New Home Secretary Priti Patel wants to end free movement from the European Union into Britain overnight on 31 October.
She has pulled back, according to reports in The Independent and The Guardian, only because lawyers warned her that moves “to end freedom of movement without a vote from MPs could see ministers taken to court — with a 70 per cent chance of them losing their case”.
Under all variants of EU withdrawal with a deal, free movement would continue for some two years of the “transition period”. The Tories introduced an Immigration Bill in January to empower the government to make more restrictive rules.
Though the details were not in the Bill, the Tories talked of easy entry for people coming to jobs on over £30,000, and no more than 12-month work permits for people coming to other jobs, with a compulsory 12-month gap between permit periods.
As the government floundered, the Bill was shelved, and has not progressed, so the Tories have no legislation to end freedom of movement. Patel wanted to do it just by decree, and surely if she gets a chance will have drastic restrictions in place very soon.
For now the Home Office website still tells EU citizens that with a no-deal Brexit: “The government is proposing to end free movement, but this is still subject to approval by Parliament. Once free movement has ended, if you’re a citizen of any other EU or EEA country, or Switzerland, you’ll still be able to enter the UK without a visa but only for up to three months”. For longer stays, EU citizens will have to apply for “temporary leave to remain”, and three months in advance.
The Tories also plan a meaner and more brutal regime for asylum-seekers. Already Britain is admitting fewer asylum-seekers than any other large EU country.
The Guardian reports (1 September) that the Tories plan to allow “no new applications after 1 November from asylum-seeking children to be reunited with relatives living in the UK”.
The UK is currently obliged to consider those applications under the EU’s Dublin Regulation.
The Tories also plan a squeeze on the 3.6 million EU citizens already living in Britain. They have to apply for “settled status”. According to the Home Office, about one million applications have been processed so far.
On the most recent figures (for July 2019), 42% of them are granted only “pre-settled status”, because the Home Office makes claims (disputed by many applicants) that they have not been in the UK continuously for five years. Their status remains precarious, and they can get settled status only by applying again years later and meanwhile not leaving the UK for any long period (even if they have good family-emergency, work, or study reasons to do so).
Free movement with the EU has been in operation for decades, and has brought great benefits both to EU citizens and to British citizens wanting to work, study, or retire in the EU.
Brexit means regression. Defend free movement! Open the borders!