My Lords, in following the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, I agree with her that we need to tackle modern slavery and exploitation in the UK and that this is something the Government need to properly fund and prioritise, focusing on the exploiters, not the victims. I am, however, speaking in direct opposition to her statement as I am opposing Clause 1.
Today marks another step in the robbing of rights from millions of Britons that they were born with and the removal of rights for future generations. Clause 1 is a key step by which freedom of movement for Britons and to Britain ends. I believe we should not allow the destruction of rights and freedoms for Britons to pass unmarked, which is why I have put down my intention to oppose Clause 1 standing part of the Bill.
As I did that, I was thinking back a couple of years to a rally in the centre of Brussels, held in ankle-deep snow, where I heard from lots of Britons who had come from across the continent to talk about how freedom of movement had changed and improved their lives. In particular, I think of a woman who, when young, had upped sticks when her life in the UK had not worked out, moved to several European countries over the years, built a couple of different careers and made a full, interesting, varied life for herself. She came from a very poor area of England and from a family with few financial resources. But she had bought a cheap coach ticket, shifted across a continent and found opportunities, interesting experiences and a comfortable place for herself in the world.
The wealthy have always been able to do this and, no doubt, will always be able to. Many an aristocrat set out on the Grand Tour and, by choice, never came home. Many a black sheep from a wealthy family snuck off to the continent and rebuilt their life away from scandal. The arrival of freedom of movement meant the chance for everybody to exercise that freedom to seek the opportunities, the experiences, the enhancements of life that change can bring and the chance to meet new and different people, learn a new language and find a different culture, environment and way of life.
Making that opportunity available to all was a huge step towards balancing inequality, and now it is being wiped out. All our lives are much poorer with the loss of freedom of movement. Of course, it has also been a safety net. British builders escaping the deprivations of 1970s Britain in Germany became a stereotype, but it was a fact. In our shock-ridden, insecure and unstable world, how vital might that right have been to many in the future?
As a noble and learned Lord pointed out to me when I was discussing my intention with him, I do not have the power to simply restore that movement right for Britons. That right is granted by other states under EU membership, which we have now lost, and all those rights will go when we end the transition period at the end of this year. These are rights, incidentally, that quite a number of Members of the House of Lords have availed themselves of. Freedom of movement exercised before the end of December will continue, unless by tearing up the withdrawal agreement signed just eight months ago, as was being threatened this morning, Boris Johnson puts into question the rights of the 1.3 million Britons who thought they were secure through their existing residence in the EU. What I am proposing would keep the rights of citizens from EU states in the UK. But the principle of reciprocation is strong, and we could, in accepting these rights, expect that reciprocation.
Moving countries is something that many people will never consider. My aim will always be for a world where no one is forced to leave their home by poverty, war, discrimination or environmental crises. But there are always people for whom this is an exciting idea: for some, the possibility of escape is attractive, and for others, the possibility of a fresh start they cannot find in their birthplace is essential.
We are also denying ourselves the talents, skills and energy of people from across the continent, who, without free movement, will not have the same opportunities their elders enjoyed. I am sorry about that too.
When young British people ask me what I did to keep their freedoms and opportunities, I will be able to say I did my best to defend them. I ask Members of your Lordships’ House: how would you answer that question? I am not going to ask Members to put their votes on the line today, but I intend to in the future.