Blog: Can we relax a bit of Brexit? – TheArticle

There has been endless point scoring about the misery of Dover, with even a possible future British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, and a possible future President of France, Cl
ément Beaune
, exchanging snarky comments like playpen children. Anti-Brexit campaigners blame leaving the EU. Brexit enthusiasts point to passport controls being obligatory before 2016.

Each side may feel self-righteous, but it doesnt help the many thousands of families in sweltering cars with unhappy children, waiting to hit the summer beaches and camp sites of Continental Europe.

As a young political activist and journalist, I headed to Prague, Poland, Portugal, Greece and above all France. While friends such as Christopher Hitchens went to America, I mainstreamed on the drug of European politics. I witnessed the end of fascism, the decline of communism and the arrival of François Mitterrand and Felipe Gonzalez on the Left, in parallel with Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl and Ronald Reagan on the Right.

I liked collecting passport stamps in my big black leatherette and board British passport, which didnt fit easily into my jeans and was too big for a shirt pocket. When the Labour Cabinet was first shown in 1978 the new burgundy European Community passport that Britain would adopt, Peter Shore exploded. The new passport, he said,would be introduced over my dead body”.

In fact, passport size and format is now laid down internationally, not by the EU. Croatia, an EU member state, has a friendly light blue colour and Britain could have adopted its new, retro dark-hued passport while still remaining in the EU if we had wanted.

But what can we do about the crowds at Dover? The curiosity is that the UK has free movement with an EU member state, Ireland. The so-called Common Travel Area has been part of UK law since the late 1940s, when Britain wanted every possible worker to come from Ireland to rebuild Britain, work in hospitals, or help do manual work on farms. It has never proved to be a problem.

Even at the height of the IRA

s terror campaign in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher never contemplated ending free movement between Ireland and the UK.

Might it be possible to have a seasonal Common Travel Area with France, which is to the east of the UK what Ireland is to our west? Of course, Brussels purists will insist the Schengen passport-free travel area cannot accommodate a Franco-British common travel area. Equally, those who think the Dover disaster is a price worth paying to take back control” of our frontiers will claim that any tiny modification to no free movement of people is a grievous betrayal of the 2016 EU referendum.

In the days after that plebiscite, Boris Johnson assured British voters that their right to travel, live or settle in Europewould be protected. Theresa May binned that liberal interpretation of the outcome with her Brexit Means Brexitlanguage, straight from the UKIP playbook.

Both Labour and the Tories now insist that allowing workers from Europe to work in Britain or allowing Brits to retire freely in the warmer south of Europe would betray Brexit. Really? Don’t we need temporary travel rights for artists and musicians from the UK to perform in summer festivals on the Continent? Why not allow temporary derogations to young Europeans, including students on school visits to Britain?

The UK should certainly focus on free exchange for scientists. Sir Keir Starmer this week announces that his policy is

growth, growth, growth”. If Labour is serious about that desirable policy, it must look at the endless barriers Boris Johnson has placed to having any commerce by person, by schools, by universities, by businesses with the giant market on our doorstep.

Nor is there any known example in economic history of strong growth without an adequate supply of labour. Next year the EU will bring in its ETIAS visa system. The European Travel, Information, and Authorisation Scheme is based on the US ESTA electronic visa system, but much cheaper at 7. Every Brit between 18 and 70 will need an ETIAS and checking them can only add to queues at Dover.

The anti-Europeans – Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak as much as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage appear to think votes are won by making life as unpleasant as possible for Brits crossing the Channel as family holidaymakers, young artists, business executives, professionals, academics or scientists. Easing their plight does not mean the end of being outside the EU treaties, but merely lessening some of the unnecessary damage an over-rigid Brexit imposes.

Labour and the LibDems might examine opt-outs or seasonal derogations, especially with our main next-door neighbour, France, to lessen the agonies of Dover. They should send the world a signal that the EU and Britain can behave like grown-ups. It makes sense to relax a little bit of Brexit, just to make life more bearable for millions of ordinary people.

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