View from the chamber: We must fight for freedom of movement
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Freedom of movement is an unfashionable idea. Neither national nor local politicians, Labour nor Conservative, are willing to advocate for it.
Yet this principle – and the people it has brought to the UK – deserve championing.
Labour’s 2017 manifesto promised “Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union”, whilst the Conservatives pledged to “reduce [...] the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union”.
This attitude has fed through to the Home Office, which has been putting bureaucratic barriers in the way of EU citizens hoping to stay in the UK after Brexit – for example, requiring applicants for settled status to fill out an 89-page form that is often rejected because of technicalities.
Our local politicians in this part of London sound like they want to do better.
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When, at the very first full council after the EU referendum, I moved a motion asking Haringey Council to recognise “that people from other EU countries who live and work in Haringey are a boon and not a burden to our borough”. It was passed unanimously.
However, that was more than two years ago and the Labour administration running the council has delivered little since.
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It only announced assistance for those grappling with those ghastly Settled Status application forms earlier this month. And only because Liberal Democrat councillors had called an extraordinary full council meeting on the people’s vote.
Labour clearly needed something to say. Don’t believe me? Well, they rushed the announcement out the night before the meeting!
Even now, Haringey Labour’s proposals are deeply underwhelming.
For example, unlike many London boroughs, Haringey has not established a passport return service to spare those applying for Settled Status from handing over important documents for long periods.
This is folly. We need to be encouraging EU citizens to stay in places like Haringey, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because they can help us. For example, they are often the ones paying for and delivering public services. Research by Oxford Economics has found that the “average UK-based migrant from Europe contributed approximately £2,300 more to UK public finances in 2016/17 than the average UK adult” and EU nationals make up 11.2 per cent of London’s NHS workforce.
Of course, the best guarantee of their rights is not helping them fill out forms, but the UK staying in the EU and thereby preserving the right to freedom of movement.
It is disappointing, therefore, that the Labour councillors who lead our local councils have so failed in this regard. At Haringey’s extraordinary full council meeting to debate the people’s vote, they gutted a Liberal Democrat motion by taking out all mention of a people’s vote or remaining in the EU. Things were even worse in Camden where Labour councillors spoke for so long that there wasn’t time to debate a similar motion.
Voters, especially those whose right to stay in the UK is on the line, have the right to expect better. Free movement is worth fighting for.