Summer holiday threat as Cameron discusses banning Greeks

David CameronPA Wire/PA Wire/Press Association Images

In politics, contingency planning is a double-edged sword. You need to do it, otherwise if the worst comes to the worst you will be left flailing around in a panic. It's why there are presumably all sorts of plans in place for what happens if Greece leaves the Euro, the currency itself fails, Michael Portillo enters the Big Brother house or if the earth is hit by a massive meteorite.

The trouble - David Cameron is discovering - is when someone asks you about these plans.

Close the borders

Politicians can quickly discover that what sounds terribly sensible in a theoretical discussion about the correct and logical approach in the event of a disaster, sounds less sensible when aired to a National newspaper.

Theresa May started the ball rolling with a newspaper interview when she admitted that in the event of the failure of the euro, if the immediate result was a flood of migration from the EU to the UK, there may have to be a cap of some sort on immigration in the short term.

The thought process behind this is that EU citizens are free to live anywhere in the EU. Most can also work in the UK, with some restrictions on those from new member states. In theory, therefore, if there was financial collapse and massive civil unrest in one country, the inhabitants may look to move elsewhere. And while Britain is hardly an economic safe haven, the fact that so many from across the EU already speak English means it may be considered a sensible option.

The idea would be to keep this immigration under control in order to stop the system from being overwhelmed.

Defence

David Cameron was then asked by the Commons Liaison Committee whether this would happen, and he was put in a difficult position. Clearly the government has talked about it, and clearly in the scope of contingency planning, curbing immigration to avoid a crisis was suggested as a logical step.

His response was to talk in cliches, saying: "We obviously have contingency plans for all sorts of eventualities – that is the right thing to do for any government. ""The legal position is that if there are extraordinary stresses and strains it is possible to take action to restrict migratory flows, but obviously we hope that doesn't happen." He added: "You have to plan, you have to have contingencies, you have to be ready for anything with so much uncertainty in our world. But I hope these things do not become necessary.

The headline that immediately emerged was that Cameron was poised to close our borders at the drop of a hat.

This immediately promoted commentators to warn that closing the borders to Greece would mean closing Greek borders to UK travellers - a disaster at the height of the holiday season.

Likely?

However, it's worth remembering that the Greeks are not building a giant wooden horse just yet, the borders are not under any pressure, and your summer holiday is not in jeopardy.

There are also those who argue that if Cameron wanted to close the borders he would be flying in the face of the spirit and law of the EU and that in order not to be discriminatory he would need to close the borders to all EU immigrants - both in and out of the country - which would be politically impossible.

There is every chance, therefore, that this was a theoretical discussion. There is also more than a small chance that Cameron is trying to gain some political capital from those who oppose immigration. It would surely go some way to explaining his inflamatory choice of rhetoric when he said: "I would be prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our country safe, to keep our banking system strong, to keep our economy robust. At the end of the day as prime minister that is your foremost duty."

Of course what they'd do if Portillo really did end up on Big Brother is anyone's guess.
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