It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the Clerks for working their way through a mountain of amendments and making them presentable in the last few days. I thank the various organisations and individuals for their help and ideas for amendments, and I thank the shadow Minister for engaging with us over the last couple of days. Any flaws in the amendments we have tabled are my responsibility alone. Finally, I thank the Minister; she has been very open to discussion, approachable and good humoured, as ever. The fact that I can’t stand the Bill and utterly oppose it should not be taken personally. Hopefully, we will still be able to have some useful and constructive debates.
I will not rehash all the points I made on Second Reading. I love free movement; my party fully supports it and I pretty much believe it is the best thing since sliced bread. I regret that it is in danger of coming to an end. It will leave the United Kingdom in an unusual position historically. This country has, for almost its entire history, allowed certain citizens to come and go, whether EU citizens, Commonwealth citizens or, before that, absolutely everybody. All the evidence is that free movement is beneficial to us, for growth, productivity and public finances. In Scotland, it has transformed our demographic outlook from a country of net immigration to a country of positive migration. The quid pro quo for all this is that we will lose our free movement rights. My family and I have benefited from free movement, as have many Members, including on this Committee. I regret that this Parliament will pull up the ladder behind it.
The challenges of free movement that are often cited will not be solved by ending free movement but by proper labour market standards and enforcement, by integration strategies and by investment in public services. Neither do the justifications for ending free movement stack up. Indeed, it was striking in the Minister’s speech and in the speeches of some Government Members on Second Reading how little free movement and the supposed justifications for ending it were addressed.
It is wrong to say that people voted to end free movement, because it was not on the ballot paper. To argue the contrary is to argue that almost 100% of leave voters were motivated by that alone. That is not the case. This is the Prime Minister’s red line, not the people’s red line. Opinion polls and studies show that if it comes to a choice between a closer trading relationship with Europe and ending free movement, a closer trading relationship wins. Simply repeating ad nauseam that we are “taking back control of our borders” is not an argument.
Now is the most bizarre moment for MPs to consider voting to end free movement. Parliament hopefully is on the verge of taking control. Who knows what trading arrangements may be secured, perhaps involving free movement. A people’s vote is even more on the cards than it was at the time of Second Reading. As the shadow Minister said, the Bill puts the cart before the horse. Let us sort out our negotiating position first, then we can decide what that means for free movement. If the public are happy enough to retain free movement for a closer trading arrangement, it is wrong for MPs to rule it out at this stage. There is no need to rush through the end of free movement, even if we do leave in a month’s time. For those reasons, my party believes that the clause should not stand part of the Bill.