Rahul Mansigani, The Independent
Priti Patel, our new home secretary, was rapturously received at Conservative Party conference this week as she triumphantly announced Tory plans to end free movement of people. As the audience whooped at her plans to rip our freedoms from us, she declared that, as a daughter of immigrants, she needed no lectures from the “north London metropolitan liberal elite” to say otherwise.
This son of an immigrant does say otherwise. Patel is in many ways to be admired: she has risen to become our first Indian-origin home secretary and has dealt with racism and prejudice, within her party and beyond. Yet she has bought into, and now sells on, two great lies.
The first is that freedom of movement of people is something to be mocked, attacked and abolished, based on the myth that the freedom only works one way: against the UK. It is the Brexiteer falsehood, peddled by Boris Johnson and much of his new cabinet, that freedom of movement means millions of workshy immigrants pouring into a borderless Britain unable to keep them out.
It fails to recognise two key facts: the first is that European freedom of movement is, of course, merely the freedom to seek and take a job (or live off your own resources) in another European country. The second is that it is a vital freedom for British people too — to work, love, and live across Europe.
I am the son of a woman from India, who lives in London and has worked in Amsterdam. I am here today because of Britain’s openness and Europe’s freedom of movement. Patel’s plan is to seize that freedom from me, my generation, and those who were too young even to vote in the Brexit referendum that she claims gives her the mandate to do so.
The second great lie, used to alarming effect in the British Indian community during the stormy days of the referendum campaign, is that ending European freedom of movement will allow a suddenly “global Britain” to welcome engineers from India, academics from Australia and scientists from Sri Lanka. As Patel knows, it is not and has never been the EU that prevents us doing so. Her department’s latest attempts to deport a junior doctor born in Taiwan were nothing to do with the EU either.
We effectively already have the Australian-style points based system, a policy the Tories perennially promise at their party conference. The only reason those Indian engineers are not welcome is because our government doesn’t want them.
British Asians, and the rest of the country, were sold a lie. The idea that Britain will be more welcoming to Sri Lankan scientists under a Conservative Party tilting endlessly rightwards as it courts Brexit Party votes is ludicrous.
To the delight of her audience, Patel compared herself to Margaret Thatcher, and declared that Thatcher knew that if “you make the British people your compass, your direction will always be true”.
Thatcher was many things, but she was certainly a conviction politician who did follow the directions of a populist compass. She would look with disdain on those who now flit after the latest poll results. Certainly, she would have abhorred Patel’s original plan to simply abolish freedom of movement on 31 October, and to hell with the consequences for workers and families across the country.
Patel’s story is impressive, yes, and so is the story of her parents, who came here to create a new life, just as my grandfather did the same. It only takes a visit to the Migration Museum in Lambeth to understand that our island story is an immigrant story — a hopeful story that should drown out those cheers at Tory conference every time. So I say to Patel, as one child of an immigrant to another: you must not lose sight of that.
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