Britain is poaching our nurses. What are we doing about it?

By virtue of our status as an EU member state, our passports are no longer our own to sell (or, for that matter, give away for free)… which also means that – as far as the European Commission is concerned, at any rate – Malta can no longer compete with the UK by offering citizenship to third country nationals

But before trying to answer that question (which I can do in a single word: ‘nothing’), let’s just pause for a second, to marvel at the staggering irony of the situation that is unfolding before our very eyes.

The United Kingdom – you know: a country that attracted universal scorn and derision, after voting to leave the European Union in 2016… and which, according to widespread predictions, was supposed to have already reverted to primitive barbarism by now - is somehow managing to attract third-country nationals away from one of the EU’s best-performing economies… specifically, by offering them a better financial package than we can; and also, by offering UK citizenship to both the nurses themselves, and also their extended families.

Not bad, for a country that was supposed to already be in the grips of a cataclysmic recession... and also, for a British passport that was supposed to have become ‘worthless’ as a result of Brexit.

And that’s not all: apart from the failure of the UK’s economic disaster to actually materialise, as predicted… the situation on the other side of the channel is increasingly coming to resemble precisely the sort of ‘Third World hellhole’ that Britain itself was meant to turn into (but clearly didn’t).

Let’s face it: European citizens are literally dying like flies… and despite all its presumptions of superiority, the EU itself seems powerless to do anything about it.

In Germany alone – which just happens to be the richest, most powerful EU member state – the COVID-19 death-toll has shot up from 7,560 last May, to 31,428 last December: a fourfold increase in just eight months.

And granted: the corresponding statistics for Britain are arguably just as bad – though the same cannot be said for other non-EU countries, such as Norway or Switzerland – yet strangely, post-Brexit Britain has somehow also managed to vaccinate considerably more of its citizens in the last month, than any of the EU’s 27 member states (if not all of them put together).

That’s not an exaggeration, by the way. As of January 29, the United Kingdom had administered 11.67 vaccine doses per 100 people in the country: by far the highest percentage in Europe… and second only to the USA and China in the rest of the world.

Malta (believe it or not) comes in second with 5.33 – a success story by European standards; but still less than half the UK’s rate – though to be perfectly honest, I don’t even want to look at the statistics for the rest of the EU.

Italy – the worst-hit member state by far – has so far only managed to inoculate 2.83 per 100 inhabitants, out of a total population of over 60 million. Germany has been even less successful, with a rate of only 2.65; and incredibly, France languishes towards the bottom of the European table, at a mere 1.82… a record beaten only by the Netherlands.

Not to stress too fine a point on it: but these statistics belie the perception – so often (and so prematurely) bandied about in the wake of the Brexit referendum – that the European Union represents some kind of ‘ideal’ political reality; and that a country like the United Kingdom must be ‘mad’ (or ‘stupid’) to even contemplate the possibility of leaving.

Nor can it escape notice that the supposedly more advanced northern EU states – Germany, the Netherlands, France, Scandinavia, etc. – are actually faring far worse, in their vaccination efforts, than some of the supposedly lazier, less disciplined Mediterranean countries… including Malta.

And this is a far, far cry from the script that has been lovingly (and mindlessly) recited, both locally and in the rest of Europe, ever since we joined in 2004. It seems as though the events of the past few weeks have completely subverted all our previous perceptions about the EU. Clearly, it is not all that it was cranked up to be… and the question I asked in the headline seems to also outline exactly why, too.

Let’s go back to the point of departure. From its position outside the EU, the United Kingdom has so far successfully managed to poach a not-insignificant number of health workers from Malta… through a combination of better financial conditions (of the kind it shouldn’t be able to afford, according to predictions), and also the promise of UK citizenship (which was supposed to have lost all its value, after December 31, 2020).

And while Malta, admittedly, cannot do very much about the first of those factors – money – there is, in theory, nothing stopping us from competing with the UK on the second.

Indeed, ‘offering Maltese citizenship’ is one of the stratagems our country has consistently employed, ever since joining the EU, in order to bolster our economic growth.  It’s been called the ‘Citizenship by Investment’ programme; the ‘Golden Passport’ scheme; and a whole load of other, less flattering names beside.

But whatever you call it, it remains the thing it is: a ‘commodification’ of Maltese nationality, by a country that (let’s be honest) has no other resources with which to actually compete with the rest of the EU… still less, the wider world beyond.

And, oh my, what a surprise. It is also the one economic tactic – along with sovereignty over our own taxation model, naturally – that the EU has consistently been trying to stamp out of existence for the past three years.

Even now, as we speak - or, more accurately, as the UK outplays us at our own game – the European Commission is enacting infringement procedures against Malta, specifically over the sale of Maltese passports. And the official arguments, made by the Commission in the European Court of Justice, include that ‘nationality’ is no longer an area that Malta actually has jurisdiction over.

By virtue of our status as an EU member state, our passports are no longer our own to sell (or, for that matter, give away for free)… which also means that – as far as the European Commission is concerned, at any rate – Malta can no longer compete with the UK by offering citizenship to third country nationals: including all those foreign nurses, who are currently abandoning our country in droves to live and work in the UK.

Britain, on the other hand, no longer has that problem. It left the EU, remember? And oh look: the result of that ‘mad’, ‘stupid’ decision is that there is no longer any European Commission to breathe down Boris Johnson’s neck… or to dictate to him what his country can or cannot do, to address the health crisis brought about by COVID-19.

Small wonder, then, that EU member states have been so hard-hit by the pandemic… while countries unfettered by the EU’s rules and regulations, have managed to fare so very much better. It is not so much a case that the UK’s success has come about despite having left the EU…  on the contrary: the UK is outperforming its EU counterparts– at the expense of our own country, please note – precisely because it is no longer a member-state… and can therefore take its own strategic decisions, without any muddled interference by a clueless, incompetent European Commission.

And this, too, explains why Malta is currently doing nothing whatsoever to prevent a potentially fatal haemorrhage of health workers to another country. It is not, perhaps, because we don’t want to compete with what the UK is offering; it is more that we are simply unable to offer those nurses the same perks and conditions… because the European Commission will not allow us to.

But of course, we will still cling to the illusion that the UK was ‘mad’ and ‘stupid’ to leave the EU: even while Britain is clearly reaping the benefits of that decision, at the cost of our own health service.   

It is, after all, a lot easier – and less painful - than facing the facts.