Free movement is an incredible right - and the Greens will fight for it

The freedom to take a job in Paris or fall in love with someone from Milan without hesitation or restriction is something to be celebrated.

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As I watched my co-leader Caroline Lucas on the leaders’ debate, I was both immensely proud, and deeply saddened. Because despite the best efforts of many of the leaders on the panel, it took almost no time at all for migrants to come under attack. For the past decade we have seen people who have come from other countries to make their home here scapegoated and marginalised, as they have been blamed for everything from long GP waiting lists to stagnant wages. The government, spurred on by Ukip, has waved its hand at all the problems and struggles this nation is facing, and then pointed its finger at one group of people and said: “It’s their fault.”

People are rightly angry that they cannot pay their bills, and that creaking public services and an NHS is in crisis cannot help them when they are most in need. The government would have us believe these problems are caused by migration – but that is a lie. The London School of Economics (LSE) has produced a number of reports unpicking this myth, stating over and over that migrants do not have a negative impact on jobs or housing. In March last year one of the LSE researchers said: “The bottom line, which may surprise many people, is that EU immigration has not harmed the pay, jobs or public services enjoyed by Britons. In fact, for the most part it has likely made us better off.” Just last week LSE produced another report stating: “Immigrants pay more in taxes than they take out in welfare and use of public services…immigrants help to reduce the budget deficit.”

The truth is that years of cuts to vital public services and the NHS are to blame, along with the government’s failure to enforce the minimum wage and invest in training for young people. With 100,000 EU nationals working in the NHS, and cutting immigration set to cost us £6bn a year, the truth is that our country relies on migrants. But the government doesn’t want you to know that because it is easier to point the finger at someone else than to admit their own failings.

On top of all of this, yesterday Brexiteer-in-chief David Davis admitted the Conservative’s cannot deliver on their promise to cut immigration to tens of thousands – hardly surprising considering that they have failed to meet their own immigration targets since they came into government. Their migration policy is unworkable, economically illiterate and, perhaps most importantly, short sighted. 

In the EU referendum campaign, and now in this election campaign, progressive parties have failed to make the positive case for free movement. The Green Party has always been clear that we believe that being able to live, travel and study across Europe is an incredible freedom – one which is ours to share. But with Labour lining up beside the Tories to promise an end to free movement, the positive argument simply hasn’t cut through.

I have three teenage children and I want them to be able to enjoy that freedom too. They weren’t old enough to vote in the EU referendum, and yet they stand to lose the opportunities my generation has benefited from. The freedom to take a job in Paris or fall in love with someone from Milan without hesitation or restriction. The easiest way to keep these privileges would be to stay in the single market, which would of course also mean we can benefit from the tariff-free trading bloc. But with the Tories and Labour both determined to sacrifice membership of the single market on the altar of ending free movement, we could still ensure all our children continue enjoy free movement across Europe, and that young people from other countries can come here too, by introducing a reciprocal visa scheme.

The Green Party will always celebrate the fact that migration enriches our communities, and defend migrants against the stigmatisation they face. We are proud that Britain has a long history of welcoming people from across the globe, and we want to protect the welcoming reputation our country has. We know that Britain can be a confident and caring nation, looking outwards to the rest of the world instead of closing in on itself. That is why our policy on free movement is clear – we want to keep it, and Green MPs elected next week will fight for it.

Jon Bartley is the co-leader of the Green Party.