Byron, Brexit and the myth of EU free movement
On Monday evening, hundreds of Londoners gathered outside the Holborn branch of Byron, a popular restaurant chain. Byron has been heavily criticised for its recent actions, when it cooperated in a Home Office sting that led to the arrest of 35 of its migrant workers. Since then, campaigners have targeted the chain, in order to show solidarity with the arrested workers.
As the barricades went up, and police ringed the restaurant, the street began to fill with protesters waving placards that read ‘I’ve got beef with Byron’ and ‘No borders with our order’. Some protesters view the Byron incident as yet another example of the UK’s inhumane immigration and deportation policies. However, speaking to people on the protest, it was clear that many people blamed Byron’s despicable treatment of its workers on Brexit. It was apparently the British public’s fault that these immigration raids took place. By choosing to leave the EU, an institution that supposedly protects freedom of movement, Brexiteers had apparently given the green light to Byron’s actions.
This is part of the ongoing, ugly attempt to paint Brexit voters as racists and bigots. But why are so many so keen to see Brexit as an expression of hatred towards migrants? The EU is commonly presented as a provider of peace and wellbeing to its members. But it isn’t. After all, EU institutions and nations are responsible for the suffering of thousands of migrants from outside the EU. None of the Byron migrant workers was an EU citizen. Their brutal arrest and deportation by the UK authorities was completely in line with broader EU policy.
The EU is not a champion of freedom of movement. Yes, it is true that, if you are an EU citizen, you are free to move within its borders. But those born in Africa or Latin America are not seen as worthy of this freedom. If the EU is an anti-racist institution, why is it allowing desperate Syrians and Libyans to drown in the Mediterranean? Why does it pay regimes in Africa to keep their citizens away from Europe? Why does it celebrate free movement for, say, Poles while rounding up and deporting non-Europeans?
I attended the Byron protest, not only to show solidarity with the 35 Byron workers, but as a Brexit supporter. Byron certainly deserves to be criticised and protested against, but its treatment of migrants was not a one-off sparked by the Brexit vote. Deportations occur regularly as part of our own immigration system. Blaming Brexit voters lets the Home Office off the hook.
The British public voted to be free from Brussels. Now we can have a frank debate about immigration. The EU is not an institution of compassion; it was built to serve the economic and social interests of those in power, and it still does this above all else. It is time for a real challenge to EU member states’ double standards on migration, and for a discussion about opening up our nations to people from around the world, not just Fortress Europe.
Isabel Hume is a writer, a sixth-form student and a campaigner for spiked’s Invoke Article 50 NOW! campaign.
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