As a Remainer (or Remoaner, if you’re a Paul Joseph Watson fan), it should come as no surprise to anyone when I share that I’ve always been a big fan of freedom of movement. It was a deciding factor for me in the referendum. Having been lucky enough to live in The Hague for a couple of years as my dad worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, I do admittedly have a certain level of bias. But plenty of people also think freedom of movement is also a rather good thing. Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, put it far better than I probably can in a recent interview with the Guardian, when he argued that “without freedom of movement, it is very difficult for individuals to live their lives to the fullest… To live is to choose, life is choices, and that often entails movement… It is absolutely essential.”
without freedom of movement, it is very difficult for individuals to live their lives to the fullest
So, when a leaked Home Office document emerged last week in The Guardian with fairly meticulous detail on how exactly the Prime Minister and her team intend to deter “all but highly skilled” EU workers from entering the UK, I’m sure you can gauge my reaction. But it wasn’t just me. Social media, the press, tabloids – everyone was up in arms about the paper. The short answer to how Mrs May plans to deter “lower skilled” EU workers is, essentially, make life pretty awful for them. Ranging from new divisive definitions on what “family” means in order to hit new self-imposed immigration targets, to implementing US-style border security; it is clear that the government’s line of fire is aimed very firmly at current and potential EU citizens.
it is clear that the government’s line of fire is aimed very firmly at current and potential EU citizens.
But perhaps Kofi is overreacting. I thought we all hip-hoorayed when Michael Gove said we’d had enough of experts. If only one of the last surviving Beatles had some words of wisdom to offer. As if by magic, Ringo Starr surfaced from the depths of the Hollywood Hills to pipe up in a recent BBC interview that “they need to get on with it. To be in control of your own country is a good move.” But Ringo, whatever happened to letting it be and coming together? Ex-UN secretary general, or an aging rocker (who doesn’t actually live in the UK)? It’s a tough one.
Whether you’re team Kofi or team Ringo, it’s something of an understatement to say that since the referendum last year, Brexit has become one of, if not the most, defining issues of modern Britain. So what was it about this leaked document that provoked such an outcry from Yvette Cooper to Jamie Oliver?
Brexit has become one of, if not the most, defining issues of modern Britain
A common theme that emerges in the 82-page paper is the overriding desire to put Britain first. Literally. It promises to ensure that “preference in the job market is given to resident workers”, and that UK employers “should look to meet their labour needs from resident labour”. The only slight issue with this kind of prioritisation is that whilst EU nationals make up roughly 7% of the national workforce, certain sectors such as the hospitality and retail sectors rely heavily on their presence in order to function. Speaking to LBC, TV chef Jamie Oliver compared the proposals to a form of “self-harm”, as much of the food industry employs high number of EU workers – indeed, Oliver shared that 60% of his current restaurant employees are European. Several businesses in the sector responded similarly, with the British Hospitality Association describing the paper as potentially “catastrophic”, and the National Farmers Union warning of “massive disruption to the entire food chain”.
Furthermore, not only should these lesser skilled EU workers come last in the food chain of jobs, but in order to be “considered valuable” to the country, they should also “make existing residents better off”. But is it the presence of EU migrants that’s most harmful to existing residents, or a 5-year inflation high alongside wage freezes and stagnation? I’m assuming the same cosmically high standards, too, will be expected of the 300,000+ British nationals currently living in Spain? Perhaps this means Brits might have to offer the Costa del Sol more than sports bars and full English breakfasts.
Other unsettling highlights of the document include its fixation with security. Considerations of “a requirement for certain travellers to the UK to have obtained an Electronic Travel Authorisation before they travel, in the same way that the US requires UK travellers going to the US to have obtained an ESTA”, are on the table. Coincidentally, the leaked document was released on the same day as President Donald Trump’s announcement to put an end to Obama’s legacy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). It seems that post-Brexit Britain is taking its cues from its larger, more racially-divided ally. At least UKIP seemed pleased enough with the leaked paper, saying that it “takes the right line”. Apparently bureaucracy is alright when it’s British.
It seems that post-Brexit Britain is taking its cues from its larger, more racially-divided ally
That is, after all, if by taking “the right line”, you mean the line of creating a two tiered system between richer and poorer EU workers. For all its talk of “unskilled” workers, the paper made no attempt of formally defining the term. Steven Woolfe, former MEP, UKIP leader rival and part of the group Leaves Mean Leave (yes, that’s an actual group), used a £35,000 salary threshold as his divider between “skilled” and “unskilled”. Which is all well and good, until it transpires that nurses, primary school teachers and social workers all fall into the “unskilled” category. And seeing as only ¼ of current UK employees earn more than £35,000, let’s hope the government arrives at a better definition than Woolfe.
It’s important to remember that analyses (if you can call this article that) like these may not even exist in the very near future. Leaked documents like this 82 page paper have always conjured in our minds House of Cards-esque connotations, but even more so do they in 2017. In February this year, news broke of proposals to overhaul the Official Secrets Act which could entail slapping journalists with up to 14 years in prison for “obtaining and gathering” sensitive information.
This leaked paper is nothing but an echo of these February proposals, with tighter security, increased surveillance and more paperwork. With a sprinkling of anti-immigration.
Blissful was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be Brits was very heaven!