Free movement of people has been problematic both for the UK and for the Eastern EU nations

Free movement of people has been problematic both for the UK and for the Eastern EU nations

Pyrrhus of Epirus famously fought the Romans in a series of successful battles. However, the achievements took their toll and depleted his forces to the point that he ended up losing the war. Rome went on to seize the South of Italy along with all the Greek colonies. One cannot escape feeling that the Eastern European countries that joined the EU have achieved a similar Pyrrhic victory with their accession and signing up to the free movement of people.

The post-Communist countries had experienced an unprecedented boom caused by the sudden freedom and deregulation of the early 1990s. However, following the fallout from the 1997 and 1998 Asian and Russian financial crises, Central Europe found itself struggling with mass unemployment. The increased regulation permanently slowing down their economies seemed like a price worth paying for some short-term fixes coming with impending EU membership. Amongst these, the export of unemployment topped up by the creation of new cash-flows, typically associated with new migrants sending money earned abroad back home, must have looked rather tempting.

Indeed, the scale of migration turned out to be much higher than anyone would have anticipated and what had been expected to be temporary absences, resulted in a permanent loss of a key population demographic. Obviously, the alarmist pieces run by certain tabloids over the years – suggesting that whole Eastern EU towns had moved to the UK – are exaggerated, as they aim at stirring tensions and selling more papers. However, it is quite obvious that these countries have de-populated to the point where their fiscal position may be compromised in the future, given the high proportion of their working and reproductive-age population who have emigrated.

For example, according to the Central Statistical Office of Poland (GUS) nearly two million Polish citizens lived in other EU countries at the end of 2015, and of that population some 720,000 lived in Great Britain. Unlike the UK, which sees mass outflows of pensioners to other EU countries, the Poles who emigrated were typically young.

This is a demographic time bomb which, as far as Poland is concerned, is at last beginning to be addressed by the current Law and Justice (PiS) government which has recently introduced a new child benefit to stimulate population growth. However, as expected, such a policy comes at a considerable price, with the Financial Times estimate suggesting it to be 5 billion euros per year. And this is where the Pyrrhic victory of the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) government, which prepared and oversaw Poland’s EU accession, is perhaps best exemplified. It may have temporarily resolved the mass unemployment problems but, as with most misguided socialist ideas, returns to haunt the future generations of taxpayers.

On the other hand, we in Great Britain have the opposite problem, whereby more people wish to live here than we can accommodate and the hospitals, schools and other infrastructure are struggling to cope. We are, of course, very appreciative of being the place where people want to settle and start their families, as this “voting with feet” is the best proof that our Anglo-Saxon model remains valued as ever. However, we cannot support the open door immigration policy for much longer.

For these reasons it is in the national interest for us to reinstate the control over our borders that will allow us to manage immigration in a measured and considered fashion. We would of course like to ensure, in the spirit of our famous British hospitality, that we safeguard the EU citizens already resident in Britain by offering permanent residency, as repeatedly announced by the Leave campaign in the run-up to the independence referendum.

However, it is paramount that our Eastern EU partners understand that it is, in fact, they who stand to lose the most from allowing the freedom of movement of people to continue. According to Plutarch, Pyrrhus conceded that if Epirus had been victorious in one more battle with the Romans, it should have been utterly ruined. Eastern EU countries should heed these wise words and safeguard their nations from the impending demographic problems.