Monday, December 10, 2018

Freedom of movement is a global not local ideal


In the Brexit debate there has been persuasive and sometimes shrill advocacy of freedom of movement coupled with salutary warning about how this freedom will be curtailed for UK residents and their children by an exit from the EU. As someone who voted 'remain' in the EU referendum I have a fundamental belief in global freedom of movement as a human right. So I now want to argue the case for freedom of movement for the young people seen above.

The photo was taken by me at this year's Marrakesh ePrix. This event in Morocco is part of an international race series for cars that are 100% electric powered. The youngsters in the photo were from just one of the many school parties brought to the race and to the E-Village at the track showcasing renewable energy technologies. Despite its stereotype identity as a quaint tourist destination, Morocco is technologically-savvy. The Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex in the Moroccan Sahara came on stream in 2016 and when fully commissioned will be the world's largest concentrated solar plant with the potential to power one million homes. Marrakesh has a fleet of Chinese manufactured electric buses, and Renault and Peugeot both plan to build electric vehicles in Morocco, as does Chinese corporation BYD which has a 13% share of the global electric vehicle market.

52% of the Moroccan population is under 25, and my report of the time my wife and I spent with Moroccan youngsters in an Essaouira state school confirms this young generation is rearing to go places. Young Moroccans are seen as a lucrative market by the West in general and the EU in particular. Every day they are bombarded by the media with aspirational messages about Western lifestyles, and among the team sponsors at the Marrakech ePrix were Audi and Virgin. This market opportunity is one thing for European corporations, but allowing these youngsters and their parents free movement into the EU is another thing all together.

At its closest point Morocco is just 9 miles from the EU. A tourist visa for a Moroccan visiting the UK costs £93. The average Moroccan income is 85% lower than in the UK, the hourly minimum wage is £0.79, and the country's disposable income is among the lowest in the world. So the real cost of that visa to a Moroccan is the equivalent of more than £500. Moreover a Moroccan applying for a UK visa must prove they have adequate funds to support themselves during their stay. Which with incomes 85% lower and a cost of living differential of more than double is very difficult to prove for any Moroccan, yet alone young Moroccans. And the hurdles that must be cleared to obtain a UK study or work visa are even higher. All of which is an effective politically convenient barrier to free movement.

We must never forget that this barrier to free movement is not the inconvenient obstacle that Britain's exit from the EU may, or may not, create. This barrier is a deadly trap: more than 200 people died in 2017 trying to enter the EU without a visa by crossing the Mediterranean in small boats, with the death rate for these illegals now standing at 1 in 18 people. Jordi Savall movingly highlighted the tragedy of this 'Sea of Death' in his Mare Nostrum project.

I have sympathy for what the acclaimed mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly describes as "The vile experience of queueing at 8am on the pavement in all weathers outside the American Embassy for a work permit every time I get a contract in the US". But I have even greater sympathy for the Moroccans and those elsewhere whose annual income is less than the fee Dame Sarah will receive for those few US performances, and who, as a result, are effectively denied entry into the EU. Freedom of movement is a global right, not just a comfortable privilege for EU residents. Perhaps the possible undesirable curtailment of movement for UK citizens in the EU is karmic reward for our selfish and myopic focus on local and not global freedom of movement.

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