens (UK citizens included). As Eider Gardiazabal Rubial, vice-chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgets, explains:
[W]hen we talk about the European budget, we are talking about a budget designed to help European citizens live better in these troubling times. That includes cohesion funds, paying for infrastructure, social funds for helping young people with training to get jobs, and so on.
A British Bill of Rights
Hopkins: “To have human rights, you have to act half-human, and frankly many of our current countrymen fall well below the bar. If you wish to remain in our great country, do not mutilate, rape or kill British people. Otherwise, you are going home. Yesterday.”
And she’s made the rookie error twice.
The British Bill of Rights is a political attempt to curtail the “compensation culture” born out of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Again, this is little to do with the European Union. Though the EU has announced plans to accede to the ECHR, Cameron announced this week that the UK is not planning to sever its ties with the Convention, and for this reason the British Bill of Rights has little role to play in the “in or out” debate.
Hopkins is actually talking about member states’ rights to deport non-nationals that have broken the law. European law does protect the citizen’s right to free movement, but this can be restricted by national governments for a number of reasons, including public policy and public security.
In the important case of Van Duyn — which will be well-known to law students studying the direct effect of directives — the Court of Justice upheld the UK’s decision to refuse a Dutch woman entry into the country to become a secretary for the Church of Scientology, because the organisation was “socially harmful”. The Court of Justice is open to deportation if the citizen poses a “genuine and sufficiently serious” threat to public order, because of, for example drug trafficking, money laundering, organised crime — which could well include people that mutilate, rape or kill British people.