Approaching Brexit? Merkel Fears Britain Crossing a Red Line on Immigration

David Cameron is furious about the EU Commission's demand that the UK make a back payment of €2.1 billion. But it is the British prime minister's stance on immigration that has German Chancellor Merkel more worried. She fears he may be crossing a red line.

Berlin believes British Prime Minister David Cameron is going too far on immigration.
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Berlin believes British Prime Minister David Cameron is going too far on immigration.

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Two adjectives best describe the British prime minister in recent days: shrill and loud. Late last month in Brussels, an angry David Cameron vented over the surprise €2.1 billion ($2.62 billion) back payment being demanded by the European Commission. "I am not going to pay that bill on Dec. 1," he fumed to the press. The charge, he said, was "completely unacceptable."

Despite his vehemence, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took Cameron's outburst in stride. To be sure, it cast a shadow over the October EU summit, which reached what Merkel sees as a successful agreement on new climate protection goals. But when it comes to disagreements over money, the EU has always managed to find a solution. A compromise appears even more likely given that the European Commission has a bad conscience for the way it blindsided Cameron with the bill, which represents a recalculation of Britain's dues based on higher-than-expected economic growth. Brussels had only informed lower-level officials in London prior to announcing the payment request.

Merkel was much more worried about a different development. For the first time, according to an assessment by the Chancellery and the Foreign Ministry, Cameron is pushing his country toward a "point of no return" when it comes to European Union membership -- a point at which Germany would cease doing all it can to convince Britain to remain a member of the EU. Were Cameron to continue insisting on an upper limit for immigration from EU member states, Berlin sources said "that would be that." Sources say that Merkel left no doubt about where she stands on the issue during a private meeting with the British prime minister on the sidelines of the recent EU summit. The sources said that the surprise bill from Brussels was hardly mentioned.

'Every Effort to Control Migration'

It seems doubtful that Merkel's message has been sufficiently understood. Just days after he met with the German chancellor, a red-faced Cameron once again addressed the issue of immigration, this time venting his anger in the House of Commons. "The British people know we are making every effort to control migration," he said on Oct. 29 in response to a question from Labour Party leader Edward Miliband.

In the 12 months ending in March 2014, Britain saw net immigration of 243,000 people and Cameron's government has pledged to drastically reduce that figure. But significant restrictions on immigration from non-EU countries could hurt the UK's economy. So Cameron is evidently considering rejecting the immigration of certain groups from within the EU's 27 member states. The plan likely calls for upper limits on the immigration of less prosperous, less educated migrants. And such a plan is one that Merkel finds unacceptable.

In recent years, the chancellor has sought several times to find common ground with the British, most recently on the issue of London's bitter opposition to Jean-Claude Juncker's candidacy as European Commission president. In June, the crisis saw Merkel joining Cameron in Harpsund, Sweden together with the Swedish and Dutch prime ministers. The images of the quartet in a small rowboat were useful as a signal to the rest of the EU that Merkel was not going to leave the British isolated with their demands that Brussels change course in the interest of economic competitiveness. It was also in Merkel's interests to do so.

But demands to establish quotas for EU migration call into question one of the European Union's "four freedoms" -- the free movement of people, goods, services and capital -- that form a significant part of the foundation for European unity. Though Merkel is famous for her willingness to compromise, she is not willing to budge on the issue.

UKIP's Greatest Desire

Indeed, as Britain's conservative government is rapidly approaching a red line, it looks from Berlin as though Cameron is neither willing nor able to apply the brakes. Should Cameron move to establish numerical limits on immigration from EU member states, "there will be no going back," say sources in Berlin. First, they say, Cameron's proposal would be torpedoed in Brussels by Germany and several other EU countries and then he would return home and lose the referendum on Britain's exit from the EU.

Cameron, however, seems to have lost all sense of moderation. He has made a series of public pledges regarding the competencies he would like to reclaim from Brussels. In particular, he is focused on the judiciary and domestic policy -- and on parliamentary elections scheduled for next May. Polls show his Conservatives are even with the center-left Labour Party while the anti-EU UKIP party isn't far behind, with between 13 and 19 percent support. An upcoming by-election could see UKIP winning a second lower-house seat in a district that used to belong to the Conservatives.

Last week, members of the Foreign Affairs Committee in German parliament traveled to London for meetings with British lawmakers and government ministers. The atmosphere was cool. Norbert Röttgen, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats and chair of the committee, expressed surprise about the amount of influence EU opponents now have in Britain. "UKIP dominates political discourse in Great Britain," Röttgen says. "The Conservative strategy of imitating UKIP doesn't seem to be working very well."

Should Cameron continue on his current path despite the resistance, sources in Berlin believe, he will unwittingly fulfill UKIP's greatest desire: Britain's exit from the European Union.


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spon-facebook-686560506 11/03/2014
1. UK in Europe
Britain is now the most populated country in Europe. Our population growth is climbing, putting pressure on housing, social services, transportation etc.. We do not have the land to build to accommodate the growth, not the infrastructure to support it without substantial investment. No investment help is coming from the EU which continues to demand shrilly that we keep our doors open whilst paying more and more for the privilege of membership (this year a net payment to the EU of over €11 billion). New EU rules seem from here to be designed to prevent open markets in British strength areas such as insurance and banking, indeed seem designed to curb British advantage in these areas. So, penalise us on one hand and berate us on the other? Not very friendly and it's why even those like myself who enjoy the sense of being a part of the European adventure start to look cynically on money being asked for from us in order to continue to feather bed the protectionist self-indulgent French. Given the antagonism from the EU is it any surprise that Brexit continues to creep closer?
fletcherknight 11/03/2014
2. Cameron v Merkel
Do The Germans really think the British care about Merkels comments ? Unlike Germany, we have proven that we stand up to Bullies( tyran ) on our Island , and we wont be intimidated by a Woman who cant even form her own CDU Government . Germany is in decline economically, and we dont care for a failing European Nation to tell us - the British what we can or cannot do . All the Germans are arrogant bullies at heart , some things never change , and most Brits feel we will be better off trading with our own kith and kin in the English speaking world , plus the larger asian economic developing 'players' , than supporting and subsidising the Country that killed 6 million Jews , and 25 million innocent Russians during World War 2. Mind your own business Germany , the British dont interfere in your affairs , so keep out of ours . At least we dont depend on a Russian Dictator to supply us with Gas and Energy . You people stick to bullying the rest of Europe , the British will do very well without you or 'die schlapmau'Merkel . Historically the Germans have been a menace to the World , and as for that east German woman your welcome to her . Shes past her sell buy date .
criticalcitizen 11/03/2014
3. Is this the truth this article tells?
Is it maybe the germans wish to discreetly destroy EU integration to be stronger again? Will they push the blame to the UK and the grow again into agression? The German already are a bit to proud, did the forget their prosperity and freedom they would have never buid up by themselves, but thanks to the western free world who assisted and guided them towards a bit of demoraacy and big posperity after they lost the terrible wars they started?
ulyssesreturns 11/03/2014
4. Who runs Europe does not run the UK
Merkel has proved to be no friend to Cameron or the United Kingdom. She initially supported Cameron in his position against the awful ineptocrat Junkers and then reneged - this was not a principled stance as she bowed to domestic public opinion. Her position on the outrageous demands for €2.1 billion was no less supportive to a so-called ally. As for threatening the UK with withdrawing support for remaining in the EU, she is assisting those of us who believe it is time for us to leave. What many Europeans do not understand is the British deep-felt commitment to sovereignty and democracy. We fought two wars in Europe in the last century and lost many lives and much treasure to protect the rights of men - this year we commemorate the 100 years from the start of the first world war - we will fight no less hard or diligently to protect our own rights and sovereignty. The European project was a mistake in conception and design and is bound to die a horrible death. Already it has destroyed democratic accountability in Greece and Italy and has caused massive economic destruction across the southern states. Merkel rules this gigantic failed enterprise and will go down in history as its main architect of disaster. England and the United Kingdom need to recover from the mistake we made under Heath when we joined that very different enterprise, the Common Market, under false assurances from our dishonest leaders, and reconnect with our true allies in the Commonwealth and the USA. Don't make the mistake in thinking that the British people will accept the compromises you Europeans live by - we are better and stronger alone and although we wish you well, we will not miss you when you are gone and we regain control of our laws and borders. Auf wiedersein.
freedeomofexpression 11/03/2014
Its an illusion that there is unlimited free movement of people, goods, services and capital. Firstly people: some EU members tates got exceptions granted, especially for persons that wish to work or set up businesses. And then there are restrictions re EU citizens that have no medical insurance cover or after 3 months have no job and that fall into the lap of the country's social services. Or that are generally deemed "undesirable" e.g. a danger to health or stability. France removed the Roma under exactly that EU rules. So might the UK. Secondly goods: largely correct except for such "niceties" like labelling in foodstuff, adherence to particular national standards etc. Services? Well, well - but why then do some EU countries require certificates, licenses etc. ? And lastly capital. Really ? Even bringing the miserly sum of 10 000 Euros across the borders, undeclared, is an offense and may lead to confiscation. Hence: what Mrs. Merkel and others declared a "sacred right" is in practise anything but
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