For the EU, freedom of movement is a shibboleth – one of the ‘sacred’ pillars of the single market and a crowning achievements of European integration. It has become part of the DNA of our European identity - the birth-right of a new generation of Europeans.
The British, on the other hand, cite free movement as their main reason for wanting to leave the EU and the Immigration White Paper seeks to confine it to history. In future, EU citizens who want to live, work, love or study in Britain will have to ask for permission.
This marks a sad day for EU citizens and a day of shame for Britain.
Europeans will henceforth be treated as second-class citizens and lose the equality of status previously guaranteed by virtue of the fact that they were EU citizens living in another EU member state. Meanwhile the Government is shamefully stripping 63 million of its own citizens of the rights they currently enjoy within the EU.
There can be little doubt that the aim of this new policy is to deter EU citizens from coming to Britain and to encourage those who are already living in the UK to leave.
If that claim seems implausible, remember that the Prime Minister has just recommitted to getting net migration target in the UK down to the tens of thousands per annum.
EU citizens who do still want to come to Britain, may need to prove that they will earn at least £30,000 per annum - a threshold which would be beyond most public sector workers in the UK. The government has at least decided to put the threshold out for consultation.
"None of these measures are a surprise. The UK government has spent two and a half years taking aim at the 'bloody foreigners' - dismantling EU citizens’ right to freedom of movement is the culmination of a long campaign"
None of these measures are a surprise. The UK government has spent two and a half years taking aim at the “bloody foreigners” - dismantling EU citizens’ right to freedom of movement is the culmination of a long campaign. Very few Britons self-identify as EU citizens - the fact that will also lose their rights does not yet seem to have sunk in.
That the Conservative government hostility to free movement is unedifying but it is not ideologically driven. If Britain suddenly faced labour shortages, the Conservative rhetoric might change again. The most powerful advocate of the Single Market at the time of its conception was none other than Margaret Thatcher.
The real tragedy for Britain is the position of the Labour Party. Rather than opposing the ending of free movement, the Labour Party seems to have embraced it.
In the course of the debate, Dianne Abbott, the Labour Party’s Home Affairs spokesperson, said her constituents complained that new arrivals from the EU were taking the jobs of more established communities with backgrounds from Commonwealth countries. There is no evidence whatsoever to back up this claim.
She also said there was no reason to treat an application from a Polish doctor any differently to that from that of a doctor from Pakistan. This is the pursuit of egalitarianism by a levelling down of rights rather than a levelling up and it is Leninist claptrap.
Labour’s previous position was simply to acknowledge that the end of free movement would be a consequence of Brexit, not to welcome its abolition. Labour is now advocating free circulation of money, goods and services while opposing the free movement of people.
The Tories and the Labour party are strange bedfellows. However, their attitude to free movement belies a lack of commitment to European integration and a profound alienation from what it means to have a shared European identity.