Be careful what you wish for, Priti Patel

Jon Danzig |

Sometimes it takes the extreme and sudden loss of something to fully appreciate its true value.

When Home Secretary, Priti Patel, gleefully told her Tory faithful at the party’s annual conference last October that she was going to

“end free movement of people once and for all”

she could hardly have had any idea just how much her wish was to come true.

Now, thanks to Covid-19, we’ve lost free movement of people entirely, across our communities, our country, our continent and much of the world.

And do we like it? No.

What the severe loss of free movement has exposed is that we need people. More people than we have in the country.

Farmers are desperate for people to pick their crops. Hospitals desperately need people to care for patients. Care homes desperately need people to look after our elderly. And so, it goes on. Doctors, scientists, architects, teachers…

And why do we need people from Europe? Because we simply don’t have enough people in Britain who can – or who want to – do all the jobs that need doing.

When our economy was fully functioning, we had millions more jobs than Britons to do them. That’s why we needed millions of migrants. (It really is that simple.)

And it makes sense for people from neighbouring countries (it’s called Europe) to come here easily and freely, without layers of bureaucracy and a complicated points system.

The truth is that before the Covid-19 pandemic, free movement between Britain and Europe worked perfectly well. It’s meant that people could come here to live and work, and we could go there.

We never had more EU citizens living here than necessary, because practically all of them have been in gainful employment in the UK, making a massive NET contribution to our Treasury and economy. They mostly came for jobs, and if there were no jobs, they mostly didn’t come or didn’t stay.

Neither have we ever had open borders. Everyone coming to and leaving the UK always has to pass border controls, and under existing rules, we always had the right to reject, or eject, citizens from the rest of Europe who posed specific risks to the country.

What’s more, free movement was never a one-way trip. Having free access to much of our continent has meant millions of Britons have benefited from the right to live, work, study, retire, go on holidays and buy homes in other European countries, with few or no restrictions.

Priti Patel smirked when she said:

“I have a particular responsibility when it comes to taking back control… to end the free movement of people once and for all.”

But what control is she “taking back” exactly?

  • The control to make it more difficult for our fellow Europeans to come here who we really need?
  • The control to prevent us from freely moving and trading across our continent?

Free movement of people between neighbouring countries is a wonderful and beneficial achievement.

What a tragedy that it’s taking a global pandemic, with the loss of tens of thousands of lives, for people to more fully appreciate its value.

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