Dutch premier Mark Rutte delivers Brexit warning
The Dutch prime minister says EU would be forced to retaliate against migration controls
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte: “They would be very bad news for the UK, for the Netherlands and for Europe as a whole”. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters
Tough advice from a friend is always more persuasive, so it was striking to hear Dutch premier Mark Rutte’s warning on Thursday that a Brexit vote in the UK followed by new immigration rules for EU citizens would inevitably lead to like-for-like retaliation by Britain’s former partners.
An advocate of EU reform, Mr Rutte regards himself as one of Britain’s closest European allies, which was why, he said, he had been spurred to intervene when he heard Brexit campaigners, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, back a points system for EU immigrants if the UK votes to leave.
As German chancellor Angela Merkel warned British voters they would “lose influence” outside the European Union if they opted to cut ties, Mr Rutte set out to shatter any illusions that the UK could become tougher on EU immigration – without fear of any retaliatory response.
“I was very surprised by the Johnson-Gove proposals,” he said. “They would be very bad news for the UK, for the Netherlands and for Europe as a whole. We would be in a race to the bottom – and that is exactly what we do not want.”
The UK already operates an Australian-style points-based system – so called because of where it originated – when granting work visas to economic migrants from countries outside the EU, particularly the United States, India and Pakistan.
Workers with sought-after skills are awarded more points with the aim of plugging skills gaps in sectors such as engineering, construction and healthcare, facing their worst labour shortages in 30 years.
That same system, say Johnson and Gove, should be applied to all EU nationals by 2020 if the UK decides to exit the EU on June 23rd – though those already legally resident would not be affected.
However, Mr Rutte warned that if automatic admission to the UK for EU citizens were to end, it would be politically “impossible” for him not respond with similar requirements for British workers moving to the Netherlands.
“The Netherlands and the UK are both seafaring nations and so our ability to create jobs and to generate future growth is built on the free market,” he said. “Our national prosperity is built on our open borders.
“However, the reality is that if a points system is introduced in the UK it would be unavoidable for us in the Netherlands to implement similar proposals – and inevitable that many other EU countries would follow suit.”
The Brexit referendum takes place in the final week of the Netherlands’ rotating presidency of the EU.
Mr Rutte has admitted the Dutch cabinet is “nervous” about the implications for trade between the two countries. One way or another, economies never thrive on lack of clarity.