Freedom of movement is everybody’s right


by David Landau

The question of immigration will be central to this General Election, whether immigration is talked about directly or indirectly in the debate about Brexit.  Theresa May insists that the election is about Brexit – ‘strengthening my hand in negotiating with the leaders of 27 countries’.  But what is the sticking point in these negotiations, other than the small matter of £50 billion or is it £100 billion?  The sticking point is Freedom of Movement versus access to the single market, trade deals etc.  And Freedom of Movement is of course all about migration.  So we are guaranteed that immigration controls will be a central hot topic.

 Freedom of Movement and Fortress Europe        

‘Freedom of Movement’ as understood in the EU context is twinned with Fortress Europe and is not about the true freedom of movement for humanity as a whole.  To be sure, some of the borders in Europe, the borders covered by the signatories of the Schengen Agreement are open to all.  But, they are designed only for Europeans.  The borders of the continent are meant to be secure so that few non-Europeans will get any benefit from these borders being open.  This is no small matter.  The borders of Europe have become stronger and stronger and pan-European outfits like Frontex patrol the seas more intensely.  The result is the huge number of people drowning in the Mediterranean trying to get to Europe.  It means thousands of refugees freezing at the borders of Serbia and Macedonia.

Neither does the EU meaning of Freedom of Movement imply the right to stay.  There are all sorts of restrictions put upon European nationals.  The Government has had a policy of making life as hostile as possible for people coming here, especially if they don’t have a job.  This is partly to deter EU migrants and partly to make them more vulnerable and therefore more exploitable if they have no access to benefits or services.   The Government wants more freedom to make this regime even more onerous.  EU regulations do not allow that, which was an issue Cameron was trying to negotiate with the EU before the referendum, but failed.

If and when the Britain (or just England and Wales?) finally leaves the EU without Freedom of Movement, they can enact laws to stop the entry of EU citizens into the country, or even kick EU Citizens who have been living here.  There has been quite broad opposition to this, including from the House of Lords.  But this is a very limited, but important, aspect of immigration controls as far as Left Unity is concerned.

Where do we stand?

Our starting point is that any law which makes a person illegal because of who they are, is unacceptable.  So laws which make someone illegal because of where they are born, where their parents were born, what language they speak, what colour their skin is, what they believe, their sexuality  and gender – all such laws are racist or sexist, or homophobic and should be opposed vigorously.  Immigration controls are making millions of people across the world illegal.  So we reject the idea that you can have non-racist, fair immigration controls.  To be sure, we can make specific demands to make them less bad, or campaign against steps to make them worse.  Indeed we have to do that.  But Left Unity is very clear that it is opposed to all immigration controls.

What do the mainstream Parties say?

We have already indicated what the Government and so the Tories want, and we will come back to some other attacks on refugees and migrants.

Lib Dems

The Lib Dems had a shameful role in the days of the coalition, leading to the resignation of Sarah Teather MP because of their collaboration in the hostility regime.  Today, as Remainers they support the limited EU meaning of Freedom of Movement but lapse into talking about how good migration can be but how it has to be controlled, which has been the Tory mantra for years.


Until Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the party the Labour Party had a dreadful position on immigration.  Yvette Cooper was the Labour spokesperson on the issue and regularly tried to outflank the Tories from the right, arguing that they were not doing enough to ‘to control our borders’.   This was not very different from Nigel Farage on many occasions.  With the election of Jeremy things looked much more hopeful, especially on his first day as leader when he addressed the ‘Refugees are Welcome here’ demonstration.  But the right-wingers in the party kept on saying the same stuff that Cooper had said for years.  And recently the leadership has been more edgy about defending Freedom of Movement even in its more restricted sense.  There is immense pressure to retreat from support for migrants and refugees, knowing that migration was one of the main reasons people voted Brexit including in Labour heartlands.  This has partly been because of Labour’s failure to defend jobs and services over decades in those areas.  But Labour must take up the argument rather adapting to it.  It will be interesting to see what the manifesto says in a few days.

All the parties, even UKIP attacked the Tories on the question of the tiny number of unaccompanied child migrants from Syria were being allowed in and on the question of EU residents settled here.

Jobs     It is argued that migrants are taking the jobs of British nationals, depressing wages and worsening conditions in the work place.  Recent studies simply do not indicate a correlation between wage depression and migration.  However, it is immigration controls NOT immigration which threaten to do this and in some places  have had this effect.  If the Government makes a swathe of people ‘illegal’ this makes them more desperate and therefore more vulnerable to unscrupulous employers.  If you have a layer of people who are not allowed benefits this creates the same problem.  If you give migrants fewer rights than other workers then they are again in a weaker position vis-a-vis the employer.  The answer is not the scapegoating of migrants but workers’ unity, for equal rights, job security and wages.

Benefits and Services                       

Again people worry that more people here will put too much strain on benefits and public services.  Studies show that actually migrants overall put more into the system than they take out. Remember who built the NHS.  Migrants are less likely to claim all their entitlements than not, despite the rhetoric saying that they are coming here to claim benefits.  Our support for free movement and the right to stay does not depend on these contingent questions.  We would support migration even in circumstances where this would be a strain – for example adult refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe were not generally allowed into Britain and so perished in the Holocaust.   They would have put a strain on resources in the short-term but it would have been the right thing to do.  So it is with the humanitarian crisis we see today caused by war, persecution, famine, climate change.  But it is important to take up these contingent questions against the lies which come from certain politicians and the media about Britain being ‘full up’.


Freedom of Movement is not all just one way.  There are many British people who have chosen to live abroad. But the inequalities in the world, largely created by imperialism, causes a huge displacement of people.  The majority of them go to neighbouring countries – only a small proportion make it to Europe or the borders of Europe.

Left Unity fights for an equal world.  In such a world, freedom of movement in its widest sense will be simply part of the pleasures of being human.  Until then, it will be a necessary condition of survival for millions of people and must be defended and extended.


1 comment

One response to “Freedom of movement is everybody’s right”

  1. Eran says:

    Hi David,

    Thank you for writing this important piece. I wrote this in 2014:



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