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Fri, 23 October 2020

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The Immigration Bill must not wipe out the freedom of movement so many Britons have benefited from

The Immigration Bill must not wipe out the freedom of movement so many Britons have benefited from

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4 min read

My amendment is to the Immigration Bill is asking members of the House of Lords to protect the freedom of Britons for decades to come.

I am approaching the first anniversary of my entry to the House of Lords. Hansard tells me I’ve made 200 contributions over that very eventful year – a general election, Brexit and a pandemic – but today I’m planning to take a new step.

For the first time, I’ll be calling a vote in the House.

I’m not expecting to be popular in doing that. The House is generally reluctant to call votes. There’s pressure to only call votes that can be won and to make relatively small amendments to Bills. Other votes today are expected to do that, but that’s not the nature of the amendment I’ll be pushing.

My amendment is to the Immigration Bill, and is a modest little snippet of text: “Leave out Clause 1”.

If you go back to the government’s bill, you’ll find it covers, “repeal of the main retained EU law relating to free movement etc”.

This is the point – from the view of the House of Lords – at which the freedom of movement that was the birthright for everyone born since 1992, that their elders have enjoyed since then, is finally, irrevocably wiped out.

We have an expectation that society is advancing and improving, yet after 28 years we are taking a massive step backward.

Credit to Conservative Baroness McIntosh of Pickering who in the Committee Stage noted how much she personally had benefitted from freedom of movement. Many other Lords will have similarly benefited.

I think particularly now as I write to 18-year-olds having such a torrid time at university, who’ve endured all the chaos of A-level results, who now face losing an escape route, a safety valve, but above all an opportunity to roam a continent without restraint – free to study, to work, to live, to love without thought of visa or restriction.

That’s a loss that I do not think should be allowed to slip gently into the political darkness.

We have a government determined to stop such inward migration, and our young people are going to find themselves treated in a mirrored way across Europe

Much of the focus of freedom of movement has been on the fate of some 4 million EU citizens in the UK. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to stop the worst impacts of the Home Office’s Hostile Environment. From being stranded with “No Recourse to Public Funds”, to being suddenly deprived of a bank account or a drivers’ licence, to the uncertain fate of young people, particularly in care, who might be entitled to British citizenship but are not supported to claim it.

There’s a rightful focus on the Britons who now face being unable to live in their own country with European spouse or partner and children.

But today I’ll be focusing on the Britons affected.

Rich people, and those with connections, will of course not be anything more than mildly inconvenienced. If you have enough cash, you can buy a passport from several European countries – earn big and a visa won’t be a barrier.

Over the long, weary years of campaigning against Brexit, I’ve met many Britons who aren’t in that category. But to establish a new life on the Continent, with the choice of more than a score of countries before them, all they needed was a sense of adventure (or sometimes desperation), a few pounds for a cheap coach fare, and they could set out.

We have a government determined to stop such inward migration, and our young people are going to find themselves treated in a mirrored way across Europe.

This is all now one enormous, careless rush, with less than 100 days before the end of the Brexit transition period.

In the Committee debate Lib Dem Baroness Hamwee noted that the Bill removes “all rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures which derive from EU law”. I can’t tackle everything, but I do want to do everything I can to highlight the biggest, greatest loss.

I’ll be asking every member of the House of Lords to be on the record – will they vote to greatly reduce the freedom of Britons from January, and probably for decades to come, will they show their opposition, or will they remain off-the-record in the face of this massive loss?

 

Baroness Bennett is a Green Party Member of the House of Lords.

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