Priti Patel’s abrupt ending of freedom of movement would not only be morally wrong – it would cripple our NHS

The Tories' plans do nothing but harm to this country and are the opposite to the open modern and tolerant Britain the Liberal Democrats are fighting for

Ed Davey
Monday 19 August 2019 19:35 BST
Jeremy Corbyn vows to do 'everything necessary' to stop no-deal Brexit

A top mandarin like the BBC’s infamous Sir Humphrey has probably already told the new home secretary that her plans to impose new border restrictions on 27 neighbouring European countries in 73 days are “brave, minister”.

Yet since this particular Whitehall farce is real-life and will affect everyone in our country and beyond, what Priti Patel has also probably been told is, “Minister, your plans are dangerous, impractical and maybe illegal, but we will do our best.”

The alarm about a no-deal Brexit was already at chaos level – and not just from Remainers like Liberal Democrats. Go read the government’s own analysis on Operation Yellowhammer. Priti Patel looks set to make chaos look attractive.

Let’s face it, the Home Office is not known for its efficiency, at the best of times. Yet with no system in place to manage the end of free movement for 27 of our closest neighbours – and no future plans for them in the early stages – Britain’s borders may well just shut down.

They were going to struggle with the implications of a no-deal Brexit for goods on freight transport, where there has actually been some planning and preparations. Now they will have to cope with this new and unexpected challenge.

Even Sajid Javid, the new chancellor and formerly the home secretary, thought that the idea of such an abrupt end to free movement was impractical.

It is totally absurd that NHS workers could be held up returning to the UK, and families could be separated, purely because the home secretary wants to appear tough – even in the absence of a contingency plan. She has destroyed any credibility she had, in just a few days in the job.

And what’s her boss doing? Boris Johnson pretends to care about the NHS – but a policy to end freedom of movement on 31 October could well damage your local hospital and your local care homes. The NHS is already suffering with staff shortages. This new meltdown policy will make such serious problems even worse.

Is there a reason for this insanity? Well, it is the logic of a no-deal Brexit. And an extremely right wing government preparing for an early election, and playing to their anti-immigrant base.

But it must be challenged. And not just in its impracticality and illegality. But also on principle.

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Liberal Democrats cherish freedom of movement. Why?

First, we believe in freedom. Freedom for people – British or European – to move across the European Union to work, live and love.

Second, freedom of movement has brought British citizens huge benefits – not least an immensely positive effect on our public services and industries, as well as giving our own citizens the capacity to explore other countries at leisure.

There are 3.7 million EU citizens living in the United Kingdom, who contribute significantly to our economy. For instance, the NHS relies on 20,000 nurses, 10,000 doctors and 14,000 clinical support staff from other EU countries. It has already lost more than 5,000 EU nurses in the last two years, while also suffering a nursing shortage with 40,000 positions vacant. There are 82,000 EU citizens working in social care, and another 84,000 in the construction industry – how will these industries survive without this workforce?

Higher education and science have also seen great benefit from our inclusion of the EU. We are currently home to 140,000 EU students, one in six academic staff in UK higher education institutions are from elsewhere in the EU, and UK students also have the benefit of being able to study abroad with ease.

Boris Johnson’s plans do nothing but harm to this country and are the opposite to the open modern and tolerant Britain the Liberal Democrats are fighting for.

Those that have been fortunate enough to grow up in the UK have enjoyed the freedom to live, work, study anywhere in the EU. Recent polling from Eurobarometer suggests that 72 per cent of people living in the UK are in favour of these freedoms.

Liberal Democrats want future generations to continue to enjoy the same privileges – and remaining within the EU is the best way to secure them. Johnson and Patel may want to destroy our NHS and economy with this madness but the Liberal Democrats will continue to lead the fight to stop Brexit.

Ed Davey is the Lib Dem MP for Kingston and Surbiton

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