The stark reality of ending freedom of movement

The summer holidays are always a time of intensive traveling for me and my family. It is usually a logistical challenge to try and visit both families in Poland and Croatia. For most of us, the “pandemic years” meant moving around was even more challenging. However due to a different set of unforeseen circumstances, we might have forgotten that visiting a family in Europe could easily become a real nightmare.

I landed in Warsaw on Friday, 29th July. As expected, there were long queues at the airport. A lot of people travel to Poland to either visit their family or spend some time exploring the spectacular nature, national parks and tasting delicious cuisine that Poland has to offer.

While waiting for my passport to be checked, I noticed a small group of people, British passport holders, with an elderly gentleman, who were told: “You are in the wrong queue”. This, as well as the recent debacle at the ferry crossing in Dover, clearly demonstrates what ending the freedom of movement looks like in practice. What a stark reality of what Brexit does to people. I must admit that I was quite surprised. 

Later on, after “digesting” the whole situation, I remembered a “historic speech” made by Priti Patel, who said: “After many years of campaigning, I am delighted that the Immigration Bill, which will end free movement on 31st December, has today passed through Parliament. We are delivering on the will of the British people”. In my view, Ms Patel forgot to add that this policy will work both ways.

The Immigration Bill ended the right of EU citizens, millions of people like me, to freely choose to make the UK our home and contribute to society here. Moreover, something as simple as traveling to neighbouring countries might not always be straightforward. In Kent, only a few weeks ago, the British Government was very quick to condemn and judge the French authorities for the lack of summer holiday preparations and poor infrastructure to deal with a huge amount of movement on the border. However, I wonder whether the truth is quite the opposite? UK citizens are now treated as third country nationals. UK citizens are now subject to the Schengen Area’s visa-waiver stay limitation of 90 days within any 180 days throughout the entire zone. Waving your passport is no longer sufficient. The UK passport must be stamped to ensure that the UK passport holder returns to Britain within the given time limit. 

A very good friend of mine, who completed his Bachelor Degree in Scotland in Political Science, has recently moved to Italy to continue his studies. He endured months of waiting for his visa, uncertainty, frustration. He is another example that something that we have taken  for granted for years has been literally taken away from us. It is truly incredible. 

Has anyone tried to warn us about the consequences of our decision when we voted Leave in the EU Referendum in 2016? Is this really a Project Fear or maybe a Project Reality? This is exactly what “taking back control” means in practice. The bad news is that this is only one example of how one simple “Yes” or “No” vote can potentially negatively shape the future of one nation.

I must admit that as a History student in the late 1990’s, I often envied people in the UK a wide range of options to freely move across the globe, and in particular in Europe. I well remember times when my parents had to visit the Police Station in Lublin during communism and prayed for a merciful Officer so that they could travel to any Western countries behind the Iron Curtain. These days and after a few of my recent experiences, I am for once delighted to be a Polish national.

My children, whose parents come from two European countries, are also very lucky. Their future options to work, live and study abroad are wide open and I hope that, despite a significant growth in anti-European sentiment across our continent, this fundamental principle of the European Union will always be protected and cherished by citizens of all member states. It is a huge privilege, which we simply can’t afford to lose.   

 

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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One Comment

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Aug '22 - 9:16am

    The one large problem with freedom of movement is lack of social housing. A shortage of private rental too.
    The new thoughts on accessible housing being the new guidelines on new builds.
    I would love to live in France and I have noticed the interest in buying homes in Italy and Spain. Housing can be less costly.
    It’s strange that after Brexit, moving into the EU is becoming an option for many.

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