As a left-wing Labour Party member and Jeremy Corbyn supporter, the party leadership’s policy of an end to free movement (within Europe) has left me rather perplexed. It even made me question my support for the shadow cabinet and Corbyn himself, which is surprising considering that the MP for Islington North’s election as leader in 2015 is the reason that I joined the party. The policy contradicts what democratic socialism is all about, and it is a strange stance considering Corbyn and his colleagues have fought for migrants’ and refugees’ rights for decades. The party must change its policy and protect freedom of movement, then their approach to immigration would align with their other policies to radically change Britain for the better.
Let me give some background to my views on Brexit. I voted remain but I am against the exclusivity of the EU which hinders countries from other parts of the world. By only trading with each other, European countries concentrate wealth in our continent, preventing less wealthy non-European states from developing as they cannot compete. When I suggested in a first-year politics seminar that I would perhaps vote for Brexit because I believed that the EU was a bit of a rich boys’ club, I was met with shocked silence. However, I eventually resolved that the positives of the EU, like freedom of movement, meant that we should share these with other countries rather than leaving. I wanted reform, not a departure. To be honest, I never really considered actually voting leave, I just hoped to provoke some thoughts that might never have gone through the heads of University of Glasgow students.
The reasons behind Labour’s policy are somewhat similar to my doubts about the EU: anti-discrimination and anti-exclusivity. They propose an immigration policy which is based on skill level rather than origin. This is obviously a change which treats people from all foreign countries the same, but low-skilled workers will be left out. The party is also trying to win over working class voters who wanted to leave the EU because of immigration. The anti-immigration argument is based on lies that immigrants are the reason for a lack of secure jobs when that is the fault of years of Tory austerity. On the left we must emphasise this, convince others of the positives of immigration and stick up for working class people, regardless of their nationality.
Ending freedom of movement does not promote equality and it compromises the party’s principles. We are the party that stands up for the workers, regardless of their skill level or their origin and we must continue to do so. Labour should aim to revolutionise the approach to border controls. Obviously, we cannot simply open our borders to everyone overnight as that would not work, but we should be moving towards a world with open borders. To do so, the UK – alongside other wealthy countries – could create a foreign aid programme designed to close the wealth gap between richer and poorer countries and establish shared migration agreements with countries in other parts of the world, starting with former Commonwealth countries.
To reject freedom of movement risks Labour’s reputation as the party that stands for equality. Anti-Brexit parties could gain votes from potential Labour voters as they present themselves as progressive, even though they actually want to change nothing. Protecting freedom of movement, beginning the process of a world with open borders and establishing good relations with countries across the world would cement Labour as a forward-thinking party which fights for the equality of all people.
Even though I disagree with the Labour leadership’s approach to immigration, this does not mean that I have lost faith in them; rather, it means that I will rally for them to change their minds on this issue. To campaign for a second referendum is not the answer, as the movement almost entirely (if not completely) is made up of people who voted to remain and want to block Brexit. Social classes C2, D and E (the lower social classes) voted for Brexit, so if we believe in democracy then we must deliver what the people have voted for. We should do so, however, in a way which promotes equality, and protecting freedom of movement is part of this. I have faith that the Labour leadership will change its approach soon, and I have faith that a socialist Labour Party can and will make the world a better place.