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What will it take for the rights of 5 million citizens to be protected?


How Labour gave succour to the narrative of immigrants against immigrants, as Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that the government aims to bring immigration to “sustainable” levels post-Brexit.



Yesterday was a very bad day for the five million EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU27. I did prepared myself for defending freedom of movement against Theresa May. But it turns out that I should also have prepared myself for defending it against the Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott who chose to pit EU citizens against other immigrants in the House of Commons.



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I tweeted earlier that I consider doing this — to pit people against people — the lowest of the low. I expected it from Theresa May and Sajid Javid, but I did not see coming that Diane Abbott would choose to do so too. This is always wrong, but especially in this case, because:

1) it neglects the fact that freedom of movement is a reciprocal right, not a preferential access, not a one-way street into the UK;

Brexit: UK-EU movement of people (Parliament.uk / House of Lords)

2) it is the British Government’s choice (set under then-Home Secretary Theresa May) to treat immigrants from elsewhere in the way they are being treated — that is not a result of freedom of movement.


Choosing to ignore these facts serves only one purpose: the stirring of more divisions and the stirring of more resentments. At this volatile time, where communities are already so divided that is simply irresponsible. Moreover, sucking EU citizens — both those already at home here and new arrivals — into the Hostile Environment will not make life better for immigrants from elsewhere. To argue that robbing millions of people of rights can create a fairer system, as Diane Abbott did, is so far beyond shameful that I have to think of a new word to describe it.

In the end, what Diane Abbott said is exactly what Theresa May said when she called us EU citizens Queue Jumpers. The words are different, the meaning is the same — one that plays right into the hands of xenophobes and again tells us EU citizens that we are the problem.

Add to that the other message Diane Abbott emphasised — that Labour too still seeks to end freedom of movement. Let me say this again: what this primarily means is that 65 million British citizens are being robbed of their right to freedom of movement.



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What this confirms is that the Labour party too is still prepared to pander to the same rhetoric and lies that we heard during the 2016 referendum. This is wrong. Why? Because, for the most part, people did not vote to leave the EU because of us EU citizens, but because of lies about us.

Further pandering to those lies — lies long identified as such (e.g. the Migration Advisory Committee report on EEA migration) will never offer a solution. There are beacons of hope, for example the SNP Spokesperson on Immigration, Asylum and Border Control Stuart McDonald MP, the Scottish Government or the Green MP Caroline Lucas. But overall the story is one where EU citizens in the UK remain the subject of hate.

Think about the dog-whistling that Iain Duncan Smith pursued yesterday, making false points about EU citizens bringing down wages, while also calling us “cheap labour”. Not neighbours. Not colleagues. Not friends. Not family. Just a cheap resource to be used.



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While all of that is happening in Britain, the lives of all of five million citizens are being destroyed as I write this. What will it take for the UK and the EU to finally do the only human thing and rescue our rights?



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There are so many more reasons why we must ask that question — What will it take? — again, and again, and again. Especially in light of how no-deal is being talked up. But the welfare of five million citizens is a critical reason: they cannot cope anymore!!!

In the UK, EU citizens continue to bear the brunt of the hate stirred. We are also reminded on a daily basis that we are the reason why 65 million British citizens will lose their freedom of movement. Not easy to come to terms with, especially when we know many, like Scotland, do not agree despite what Sajid Javid says.



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100 days to go; only 70 days really, as we should take out holidays and weekends. And we are back at square one: the rhetoric of the 2016 referendum campaign is back; EU citizens still lie at the core of everything, cast as toxic and the problem by both the Conservatives and Labour.

There was a moment for this to be different: after the referendum, the choice could have been made to take a stand for freedom of movement.

That never happened.

And now with the Immigration White Paper we see what that means, delivered courtesy of both the Conservatives and Labour.

I have tried to change that, pushing for a positive and progressive debate about freedom of movement, since May 2015 when the prospect of a referendum became a certainty. I failed to achieve that, and, consequently, also failed the people I care most about.

Some tell me I sound like a robot talking so much about citizens’ rights. Just the other day, I got a message from somebody asking me why I can’t tweet about something more diverse, given citizens’ rights are “sorted”. They are not sorted. It is now clearer than it has ever been.

For the EU citizens in the UK and the British citizens in the EU27, for all 5 million citizens, it means this will be the third Christmas in limbo and the outlook has never been darker. No-deal poses existential threats, and the posturing and game-playing by both the British Government and the EU Commission is despicable.

I cannot put into words anymore the despair, the anxiety and the fear I see every day in the many messages I get — their increased volume itself is telling. I am sorry that I cannot answer them all... — and that after over 900 days in limbo, I too have only little hope left to pass on.

But if you have read this far, and if there is any spirit of Christmas left in our modern consumer-oriented times, then perhaps you might consider doing one thing and think about this — something I have asked all my family, friends and colleagues to please consider this year.

Outrage is not enough. Words are not enough. The hope for a People’s Vote from which we would be excluded, is not enough. We need actions. One action that really does make a difference is a donation to my EU Citizens Champions campaign. Please consider it.

If you want to do more and live in or near London for an activity in the afternoon of 12 January 2019, then please take a few seconds to submit your details.

The impact of Brexit on the 5 million citizens is too much. For them, for us, for me, Brexit is not something that might happen in 100 days. It is something that has been happening for over 900 days already. That is why they are, why we are, why I am, already not fine.

To leaders of both Britain and the European Union, to parliamentarians here and throughout Europe, I say this: history will remember you. But the question is: do you really want to be remembered for being responsible for sacrificing 5 million citizens and their families on the Brexit altar?🔷



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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article, with the author’s conscent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)


(Cover: Pixabay.)


Author image
Professor of History & Faculty Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor Knowledge Exchange. Faculty of Arts Design & Social Sciences, Northumbria University. Migration & diaspora history. Anti-Brexit campaigner.
Newcastle, UK. Website

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