The idea of free movement for EU citizens is politically toxic now. But we can change public perceptions
Freedom of movement in Europe has been all but abandoned as a cause in British politics. Brexit was far more about freedom of movement than our exact trading relationship with the EU, and the electorate rejected it. Even among remain voters, polling has suggested that more than half want increased border controls and European migration capped. Every demographic thinks there has been too much immigration over the last few years, even young voters, albeit far less so than their grandparents.
Faced with the reality of the referendum, Labour has a simple mantra. “Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union,” reads the manifesto, as though describing the weather. But it is a political choice, even if the alternative might seem to spell electoral doom. This isn’t to question the anti-racist politics of the Labour leadership: for the London Labour left, issues of race and defending migrants and refugees were always an article of faith, not least for the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott. Jeremy Corbyn’s first act as Labour leader was to speak at a rally in defence of refugees, and speeches by leading figures emphasise challenging the scapegoating of the foreign-born.