Since the EU Referendum, much of the debate about Brexit has revolved around European freedom of movement. With Britain poised to embark on a ruinous hard Brexit, progressives must not pander to the casual xenophobia and nativism of UKIP and some on the Tory right.
Given the vitriol of the political right towards immigration, it has never been the easiest thing for progressives to defend. However, it is essential that we do defend it. Hard Brexit will do nothing to heal the deep divisions caused by the referendum. If you believe in a free and a fair world then you must support freedom of movement. It boggles the mind how any liberal or social democrat could oppose it.
Britain rightly prides itself on being a multicultural nation. Immigration is good for Britain. Immigrants from the EU are vital to our economy; they contribute directly to economic growth and take less out in welfare than the native population. Our NHS, our universities and many of our small businesses could not survive without immigration, especially from continental Europe. When social problems do arise (whether it be in health, housing or employment), we must not let the right scapegoat immigrants for decades of failed right-wing economic policies.
When we debate freedom of movement, our debates are very lopsided. Freedom of movement is not one concept solely limited to immigration, its one of four interlinked concepts: The freedom of movement, of goods, of services, of capital and of people. The four freedoms are integral to the European single market. Ever since the 1930s Europe has been haunted by the spectre of protectionism and economic nationalism. The single market banished that spectre for good. It ensured that the European economies would be connected together through the mutual links of free trade and open markets.
Even most Conservatives would not have a problem with three of the four freedoms, those that focus primarily on the rights of business; the freedom of goods, services and capital. The fourth freedom focuses on the people within the European economy; the citizens and workers of Europe.
It would be a great injustice to liberate the forces of capital from the nation state without also liberating the forces of labour. Allowing citizens and workers the same freedom to move across an entire continent as businesses is a radical move. It naturally helps to foster a pan-European identity with the different trade union movements across the Continent. This has also led to a transnational basis for establishing and enhancing workers’ rights. In addition, the EU has invested billions of Euros in regional development funding for the most industrially deprived parts of the Union.
We must not forget that freedom of movement is a two-way street; something that millions of British emigrants living on the Continent rely upon. It allows British citizens to get access to social security and health provision in the other EU countries. It allows students to work together across borders in the Erasmus Programme. It allows European citizens and pressure groups to work together to combat international problems such as climate change, inequality and corporate tax avoidance.
We are citizens of Europe. We are citizens of the world. We must support freedom of movement in-order to preserve international solidarity, cooperation and, ultimately, peace. The hard Brexiters who want to end freedom of movement are pursuing a divisive policy. It is vital that progressives ensure the right to remain for all EU citizens currently living in Britain, regardless of Brexit.
We must support freedom of movement not just because it is the moral thing to do but because of the benefits it brings to our country. We should appreciate European immigrants more. They are your doctors. They are your nurses. They are your lecturers. They are your university classmates. They are your work colleagues. They are your local business owners. They are your neighbours. Let’s support a real “Global Britain”, one that is hopeful, tolerant and open to all our fellow Europeans.