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For Brexit To Be A Success, Britain Must Overcome Its Suspicion Of EU Migrants

09/02/2017 08:24 GMT | Updated 09/02/2017 17:59 GMT
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The recent decision made by the Supreme Court was a hugely positive step in the Brexit process, not only because by-passing Parliament on this matter would be hugely undemocratic, but it is the duty of Parliament to represent all of society and the whole country in the decision-making, not simply champion the views of the majority. This representation should extend to the millions of EU citizens who live in the UK and contribute to our society.

 

Currently however, there is a growing trend in world politics to treat human movement as a bargaining chip for political gain. Debates, such as the one recently in the Commons, often overlook the uncomfortable reality that we are discussing the futures of real individuals - over three million of them - who have contributed so much to our economy and culture. 

 

Despite the overtly negative rhetoric claiming immigration is pushing out British-born workers, we have one of the lowest levels of unemployment in our history - these people are essential, and we have rightly integrated them within our global economy. As many others have said before me, the National Health Service would cease to function without the tireless contributions of over 160,000 EU workers and the many more who work in the care sector. Nor too will the growing need for houses be fulfilled without the 250,000 people from the European Union working in the construction industry.

 

The same also can be said for universities, which are dependent on their ties to Europe: 1 in 3 academics in UK universities are foreign, and EU residents make up a significant proportion of that. EU students also, who at present number over 160,000, may well be dissuaded by ineligibility for student loans and a higher rate of tuition fees. In short, we risk jeopardising our global reputation for higher education and learning over unfounded fears of immigration.

 

Ardent critics of the EU are right when they say we have no control over our borders. But this does not stem from unrestricted freedom of movement but rather because we have removed exit checks from our borders and thus we simply do not know who exactly remains in the country beyond the period covered by their visa. Needless to say, this uncertainty breeds negative assumptions, such as the pervasive idea that foreign students overstay their welcome in order to obtain citizenship, when in fact only a tiny minority have ever attempted this.

 

Theresa May, as Home Secretary, previously stated that all foreign students should leave the day they graduate. It was not so much later that the current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, called for companies to list foreign workers and Robert Goodwill, the Immigration Minister, has proposed that companies should pay £1000 for each EU worker they employ. All these actions betray a dangerous mindset towards negotiations with the EU: that foreign workers are replaceable, dispensable commodities of little long-term significance, who whilst here are a danger to the country's wellbeing.

 

It is a mindset which is seemingly shared across much of the country. The referendum itself has unleashed a wave of hate crime and vitriol directed towards foreign migrants, EU and non-EU alike. The government, and the nation as a whole, needs to escape this outlook if we are to have any success in EU negotiations and maintain our position as a leading global economy.

 

Success in these negotiations will not come from holding an uncompromising, unsympathetic standpoint. The best negotiators know that the ultimate aim is not to win in a standoff, but to achieve the preordained objectives. We will need to make compromises, we will need to be creative, and most importantly, we will need to be sensitive to the concerns of the "other side". The primary aim for the EU is one of self-preservation, and progression - not to unduly punish us. A failure to appreciate these fundamental facts could well result in a no-deal scenario, which would be disastrous for all parties involved.

 

If we are going to get through these negotiations, it must be in the best interests of this country that we treat with respect the three million EU workers whose work here has benefited our country and helped make us the fifth largest economy in the world.