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Analysis

May’s anti-immigration obsession is threat to country

by Luke Lythgoe | 01.02.2018

The prime minister has picked another unnecessary fight with the EU, shooting down the idea that EU citizens coming to the UK during the transition period will have the same rights as those arriving before Brexit. She’ll probably have to make another of her famous u-turns, given that the EU’s unlikely to budge. On the other hand, if May actually digs her heels in, the whole Brexit process could explode, which would be madness.

David Davis has already defended May’s comments, which she made during her visit to China. The Brexit secretary told MPs the agreement struck with the EU in December made clear that the “end date for ongoing permanent residents’ rights… will be March 2019”.

This is one interpretation, but it goes against the EU’s own view. The dispute boils down to what the term “specified date” means in the document. According to an analysis published by the EU, during a transition in which the full body of EU rules will remain in place for the UK, the specified date should be defined “not as the date of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal, but as that of the end of the transitional period”. At the very least this flags up worrying differences of opinion over the points “agreed” before Christmas.

Ultimately it will come down to politics. The European Parliament’s Guy Verhofstadt put it plainly: “Citizens’ rights during the transition is not negotiable.” Based on how the negotiations have unfolded so far, the EU is likely to force a u-turn out of May.

In any case, leaving EU citizens who come during the transition in limbo-land is reckless. We need nurses to run the NHS and skilled workers to keep the economy humming. They are already quitting in droves and fewer are arriving. Net migration in the last quarter for which we have official figures was only 9,000.

Most importantly, there’s a human cost here. EU citizens in the UK and Brits on the continent are aghast at the political posturing over their rights. As Debra Williams, head of the Netherlands-based campaign group Brexpats, put it: “Jointly we are over 4 million people who, through no fault of our own, have been relegated to the second or third division in the citizenship stakes and left to languish.”

So why is May doing this? There are a few, possibly interlinked, explanations. First, she’s so desperate to save her skin that she is throwing red meat to rebellious Brexiter backbenchers.

Migration also gets her big headlines in the pro-Brexit press, such as the Express’ “At Last! May gets tough on migrants”. The newspapers support their stories with claims from Migration Watch, an anti-immigration group, that a million extra EU nationals could pour into Britain during the transition. This is a case of lies, damn lies and statistics. Migration Watch uses misleading statistics, such as gross rather than net migration figures, and bases its arguments on outdated pre-Brexit migration trends.

May needs to realise things have changed and move on from her migration-obsessed Home Office days. The cost for this country, and millions of people’s lives, is too great.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

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