Opinion
Kim Vowden 12 Oct 2017 11:28am

Free movement is our right, don't give it up

No matter how much Theresa May calls for fresh creative thinking on Brexit, more than a year after the EU referendum we’re still hearing the same arguments.

Leavers, like Mr Farage, view Brexit as a vote for ending the free movement of EU citizens because of concerns about wages and public services. They say that failing to deliver on this would be a betrayal.

Remainers want to stay in the single market as far as possible and say that free movement is the price we have to pay. They sometimes point to studies showing the economic benefits of free movement.

In Florence Mrs May talked of the valuable contribution of EU citizens to the UK and offered greater enforceability of their rights in the UK courts for a transitional period.

What we don’t often hear is people saying that free movement is a wonderful thing in itself and that it benefits UK citizens too. But it does. It’s not something that simply happens to the UK.

Extending free movement across 28 countries with a population of 500 million people is one of the great achievements of the European Union. If you are an EU citizen you have the right to live in any EU country to work or study or just to do your own thing. Millions of people – including millions of British citizens – have taken advantage of this right.

One common objection to this kind of idealistic talk about free movement is that it’s irrelevant to most British people because they haven’t exercised their right of free movement – apart from going on holiday – and have no intention of doing so. The implication is that free movement is fine for people who have a second home in Italy or want to work in Paris for a bit, but it’s not going to help ordinary British people who have no desire to live anywhere else in Europe and meanwhile are feeling the effects of immigration from other EU countries.

This is the opposite of the truth. If free movement is abandoned it’s the rich and highly educated who will be the least affected. You can be sure that there will be rules allowing these people to live and work where they want. It’s everyone else in the UK and their children who will find that their horizons have shrunk to the borders of the UK and Ireland. They will find it much harder to move to another European country. And good luck to a low-paid British person who happens to falls in love with an EU citizen on holiday and discovers that British law says that they’re not allowed to live together in the UK.

Free movement law is sometimes criticised on the grounds that it gives an unfair advantage to EU citizens wishing to move to the UK over people from other parts of the world. It’s obviously true that EU free movement gives an advantage to EU citizens – including British citizens – over people from other countries. There isn’t free movement between the UK and India, so why should we keep EU free movement? Because if we lose it we won’t gain anything and nor will anyone else. A free movement deal between the UK and the US or any other country is not on the cards.

We have had EU free movement for decades. It has enriched the lives of millions of people. It can do the same for countless more of us, our children and our grandchildren. Free movement is our right. Let’s not give it up.

Author Kim Vowden is an immigration lawyer at Kingsley Napley LLP

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