By not taking a stand on protecting EU citizens’ rights one year before Brexit, what do Leftists hope to achieve?
First published in April 2018.
That was the title of an event at a big London trade union on Brexit day, only 2 weeks ago. “Defend Migrants!”
I, once a proud citizen of the EU, have now been relegated to being a migrant, and while I understand that some people are proudly reclaiming the title, personally I don’t want to give up the title of citizen, something that I see as a major achievement in the history of democracy and something that was not open to me as a woman until very recently.
So I went.
From being able to stand up for myself, with all my citizens’ rights, I now need help from those who still have them. A little bit like all the women who came before me, when we were not citizens ourselves.
So I went.
The event was at a big trade union in central London, in a big event space. It was hardly a third full.
There were many speakers, all sitting on an equal level with us (no stage). That meant they were invisible to most people unless they stood up. Was this symbolic? Luckily I was able to choose a seat on the side in an empty section where I could see them all.
And then it happened.
The moderator introduced the event, the speakers, the subject. All normal and as expected. He was from an organisation called ‘The Alliance of Free Movement’. He spoke eloquently and convinced me completely of the need to defend migrants.
And then he said: “We have not taken a position on Brexit.”
By some freak of chance, or perhaps by some of those meaningful coincidences that some people say govern our lives but that I personally don’t believe in, he was looking straight into my eyes when he said that.
Of course there is no way of telling that I’m a migrant just by looking at me. Maybe he thought that I was, like most people there, British, standing up for those less fortunate than themselves. Maybe it never occurred to him that some of those less fortunate ones would attend this event?
So, then I listened to the speakers. Many of them spoke about migrants in very broad terms. So broad that it was almost impossible to think of a solution to defend them all. Some did suggest very radical solutions that I personally find quite reasonable. The only way to end the ‘problem’ of migration is to make migration a universal right. Like the right of secondary citizenship that most EU citizens have in most other EU countries. That is a radical policy. It transcends the nation state. That’s why I like it.
It’s called free movement.
And while I am a very strong advocate of extending that right of free movement to other places on this planet, and to all the inhabitants of this planet, taking away those rights from 6 million people inside the EU next year isn’t exactly a step in the direction of defending migrants.
On the contrary, those who want to defend migrants could have taken the demolition of our rights through Brexit as an opportunity to take a stand. To show what free movement means and why they are defending it.
Instead, as the moderator told me, they don’t take a stand on Brexit, an act that will take the right to free movement away from millions of people from one midnight to another, in Western Europe, in the 21st century.
As I was sitting there, listening to very eloquent speakers who all were experts in the subject and who made their points with passion and compassion, I couldn’t help getting very emotional.
They were talking about what would happen/was happening to others, with knowledge, passion and compassion. But what they were talking about, the hostile environment, the bias, mistakes and cruelties of the UK immigration services, the mental and physical toll of an uncertain immigration status, having no home, that was all going to happen to me. Very soon.
I was afraid for myself, and for millions of others like me.
So I sat there, shaking with fear inside, and in spite of all the great speeches (and some not so great speeches that painted a kind of fantasy land where freedom of movement would miraculously be even better after Brexit), I couldn’t find comfort.
How were they defending me?
Were they defending me?
If your passion is to defend migrants, why isn’t an act that takes the rights away from millions of us at the top of your agenda?
Apart from being exactly what you say you want to do, it would also send a strong signal to all the other migrants and their presumptive enemies (those that you want to defend us from): we want more rights for migrants, and therefore we will not allow anyone to take already existing rights from them.
But nobody said that.
At the end, when we were all allowed to ask questions, I raised my hand. I put my question directly to the moderator, the gentleman from ‘The Alliance of Free Movement’.
“If you say you want to defend me, how can you not take a position on Brexit? You looked me in the eye (albeit accidentally, I suppose) when you said that. Will you look me in the eye when I, along with millions of others, am deported after Brexit because I either don’t fulfil some of the criteria that allow me to be granted lesser rights, or because the Home Office made a mistake and I can only appeal from outside the country? Will you look me in the eye as I’m put on the train, and the ship? Will you look me in the eye and say: that’s how I defend you, the migrant?”
There was some murmuring in the hall.
But of course there was no answer.🔷
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