It’s true, of course, that the retention of border controls by the UK has prevented many people from reaching the UK. It’s also true that the open border policy of much of Europe means that once people are in the Schengen area, there is no physical means of preventing them travelling as they like within that area. Such a response within the UK does, though, reinforce the perception elsewhere in Europe that the UK is a member of the EU but not really part of it. The UK’s anti-EU brigade may claim that they want to return to a ‘common market’, but in truth, they struggle with the concept of a ‘common’ anything.
It also betrays an attitude towards borders which is based on a perception that some borders are right and natural and need to be protected, whereas others do not, and an attitude towards movement by people which regards it as a privilege rather than as a right. Both of those attitudes are being reinforced on a daily basis. It’s something that should worry us more than it seems to.
Most of those who demand the continuation of full and rigorous border controls at all points of entry would be outraged at the thought of border controls between England and Scotland or Wales (although, to be fair, some of them strike me as the sort of people who’d really rather like to introduce controls on movement between counties if they thought they could get away with it). But why? What is it about the boundaries between states which makes them more sacrosanct than other boundaries? All boundaries are, ultimately, human constructs. There’s nothing eternal or inevitable about any of them; and most, if not all, have moved regularly over the centuries. The idea that they are rigid, natural, and eternal is of fairly recent origin.
Politicians would be doing us a better service if they expended their efforts on working out how to prepare for, and deal with the consequences of, free movement than on using the current problems to restrict that freedom still further.