Published on LabourList 10th April 2019.
Our country stands on the brink of losing freedom of movement. Given its net benefits to the UK economy and our people’s opportunities, this should worry us all, especially in our capital. London needs its migrant workforce. Our hospitality, construction and other sectors thrive on it and all are now facing an unparalleled recruitment challenge already, which can only be exacerbated by Brexit. There simply aren’t enough unemployed or trained alternatives to replace the EU lifeblood in London’s workforce.
The rest of the country also needs London to continue performing well: the city contributes almost 30% of the entire country’s GDP. Despite backing Brexit, pensioners who think they are now receiving what they paid into the system decades ago also need to realise that governments have spent that already. We need the billions EU citizens contribute annually to our economy to sustain existing pension payments, before our ageing demographics and declining working age population are even taken into account.
Our public services rely heavily on the contribution people from other EU member states make, including the NHS. Three years ago my daughter was born by emergency C-section at St Thomas’ Hospital. Due to Brexit, that midwifery unit has seen a 90% drop in applications to join the workforce from other EU countries. This is beyond worrying – it is life threatening.
What is even more shocking in the debate is the lack of focus on what UK citizens lose if freedom of movement ends. Brexit fans are apparently excited about blue passports, but they come at our own cost through new fees to get to Brits’ most visited tourist hotspots in Spain, France and Ireland. The (delayed) 50p Brexit coin has a flip side – losing the right to work in 27 other countries. UK students also lose the ability to study in Copenhagen and Amsterdam as they currently do in large numbers. Expat pensioners living in Benidorm and the Algarve will lose access to free healthcare. Fundamentally, every UK citizen will see their passport and opportunities downgraded.
I care about the 10,000 people from other EU member states living in my central London constituency. I also care about the other 120,000 constituents losing out. That so little is made of this massive reduction in the statuses of our country and people speaks volumes about the toxic migration narrative.
It seems absurd to me that any MP would back a ‘deal’ cooked up in Downing Street between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn that ignores 80% of our economy, leaving just a customs union on the table. Absurdly, this would mean allowing a can of beans to travel across the wealthiest trade bloc on the planet while locking human beings out of that same freedom.
Labour MPs may face a stark choice this week, between acknowledging the contribution of migration or rejecting it and damaging our country, economy and undermining our party’s values. Abandoning freedom of movement would lead to more members, councillors and MPs leaving Labour. Thankfully, if there is a vote, the whip no longer matters. Shadow cabinet members have ignored it without consequences, making it irrelevant to all MPs. So London frontbenchers like John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott can stand by their principles and support freedom of movement, or risk further damage to – and departures from – Labour.