EU referendum: Celebrate free movement in Europe, says Caroline Lucas

Green MP urges pro-Europe campaigners to be positive about migration

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Indy Politics

Campaigners for Britain to stay in the EU must stand up to anti-immigration rhetoric and not shy away from celebrating “the wonderful gift” of freedom of movement, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas will urge.

In a call for the pro-EU camp to make a more positive case for staying in the union, Ms Lucas will urge fellow progressives to stand up for EU nationals’ right to live and work in the UK, and to champion the benefits of freedom of movement to British students, workers and retirees.

Speaking at the London School of Economics (LSE) on 3 March, Ms Lucas is expected to say: “No case for the EU is complete without making clear just how much we value the contributions of our fellow Europeans to our country. They are our doctors, our nurses, our shopkeepers, our plumbers, our teachers, our professors, our builders. 

“They are our friends, our neighbours. Failing to make clear just how much we value EU nationals’ part in the UK’s story would be a dereliction of our duty as progressives.”

Arguments for staying in the EU have so far focused on the risks to the UK’s economy and security outside of the union.

Remain campaigners have tended to avoid discussions of migration, fearing a backlash from a public perceived to be anti-immigration. But Ms Lucas will argue that failing to talk-up the benefits of freedom of movement would be to concede defeat to “the poisonous and divisive anti-immigration rhetoric of UKIP”.

“Their warped mythmaking on migration won’t be beaten by winning this referendum alone – it will be beaten when politicians are brave enough to stand up to the myths and lies they spread – and promote fair, alternative solutions to genuine concern,” she is expected to say.

Hammond on Brexit danger

David Cameron’s EU renegotiation sought to address public concerns about immigration by achieving new restrictions on welfare payments for EU migrants. Meanwhile, the migrant and refugee crisis on the Continent has led pro-EU campaigners to shy away from citing freedom of movement as one of the benefits of EU membership.

By contrast, Leave campaigners, particularly the Leave.EU campaign, spearheaded by the millionaire UKIP donor Arron Banks, have highlighted greater border control as one of the major benefits of leaving the EU.  

Ms Lucas will argue that freedom of movement had not always functioned “smoothly”, leading to strains on local services and community cohesion in areas of high immigration, and echoed calls from the Labour party for extra Government support to those areas most-affected.

But she will emphasise that it has benefitted not only the UK economy, through the tax receipts of EU nationals living and working in the country, but the lives of millions of British nationals who can live, study and work abroad.

Lamont backs EU exit

On 2 March, the leaders of the Remain campaign group, Britain Stronger in Europe, restated the economic risks to the UK of leaving the EU, pointing out that trade deals would need to be renegotiated, not only with the EU, but with up to 50 other countries with whom our current arrangements have been negotiated via the EU.

Appearing before the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, Will Straw, executive director of Britain Stronger in Europe, told MPs that trade renegotiations in the event of Brexit would take “many, many years” and require “huge government resources”.

“We don’t have a large number of officials in the business department who are negotiating trade deals at the moment,” he said. “We’d need to divert huge government resources to, I presume, trying to negotiate simultaneously 50 deals. That would be a massive undertaking.”

Rachel Reeves, a Labour member of the Treasury Select Committee, said that jobs and investment would “inevitably be at risk if we were to leave the EU.”

But eurosceptic ministers have dismissed Government warnings about the fallout of Brexit for Britain’s trade deals. Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling said it would be “imperative” for countries like France and Germany to reach favourable terms with the UK because “their industries, their car industries in Germany, their agricultural industries in France, depend on our consumers”.