Thursday 16 October 2014 3:26 pm

As David Cameron pledges action against EU immigration, is UK protectionism growing?

Allie Renison, head of Europe and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, says Yes.

It’s increasingly apparent that immigration will be at the forefront of David Cameron’s intended renegotiation efforts, and at the heart of the debate in any future referendum. But freedom of movement should not be the big red-line issue when there are more achievable reforms that are urgently needed to improve the EU’s competitiveness.

The UK’s reputation for being the most open, liberal economy in the EU is at odds with its increasing focus on restricting migrant workers – who, by filling a variety of skills gaps, businesses need to compete in the diversified economy we all claim to love.

Our unemployment rate continues to drop, and the private sector continues to create new jobs, yet we seem to be the only country in the EU so fixated on freedom of movement as a negative. Germany boasts about its increase in net migration as a sign of the attractiveness of its economy. Sadly, one could hardly imagine such an approach here in the UK.

Nick de Bois, Conservative MP for Enfield North, says No.

Britain’s success, compared to other EU economies, is helping drive up the net immigration figures, which have taken centre stage in the political debate. Immigration has played its part in helping growth, and it’s accepted that the net contribution of immigrants to the UK tax take is positive.

Yet that is not a reason to run shy of stricter controls. Indeed, it strengthens the argument: we can focus on those who can bring the skills we need, and who wish to contribute socially, culturally and economically, thus increasing the net contribution. Why should the UK, unlike non-EU countries, accept that immigration means free access to all services without contribution?

A responsible qualified quota would give us the opportunity to boost our economy, with migrants contributing their skills, without compromising the capacity of public services or expanding the welfare state. Freedom of movement, yes. But freedom without responsibility at the taxpayer’s expense? No.

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