By William Miller
The principle of free movement is regarded as one of the cornerstones of European society and is something which affects as a minimum hundreds of thousands every day. However, according to legal history it is an idea which originates across the Atlantic in 20th century America. In 1941, President Roosevelt announced his four principles of human existence – Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. It is believed that Europe took inspiration from these principles when it created the Single Market in 1993.
The single market in 2021
These original principles have now been moulded and expanded in a way that they are now much more in line with the needs of an economic area which provides benefit to 500 million people through the processes of globalisation and modernisation.
Essentially these principals dictate that an EU member state will profit from ideas such as Freedom of Movement so that they can reap a harvest of opportunities within the economic area.
UK’s post-Brexit place in free movement
However, now that the UK has opted to break away from Europe, British nationals can no longer benefit from such bureaucratic luxuries. Previously, according to the Citizens Rights Directive (CRD), a UK national had the Right of Entry and Exit and the Immediate Right of Residence in any EU member state. Admittedly this only allowed for a three-month residence, but if you wished to stay longer and could fulfil the criteria of either being a worker, a student or self-sustaining in a way that wouldn’t burden the recipient country’s social security system, extending your stay was nothing but a formality.
Instead, now British nationals must follow the same procedures that many other countries adhere to by applying for a Schengen Visa. From fetching medical certificates to show that you won’t pose a great risk to national health, to sending off for documentation proving you haven’t committed any heinous crimes in your lifetime, it’s almost as though Europe doesn’t want a sudden influx of unruly Brits.
Yet, why has such a profound and under-appreciated liberty been taken away from the UK as a nation? The answer to this, like so many other things at the moment, resides in the unrelenting turmoil of Brexit.
Why did the Brexit campaign push against free movement?
Freedom of Movement came under attack from hardliners who argued that despite its unmistakable value, it was forcing the UK to accept too many migrants from Europe. Members of the Brexit hierarchy such as Dominic Cummings took this idea and shaped it into one of the core elements of the Leave campaign. An autonomous Britain, free from European influence would be able to regain control of its borders and prevent excessive levels of migrants from entering.
The 2020 Immigration Bill
The smaller details of such a loss were finalised and compiled in the Immigration Bill which then received royal assent on the 11th November 2020. Names such as Boris Johnson and Priti Patel hailed the end of free movement in the House of Commons as a “grand victory” for Britain and a step towards economic autonomy and prosperity.
When considering whether or not this really will be beneficial for the UK, it is important to examine the objective reality of the matter. Freedom of movement was a fundamental value of the Single Market which presented countless opportunities to interact with other European countries on a social and economic scale. As a result of its removal, UK nationals have lost access to thirty EU nations, which signifies a loss of both freedom and opportunity.
EU citizens in the UK
On a domestic scale, what does this mean for EU nationals already within the UK? An estimated 3.6 million EU citizens reside within the UK, with many having done so for decades. They must now apply for citizenship or risk illegal status.
Obviously the correct and proper procedures should be followed but for some it seems slightly absurd.
For example, as reported in the Washington Post, such a case is that of Damian Wawrzyniak a cook for the Royal family for 15 years.
Having spent most of his adult life in the UK than in his native Poland, he has had his application for permanent residency turned down. If it wasn’t for a campaign which gained popularity online, this decision would’ve stood.
The post-Brexit climate has echoes of the Windrush Scandal. Following WWII, Caribbean families were encouraged to come to the UK to help rebuild the country. Once imigration rules were tightened, many were deported. According to Robert Ford, a professor of political science at Manchester University, those who don’t register by the cut-off date could amount to another Windrush.
Currently, the opinion held by EU citizens in the UK is one of scepticism in regard to new regulations and systems with some feeling humiliated by the whole idea. They are on the verge of being rejected despite working in key sectors of the UK such as healthcare. Surely in the time of Covid, Britain cannot afford to be losing valuable healthcare professionals in the name of some convoluted political agenda which elects to condemn those from poorer nations than our own?
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