This short article was written in response to a request from the Mercury Newspaper
Free movement of people brings real benefits to us in the UK. It’s good for travel and tourism and helps businesses close gaps in the skills they need. It also enables millions of Brits to travel, study and work across the EU. Indeed, over 1.2 million British citizens have taken up the opportunity to live abroad.
But let’s be clear. Our borders are not ‘open’. We are not part of the open-borders Schengen agreement and have a legal block to keep that control. We check passports and since 2010 nearly 100,000 people have been refused entry to the UK. So despite some scare-mongering the truth is that our borders are already controlled. That’s why we made our own decision to help 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees and were not part of the EU’s wider quota system.
Some people understandably worry that some EU citizens are exploiting our welfare system. In fact, following the deal struck recently by the Prime Minster, EU migrants who haven’t got a job within six months will be required to leave; will no longer be able to claim Universal Credit; and any new arrivals will have their claims restricted, until 2028.
If we were to leave the EU, our current freedom to travel across the EU abroad would have to be replaced, presumably by a very expensive and slow visa system each time we want to go to each EU country. Equally, many of the 1.2 million British citizens now in the EU would no longer enjoy current access to healthcare and many would return to the UK, putting a huge strain on the NHS. Also, ‘Leave’ campaigners have yet to say how many EU migrants they would allow in, leaving our businesses unsure if they will be able to recruit the staff they need.
Overall we benefit from our freedom of travel through the EU, whilst our decision to keep out of the open-border Schengen Agreement means that we are able to control who comes in. Leaving the EU would throw all that away.