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Analysis

Sudden stop to free movement on Oct 31 will create misery

by Jonathan Spink | 27.08.2019

Priti Patel’s plan to end free movement for EU citizens could create another Windrush scandal, affecting up to two million people. The new home secretary has called for border restrictions to be imposed immediately after October 31 if the UK leaves the EU with no agreement.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “the government will introduce a new, fairer immigration system that prioritises skills and what people can contribute to the UK, rather than where they come from.” They added that “freedom of movement as it currently stands will end on 31 October when the UK leaves the EU.”

This is a departure from previous government policy, backing a deal and ensuring citizens’ rights through the Withdrawal Agreement. Former home secretary, Sajid Javid said in December 2018: “This is the most significant change in our immigration system in 45 years” and that “it is important that we focus on the detail.” Hard to imagine a detailed, implementable plan materialising in the 65 days before Brexit happens.  

Home Office settled status figures were released on July 31 showing that just over one million EU citizens have signed up to the scheme, leaving around two million citizens who have not. If there is no legal provision in place to protect them, those citizens who have not yet successfully applied through the settlement scheme “will have their legal status removed overnight” according to Nicolas Hatton, founder of the 3 million group which campaigns for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. 

He added: “We have been calling for the settlement scheme to be a declaratory registration scheme so all EU citizens who have made the UK their home are automatically granted status, as promised by those in government.”

By having a sudden stop to free movement, two sets of EU citizens will be created. “This will open the door to mass discrimination under the hostile environment,” Hatton says, “with employers, landlords, banks and the NHS unable to distinguish between those EU citizens with the right to live and work in the UK and those without.”

An exception to this would be Irish citizens, because the UK and Ireland signed a deal to preserve the common travel area in May.

Patel’s new plan is reckless. If it’s not stopped, it will create misery for a large number of people. Javid’s policy when home secretary was a bit better. But much the best solution is to stay in the EU. That way, we can guarantee all EU citizens’ rights in the UK, and continue to enjoy our own right to live, love and travel throughout 27 other European countries.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

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