Watching Jeremy Corbyn squirm on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, one thing became clear: he, Nigel Farage and Theresa May are united. Not just in wanting to deliver Brexit, but also in wanting to end free movement with the European Union when they do.
“Ending free movement” has been a Brexiteer slogan for so long that it’s easy to forget what Corbyn, Farage and May are really saying when they deploy it.
What they’re really saying is that they want to take away your right to live, work and study anywhere in the EU. That if you love someone from elsewhere in Europe, they want to make it much harder for you to live together.
They’re saying that the NHS should be cut off from the supply of thousands of nurses, doctors and support staff who come from the continent every year to staff our hospitals. And that British businesses should be tied up in reels of new red tape when they try to hire the European workers they need.
Labour, the Conservatives and the Brexit Party are united in trying to rob us of our freedom and our future: hurting British employers and dividing British people from our European friends, families and colleagues.
That might be what the Brexit parties want, but it certainly isn’t what the vast majority of people in the UK want. According to the latest version of the authoritative ‘Eurobarometer’ survey, 74% of Brits are in favour of EU free movement, while just 17% are against it.
That statistic goes against the conventional wisdom in Westminster, where many MPs and journalists treat free movement as if it were universally despised. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen the enormous benefits that EU citizens bring to our communities, our public services, our society and our economy.
Take the NHS, which relies on 20,000 nurses, 10,000 doctors and 14,000 clinical support staff from elsewhere in the EU. It’s already lost more than 5,000 EU nurses (net) in the last two years – exacerbating the nursing shortage that already sees 40,000 posts unfilled.
Even the government’s own ‘Long Term Plan’ for the NHS acknowledges the huge contribution of EU staff and recognises the need to recruit workers from overseas. Yet, at the same time, the Conservatives are planning to make it harder to recruit workers from Europe by ending free movement – aided and abetted by the Labour Party.
When I speak to the management at my local hospital in Kingston, this is their number one concern. Not waiting times, not funding, but staff. How are they going to cope when fewer people come from Europe to work here, and more return home?
And it’s not only the NHS that will suffer. There are 82,000 non-UK EU citizens working in adult social care, and another 84,000 in the construction industry. The government regularly boasts that unemployment is at its lowest rate in more than 40 years; there simply aren’t queues of British people waiting to take on those jobs. So, if free movement ends, who’ll care for our sick and elderly? Who’ll build the 300,000 homes a year Britain needs.
The truth is that EU citizens contribute far more to our economy and public services than they use. The Government’s own analysis says so. If free movement ends, services will be cut, government debt will rise and economic growth will suffer – meaning fewer jobs and lower wages.
And, of course, there are the 1.3 million Brits who make use of free movement to work, study and retire across the continent. They have built lives, families and careers in Europe. But many now fear having their rights curtailed and their lives turned upside-down by Brexit.
It’s no wonder, then, that three quarters of Brits support free movement. May, Corbyn and Farage might not be among them, but the Liberal Democrats certainly are. That’s why we’re fighting to stop Brexit and save free movement.