Britain should vote to stay in the European Union (EU) so that unemployed people from Europe can come to work in the UK, a Liberal Democrat peer has said.
As immigration becomes the top issue driving voters towards Brexit, Baroness Smith of Newnham said it was a “benefit” of free movement of people that the continent’s unemployed could come to Britain.
Speaking at a debate in Westminster Cathedral Hall, the Cambridge academic and Lib Dem politician also claimed leaving the EU would deprive people from other European countries of jobs in Britain and would also hit middle class people who like having “cheap Polish plumbers”.
In April, a leaked government report said that EU immigration was damaging social cohesion by allowing well-educated Eastern Europeans to take lower-skilled jobs, thus forcing out Britons who do not have similar qualifications.
“‘Newly arriving EEA [European Economic Area] nationals have a disproportionate impact on the UK,” the report said. “Numbers in employment in the UK grew by nearly 450,000 in the last year. EEA nationals secured about three quarters of that growth in employment, compared to 25 per cent for UK nationals.”
However, Baroness Smith welcomed the free movement of EU citizens to Britain: “One of the huge benefits of free movement of people is precisely that the young unemployed from Spain and Italy and elsewhere can come to this country where there are jobs,” she said.
She added that 30 years ago unemployed people from Britain could move to Germany for work, but now the situation is reversed.
Also, answering criticism that it was the EU itself that has contributed to people on the continent being unemployed, Baroness Smith replied: “It’s all very well for those who want to leave suddenly to say ‘Oh it’s terrible for these people! The EU is doing such a disservice, therefore we want to leave and take away their opportunities and jobs.’
Indeed, certain sections of society benefit from freedom of movement: “The ERASMUS schemes, cheap Polish plumbers clearly play well in Middle Class communities.”
Her comments come as Libya’s coastguard reveals that the EU’s anti-people smuggling operation is actually encouraging illegal migrants to travel across the Mediterranean to Europe.
Sky News reports that people smugglers are taking advantage of international law that forbids the EU’s naval vessels from entering Libyan waters by dragging boats out to sea and then setting course for international waters.
The migrants then believe that once they enter international waters, the EU operation will save them if they get into trouble and thus take them on to the European mainland.