The new home secretary, Priti Patel, received a rapturous reception at the Conservative Party conference in October when she triumphantly announced Tory plans to end free movement of people. She declared that, as a daughter of immigrants, she needed no lectures from the “north London metropolitan liberal elite” to say otherwise.
Yet she has bought into, and now sells on, two great lies.
Patel buys into and sells the idea 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 and that is against the UK. It is a falsehood, peddled by the prime minister and much of his 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 merely the freedom to seek and take a job, (or live off your own resources), in another EU country. It is also, for the time being, a vital freedom for British people too, the right of every British citizen to work, love, and live across the EU.
During the European referendum in 2016, Priti Patel told anybody that would listen, (and particularly the British Asian community), that ending European freedom of movement will suddenly allow “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. Rather it is the British immigration laws that determine who is allowed to enter from outside the European Union. The only reason those Indian engineers, or Sri Lankan scientists or nurses from the Philippines are not welcome is because our government doesn’t allow it.
The cases of academics such as Dr Furah Asani and Cambridge sociologist Asiya Islam, (who was told she may have to leave the UK by the end of January), have nothing to do with the EU. These are just a handful of examples of the countless injustices perpetrated by the Home Secretary’s department that are now a regular part of life and again nothing to do with the EU as are her department’s latest attempts to deport a junior doctor born in Taiwan.
Patel’s parents came to this country from Uganda to create a new life for themselves and their family. She has risen to become the first Indian-origin home secretary in British political history. And yet she appears to have lost sight of that and fails to understand that the story of this island is, amongst other things, an immigrant story.
Nelam Trewin, October 2019