Mobility across borders is a wonderful thing; we humans rely upon it for survival at times in order to escape a dictator, conflict, or economic hardship. Mobility powers our human drive to help others, especially family in times of need when their lives are disrupted by wars, crises, illness or natural disasters.
Provision for families and ourselves is a constant human need: whenever that is disrupted, it impacts mental and physical well-being. Professions, careers and businesses are all part of that supporting foundation that makes up not only our identity, but our ability to support our families and society at large -via tax revenues.
From a position of peace in the West, it may seem strange that we draw parallels between our political situation and a human crisis in Ukraine or elsewhere, but the strategies behind that disruption and conflict have been linked by Carole Cadwalladr in a recent interview on PBS on the triumvirate ‘disinformation and disruption of Putin, Brexit and Trump’. This article explores these parallels in greater detail.
Urgent mobility needs for immediate survival
Societies have long recorded cases of mobility since biblical times. Salient examples of which include Joseph and Mary’s flight to Egypt with the infant Jesus to thwart King Herod’s murder attempt, and Moses who led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt to the Holy celebrated in Passover.
Lena, a Ukrainian lady married to a Geordie, reported to BBC Radio Newcastle on the red tape and processes to bring her sister-in-law and sick niece to the safety of her home, while her brother stays to fight. The entire framework of the family’s lives blown up by Putin, they face the added frustration of covering costs for hotels and restaurant bills until they are able to attend a Home Office appointment on 24 March.
Ego, propaganda and falsehoods
This brings us to the ‘B’ words: Brexit and Boris, the two inextricably intertwined. Boris Johnson became the flagship of Brexit and the anti-migrant sentiments it represented; thus, the Conservative party absorbed the role of the Brexit Party.
Referring to Putin, the mother of a Ukrainian resident from London, Lena, who is now a refugee commented:
There is a saying in English: ‘where there’s one there’s three’. Cadwalladr related Putin’s disinformation campaigns in the West to Brexit – Putin, Trump and Brexiters work in parallel; Putin spread confusion to divide us, in particular from 2014 onwards, a strategy not unlike Johnson’s own attitude to confuse the media via a plethora of gaffes, exposed in 2006. Putin applies the same disinformation tactics to his onslaught in the Ukraine, in addition to bombs. Disinformation is very dangerous, especially when it gets out of hand in a full-scale war.
Johnson and his allies are guilty of similar tactics, and he too is associated with elite Russians. Adam Bienkov reported that Johnson exposed a similar narrative line to Putin during the Brexit campaign, blaming the European Union for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, comparing the EU to Adolf Hitler.
On differing scales, the problems which caused the crisis in Ukraine and hostile attitudes to migrants and mobility in the UK are engendered by a similar cause: the ego of a human being in power, often broadcast via social media trolls and official news outlets. Farage was famous for fake news. If false narratives about migrants or political opponents can be deployed to strengthen this image, and the ability of that person to reach a position of power, so be it. Accuse me of overreach if you wish, but to some extent the victims of Putin in the Ukraine, and the UK citizens who have and are suffering either an identity crisis or professional downfall caused by its red tape are all victims of a massive machine of fiction. It is perpetrated by a (political) leader for the purpose of self-glorification, be that Farage, Putin or Johnson.
Thousands of Ukrainian people are left without their homes, and their jobs due to war.
The Ukrainians’ loss is sudden and massive. They are in a far worse position than those who live in a peaceful country, but we should not hide factual parallels here. Those Brexit induced losses are very real, even though they are in comparison akin to a slow puncture bubbling away since 2016. The personal human and financial losses are well documented by witnesses in the In Limbo and In Limbo Too series.
Brexit: divisive displacement of identity and the support mesh
Hitler restricted Jews in their professional and economic activities due to their ethnicity. Laws were imposed from above, founded on and supported by disinformation. The approach here in Britain is applied by the model of sacrifice: to be free of the fascist European single market, some British people (and Europeans) will have to suffer losses; it is made acceptable. It should not be. The approach is equally often one of chaos and lack of knowledge in addition to the need to win power. Oops, we made a mistake. This is not good enough.
Johnson lied to the public: Britons would still be able to work in Europe and do business in and with Europe. Not strictly true, but the subject is so complex, I estimate he himself has not bothered to read the material in the trade deal, nor the Lord’s inquiry on the trade and cooperation agreement (TCA).
Services are a prime example; many Britons are inert to this damage. When they learn of the impact Brexit has had on a business, especially services or creatives, the response is: ‘Well, that was to be expected’; the so-what attitude. Yet if their income had been reduced to 20 percent of its former amount or their business shut down completely, no longer being a viable entity, the attitude would be very different.
If we look at services alone, the TCA treaty allows for very limited work for some sectors, leaving others cast aside. EU Businesses have been put off British candidates due to the entire Brexit process and its uncertainty since 2018, as reported in The Guardian.
Contract adverts stated: ‘Schengen passport holders only, EU passport holders only’; already in 2018. Before our very eyes, a narrow referendum result undid the foundations of careers and lives. Decades of work, education and networks gone in a puff of political smoke. The ongoing mental anguish is there; individuals have very little control over legislation and political systems perpetrated by those in office. It is unfair, unsettling for you and any family members who rely on your income for support. Not a war zone, but life changing in a bad way.
Case studies abound:
Brexpats member Julian, who feared he would be unable to pay the mortgage, whose retirement plans are on hold while his income is reduced by two-thirds, has been forced into permanent employment in one European country, where he is unable to live through the week with his family who are based in France. He is not in a war zone, he has some income, but his life going forward will be very different from his plan.
Stephen Head, a sports talent scout in US football, lost his job and was replaced by a European candidate, as reported in the Lord’s inquiry.
The pandemic has provided a smoke screen for those of us who would require mobility in Europe. Travel restrictions meant the TCA’s mobility provisions have not been fully ‘tested’ yet, making their impact difficult to assess according to one contributor to the Lord’s inquiry.
The TCA’s business mobility provisions represent a major change in the UK-EU trading relationship. Tourism and travel sectors will be hit particularly hard, undermining opportunities especially for young people seeking seasonal work experience in Europe. In our native North East, seasonal work as a courier, rep or chamber maid was not only a dream job but allowed unemployed people to put a foot on the career ladder, and have financial independence. Save our Travel Jobs campaigns mention 25,000 job losses in the seasonal work sector alone. Take the famous ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ model, the building contractors who kept financially afloat by working in Europe; remember the ship yards which employed thousands of people were shut by 2006.
There are no provisions whatsoever for services professionals for project work and temporary jobs sourced via agencies: many recruitment agencies cannot and will not use British contractors. Because small businesses and independent freelancers often source most of their work via agencies, this is a very serious restriction. All of these sectors, especially building, engineering and IT, rely on agencies. The EU Blue Card only applies for projects which last for 12 months or more under terms akin to permanent employment (not freelancing), and restricts the professional to payroll only as an ‘employee’. Shorter term roles are not a feature of its framework.
Contracting demands a fast turnaround. Candidates must be available in two weeks, at maximum one month, not the months of delay required to process a permit. Agencies or customers have to advertise the role for eight weeks in the European Economic Area (EEA), and prove that no suitable candidate based in the EEA has been found before a third country national may be put on the project. (The UK – Swiss deal exhibits similar problems; British candidates are no longer welcome for any agency work.)
The current deal evidences how much the government misunderstands the way industry works, and does not care. That’s fine, as long as we can end freedom-of-movement, which was never free in the first place. Femi Oluwole exposed Farage’s lie on article 7 of the EU Citizens’ Rights directive on LBC, a directive which required that in order to enjoy a stay in Europe fellow EU citizens must prove financial independence and comprehensive health insurance. A major example of disinformation: the UK government never applied that legislation, a fact they gleefully hide from the public.
The agency work omission is not the only problem. A limit of 12 months was placed on IT, engineering and other professions for services-delivery; many projects are longer programmes of work based on rolling contracts with three-month extensions, therefore UK citizens face immediate rejection.
Granted some of these professions have slightly more scope than those who are not included in the TCA, as exempted from work permits are creatives and artists. Why? It was modelled on the EU-Japan deal. No sense of the trade gravity model.
Online services and mobility
Brexiters piped that we would be able to work remotely from the UK. Witnesses to the Lord’s inquiry hoped online services provision with Europe would continue.
George Riddell (Director of Trade Strategy Ernst and Young) said that while:
“The nature of work will change and that we will do more things digitally going forward” [it is] “extremely difficult to provide cutting-edge services” [without building professional relationships face-to-face].
Even online provision has suffered. Red tape and imports meant some large IT services clients have refused to engage with British services suppliers (red tape in transferring laptops to British based professionals was a reason given, plus restrictions on UK professionals visiting offices on site when the pandemic subsided). Goods face similar existential problems. I could go on in encyclopaedic fashion…
The migrant crisis wake-up call
The harrowing news items from the Ukraine should serve as a nasty wake up call to all those who believe the falsehoods penned by the UK right-wing press and Putin. Refugees flee conflict and danger. As depicted by the right-wing press, the migrants in boats in Calais or who drown in the Channel are not refugees. They are spongers who wish to milk the system, or criminals intent on committing crimes on UK soil. These too, are people who have good reasons to leave their homelands.
Migrant security risks: irony, kompromat and the party culture
One of the reasons why women like Lena and her family are held up in this sea of red tape is security. Is it safe for these people to enter UK soil? Please present proof, evidence, paperwork, all said to women whose homes and possessions are blown up by Putin’s weapons.
Oh, the irony when our own prime minister reputedly leaves highly classified intelligence documents unattended in his family flat and at Chequers, in full view of visiting family and friends. Any professionals and suppliers of the UK government would face dismissal for that and it goes against the prescriptions of the most basic information security training. Johnson’s chum, Lebedev, is the son of a former KGB officer, who welcomed Johnson to X-rated parties in his castle in Italy while Johnson worked as foreign secretary, the sort of parties used by the KGB to practise kompromat; not unlike the tactics of Cambridge Analytica, famously exposed by Channel 4 Dispatches. Johnson left behind Met personal protection officers assigned to him in the UK, another breech of UK security protocol.
Italian intelligence also reported on numerous occasions where Johnson partied with Lebedev at Palazzo Terranova, Perugia. The report stated father Lebedev maintained active connections with the KGB and links to “espionage and interference” operations. In 2020, John Sweeney reported on the reversal of concerns Evgeny Lebedev might not be suitable to become a member of the British parliament’s upper house via intervention by the Cabinet Office.
Bienkov reports letters between Johnson and Evgeny Lebedev which reveal Lebedev actively lobbied Johnson to back a festival with ‘substantial support’ from the Kremlin, in addition to backing the conservative party in 2015, with narratives in The Independent which Lebedev now controls, to the disgust of editorial staff.
Hope for the future?
We are all victims of the lie machines perpetrated by powerful individuals in office. We fight the same battle against disinformation. To combat cruel dictators, we should bring about real change to ensure that the powers which cause this divisive misery are rendered toothless. Is this the sort of society we wish to live in?
After weeks of criticism, the government finally devised plans to allow Britons to host Ukrainian refugees, including financial aid in Homes for Ukrainians. Pressure works, but can we do more?
Their nationality and borders bill proposes to stop any migrants who transit through safe countries coming to the UK at all. It is equally time for MPs to take responsibility, to speak up and eradicate the problems which requires bravery. If Kira Rudyk can pick up a rifle and learn to shoot to defend her family and her country, our MPs should stand up to Johnson, to Russian interference and to divisive discord.
Parliament must restore the support mesh we once had, our identity and everything we once knew; which includes careers, businesses and friendships with Europe. For the sake of the country, it must rekindle what Putin divided, and restore the financial support we may offer to others less fortunate than ourselves. Otherwise, Britain is trapped in a political black comedy of Boris and Brexit which would easily play out in the plot of a Latin American novel of dictatorship by the likes of Mario Vargas Llosa.