Victory at the ECJ shows Britain can still make its voice heard in the EU.
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Forget leaving - Britain does best at the heart of Europe

Victory at the European Court of Justice shows Britain's interests are best served fighting its corner in Europe, not sulking on the sidelines

This week, Britain won a historic legal battle in Europe when proposals that would have banned large-scale trading in euros from taking place outside the Eurozone were struck down by the EU's General Court. The proposals, put forward by the European Central Bank, would have forced UK firms handling large trades in euros to relocate to the eurozone, most likely to financial centres such as Paris or Frankfurt. With around 40 per cent of euro-denominated trading taking place in the UK, more than any other EU country, that would have had a dramatic impact on the British economy. Today's ruling will secure London's status as Europe's financial capital and uphold a level playing field for all countries in the EU's single market, whether they are inside or outside the eurozone.

It is also a powerful example of why the UK must remain in the EU if we are to properly defend our economic interests. Had the UK not been an EU member, we would not have been able to challenge this potentially damaging proposal and see it revoked. Those advocating EU exit have to explain how they would defend British interests by robbing the UK of its influence at Europe's top table. From the fight against climate change to financial regulation, decisions taken in Brussels will continue to profoundly affect the UK whether we remain in the EU or not. The truly patriotic approach is not to retreat to the side-lines, but to continue fighting our corner.

Some eurosceptics will point to deepening integration in the eurozone as a sign of why we must leave the EU. But if anything, today's ruling shows that the opposite is true. Now more than ever, the UK has to retain its influence in the EU and ensure that there is no discrimination in the single market between eurozone and non-eurozone members. More ambitiously, we have to make sure that the internal market is expanded and modernised to areas where the UK excels such as the digital economy, as outlined by Vince Cable last month. By setting a positive agenda for reform, Britain can lead in Europe and ensure the single market remains the EU's central and defining feature.

 

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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