Christopher Booker's Notebook
After 67 years, she had six months to stay in the UK Laid to waste JPs 'disregard the law' A friend I never met
Last Thursday when Flo Robinson became president of the ladies section of the Filey golf club in Yorkshire, she wondered whether she would be allowed to complete her year's term in office. Although she has lived in England since 1936 and has lived with her Yorkshire-born husband, John, in Scarborough since 1951, she spent the first five years of her life in Canada and, although both her parents were English, still carries a Canadian passport. Returning to Hull last month from a day trip to Amsterdam, she was astonished to be told by an immigration official that, under "new EU regulations", she would only be permitted to remain in Britain for another six months.
After 67 years in Britain, Mrs Robinson was understandably alarmed to think that she might next June be deported back to Canada. The official gave her a leaflet on "New Immigration Procedures at UK Ports", which instructed her to consult the Home Office website. Here she downloaded a 12-page form, which asked her, inter alia, whether she had ever been involved in terrorist activity or participated in an act of genocide. It also required details of her parents' background which, since both are long dead, would have been difficult to trace.
She was then told that there was a backlog of up to nine months in dealing with such applications; in other words, her permission to remain in the European Union would run out before her paperwork could be processed. Mrs Robinson wrote to me, and I looked into her case further. It seemed various misunderstandings had arisen. It was true that the rules about "indefinite leave to stay" had been changed following EC Council Regulation 1030/2002, approved under "Schengen procedures". (Although the UK is not a signatory to the Schengen agreement on movements between certain European countries, we choose to "opt in" to much of its legislation.) But under the EU's "freedom of establishment" rule, someone such as Mrs Robinson who is married to an EU citizen has every right to remain here.
That Hull immigration officer had thus alarmed Mrs Robinson unnecessarily by telling her she could only remain in the UK for six months. She had also, not surprisingly, misunderstood the procedure when she downloaded the form to apply for naturalisation. As a helpful lady at the Home Office explained, there is a fast-track procedure for people in Mrs Robinson's position which should ensure that a "secure visa" can be included in her passport within a few weeks.
The ladies of the Filey golf club may be consoled to know that they will not be losing their president half way through her term of office (even in her seventies Mrs Robinson is still playing off a handicap of only 11). But it is hard to imagine that she is the only person who has been given unnecessary cause for alarm by confusion over the new rules. It is also somehow apt that to confirm her "freedom" to remain in the UK will now cost her an administrative fee of £155.
Over the next 12 months, it is safe to predict, the benefits of Britain's membership of the European Union will become more evident than ever before.
The most obvious sign will be the coming into force of more of the edicts already approved by the EU's technocracy, such as the extension in July of the working hours legislation to junior hospital doctors, which NHS trusts across the country have warned will lead to widespread ward closures.
Also by July a waste crisis will hit the UK when EC directives reduce the number of landfill sites permitted to take "hazardous waste" from 218 to only 10, most of them in the North-East and none in the South-East or Wales. The effect of this will be compounded by the EC's ever-widening definition of "hazardous waste", which now includes paints, old vehicles and electrical equipment such as television sets, computers and mobile phones.
As a spokesman for the Environment Services Association put it last week, with 5 million tonnes of such waste to be disposed of each year and virtually nowhere to put it, "the fridge mountain will pale into insignificance by comparison with what will happen when this directive bites". Already the difficulties surrounding the disposal of old cars created by phase one of the End of Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive have led to hundreds of thousands of vehicles being abandoned - although, as we learned last week, this may soon be an offence for which the owner can lose his licence for life.
Further to my updates last week on stories I covered in 2003, two more developments have come to light. In November I reported on the strange but not untypical experience of Peter Troy, a self-employed businessman, who had been called on early one morning by two men claiming to be bailiffs who wanted to remove his car in payment of unpaid parking fines. When Mr Troy called in the Durham constabulary to stop the removal of the vehicle he needed for his work, the two policemen supported the "bailiffs". He subsequently discovered that the seizure would have been illegal on two counts: first, because the men, employed by a private firm, were not certified bailiffs and, second, because it is an offence to remove a vehicle or other "tools of trade" in pursuit of unpaid parking fines.
When Mr Troy wrote formally to complain to Robert Whitehouse, the chief executive of Durham magistrates courts, he was perfunctorily told he had no grounds for complaint. When he subsequently obtained a copy of the warrant issued by the court, this specifically prohibited the "bailiffs" from seizing his car. Mr Troy has now lodged a civil case against the Durham magistrates in the county court, arguing that if the courts themselves disregard the law and their own instructions, the whole principle of the rule of law is under attack.
Last January I reported how 600 villagers of Chesham Bois in Buckinghamshire were fighting to stop the closure of their local post office, despite the fact that it was making a profit and supported the village shop which played a key part in community life. Thanks to the efforts of the campaign's redoubtable organiser, Mimi Harker, the battle of Chesham Bois was debated in the Commons.
The post office minister, Stephen Timms, promised that no post office would be closed if someone suitable could be found to take it on. When Chesham Bois lost its post office, at great inconvenience to the village, it made a mockery of his pledge.
A few weeks ago, Mrs Harker sadly informs me, the shop also closed. When it comes to empty promises, Mr Timms is certainly a faithful champion of Blair's Britain.
Christmas was overshadowed for me and countless others by an email on December 20 headed "Aram Jack Kevorkian 1928-2003". Ten years ago a London reader introduced me to the remarkable monthly newsletter written by his brother Jack Kevorkian, an Armenian-American lawyer who for nearly 40 years ran a successful law firm in Paris.
Wise, funny, civilised and a great lover of France, his adoptive country, Jack ranged entertainingly over a wide variety of themes, from the corruption of French politics to the poetry of Robert Frost and the music of Bach, which he himself played superbly. He did more than anyone else to instruct his readers in the noxious influence of the French "ENAarchie", that elite group of politicians-cum-civil servants educated at the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, including Giscard d'Estaing, Jacques Chirac and almost everyone who has run France in the past four decades.
Although I never met him, we corresponded and talked on the telephone and were planning a weekend together in Paris early this year. It was therefore a huge shock to read of his sudden death on December 20. His devoted admirers can only be grateful that last year he published a collection of the best of his newsletters entitled Confessions of a Francophile.
I particularly treasure some of his shrewd essays on the "European project" which already in 1990, long before I woke up to what it was about, he was describing as "one of the biggest public relations frauds perpetrated on the Western world, a profoundly undemocratic plaything of the technocrats who control the individual member states". A true light of our times has been extinguished.