“We will remain an open and tolerant country, and one that recognises the valuable contribution migrants make to our society and welcomes those with the skills and expertise to make our nation better still. But in the future we must ensure we can control the number of people coming to the UK from the EU.“
– The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union.
While this statement sounds positive, one wonders how the current government can say that this country is so “open and tolerant” when the levels of hate crime based on faith and religion increased by 23% after the Referendum to leave the EU; over one third of police saw a rise in similar hate crimes by more than 40%. These statistics clearly show that this country is not nearly as “open and tolerant” as the government wants it to be. Unfortunately, this statement seems to set the tone for the entire recently-released white paper: full of adjectives and imperatives, but lacking any real substance.
A particular statement which stands out as perhaps one-sided is the comment that there is currently “unlimited free movement of people to the UK from the EU”: this is true. However, there is also unlimited free movement of people from the UK to the EU. After the UK’s departure from the European Union, it is not only the open border into the UK that will change, but also the border into the EU; with this change, we are damaging our own ability to migrate, or even to travel, as well as that of the other nations in the EU. This point brings home the fact that whatever union we are in, whether it is a singular trade deal with one country, or one as large as the EU, we will. always have to make our own sacrifices in order to reap the benefits: that is the nature of any union. Another, arguably short-sighted point in the argument against immigration from the EU as a whole is the fact that, after Brexit, the only immigration statistic that will change is the number of immigrants from the EU; however, in 2015, less than half of net migration to the UK was from the EU.
One of the many controversial news stories over the past year was the discovery that nurses were not being allowed to migrate to the UK, due to the fact that their proposed salaries were not high enough. Despite this, in the Brexit white paper, it is stated that “The UK will always welcome … those with the skills and expertise to make our nation better”. Personally, I find this quite difficult to believe, given the aforementioned statistics concerning immigration allowed (or not) for nurses wishing to work in the UK. One thing which stands out about the white paper is a general tone of a lack of any preparation so far. For example, the government says that they “will build a comprehensive picture”, not that they have, and that there “may be a phased process of implementation”, not that there will be. This not only shows us that the government is less prepared that we might like them to be, but it also shows the EU that we are in a weaker negotiating position as a result of this.
The European Union is a union in which each member benefits and makes sacrifices, just as is needed in any union or agreement. Immigration agreements and free movement are some of the huge benefits of being part of the EU, and something that we will now lose. Whatever your opinion on this, one cannot ignore the lack of coherence, candour and preparation throughout the Brexit process thus far.
Written by Eva Smith