Freedom of movement after Brexit

Like many other Remain supporters, I felt a strong sense of grief and anger in the aftermath of the referendum result. With my judgment somewhat clouded, I signed a petition calling for a second referendum, on the basis that less than 50% of all eligible voters backed the Leave decision.

Now that those stronger emotions have subsided, I do somewhat regret having signed it. The Leave win was delivered upon a strong anti-establishment, anti-intellectual undercurrent. A cry for a second referendum from Remainers, especially on technicalities, would only serve to deepen such sentiment.

I feel that it would be more productive and constructive to move on from denial and instead start to contemplate what can be done to mitigate the potential damage to the British economy, and to secure the most positive outcome possible within the constraints of the cards recently dealt to the nation. Especially when it seems that the Vote Leave people appear to have no plan whatsoever.

One common suggestion that I’ve been hearing is that the UK will probably end up as part of the EEA or EFTA. This seems like an obvious choice, even back when a Remain outcome seemed so inevitable to many of us. However, right now, I think this option is neither politically tenable nor wise. The main reason being that I simply cannot see other EU members affording the UK such a status without also requiring it to maintain its commitment to freedom of movement.

As a non-EU immigrant, I have always been envious of this privilege enjoyed by my European friends. I, for one, looked forward to the day when I no longer have lug a large file of documents to queue at the visa office every time I want to visit the continent, let alone to live there. At the end of the day, though, the fact of the matter is that it is one of the key issues that fuelled this debacle. To maintain the status quo on it would only serve to make many, many people feel even more disenfranchised than they already do.

Having said that, I reckon that some sort of favourable immigration treatment for EU citizens will be necessary to secure any kind of single market access deal. Needless to say, I think this is crucial for the prevention of a near-term collapse of investments in the UK. I consider it a foregone conclusion that a mutual visa-free arrangement for short-term visitors will be agreed between the UK and the EU. I am also hopeful that all current EU expats (both from and to the UK) would be automatically given an indefinite right to continue living and working where they are. The only real point of contention, then, is the arrangement for prospective long-term residents.

My humble opinion is that the UK and the EU should agree to automatically grant to each other’s citizens, along with their families, an immigration permit for anyone with a job offer or a place on a course of study. Moreover, such permits should not be subject to any numerical quota, be available at a very low cost, and be processed within one working week. As far as I am aware of, every country in the EU, including the UK, already grants permanent residency to foreign workers who have stayed for five years, so this only needs to be extended to students. The status for future EU workers and students would then not be so different from what it is now. However, it will go a long way towards satisfying those who think that we need to “exercise more control” over immigration. There can be no more argument about people coming to the UK to claim benefits or undercut wages.

This is far from an ideal situation, but it feels like an acceptable middle ground for the time being. In due course, when the lies and anger have subsided, we can then work to restore full freedom of movement. Hopefully with the consent of a larger majority.

I have seen a good number of people around me dismissing a large cohort of the population as stupid, racist, bigoted, etc. With the country now deeply divided, I do not think that this is a healthy attitude to have. It is in the country’s interest to try and work for towards a compromise. At least in the short term, it is imperative that we strive to maintain and promote social cohesion in this country. We cannot afford to allow for populist demagoguery to become a political mainstay in deprived communities.

The sooner we can sort out the Brexit uncertainties, the sooner we can work on fixing the real problem: the failure in the distribution of wealth, opportunity, and prosperity in this country.

Vote Leave says people in this country are sick of expert. I have zero education in politics. This is my decidedly non-expert suggestion.