On 23 June 2016 the UK voted to leave the EU.
On 29 March 2017, 9 months later, parliament voted to trigger Article 50 and officially start the 2 year process of leaving the EU.
One of the main reasons given for voting to leave the EU was that we need to control immigration by taking back control of our borders. Reducing immigration was presented by the leave campaign as a win-win scenario with no downsides. Remain campaigners pointed out that we rely on European immigrants to support many of our key industries including the NHS, agriculture, and hospitality so there would be serious economic impacts caused by reducing immigration. It is likely that some voters did not understand that we can already control all immigration for outside the EU and this accounts for well over half of all immigration to the UK (1).
We also have existing powers to control EU immigration should we choose to use them (2):
- for stays under 3 months we could register all EU immigrants;
- for stays over 3 months immigrants must either be working or have sufficient resources and sickness insurance to ensure they do not become a burden on social services;
- right of permanent residence is only granted after 5 years of uninterrupted legal residence;
- EU citizens and their families may be expelled from the UK on grounds of public policy, public security or public health.
In the event of abuse of these rights, or fraud, such as marriages of convenience, we have the power under EU directives to refuse or terminate entry to the UK, and withdraw any right of these rights.
The UK has chosen not to implement these restrictions under Theresa May both when she was Home Secretary, and subsequently while she is Prime Minister. Germany, on the other hand, requires all EU migrants to register if they are staying for more than 3 months (3).
Today, 27 July 2017, Amber Rudd the current Home Secretary announced the independent Migration Advisory Committee is to carry out a detailed analysis of the economic and social contributions and costs of EU citizens in Britain. This committee will not report until September 2018, just 7 months before we formally leave the EU. This is extraordinary – it means we called a referendum, voted on it, and triggered article 50 without knowing the economic and social impacts of the decisions we were taking. In addition to the broad analysis, the committee will be asked to examine:
- Which sectors are most reliant on EU labour
- The impact of a reduction in EU migration and the ways in which both business and the government could adjust to this change.
- Whether there is any evidence that the availability of unskilled labour has led to low UK investment in certain sectors.
- Whether there are advantages to focusing migrant labour on high-skilled jobs.
That we didn’t know the answers to these questions when we voted to leave, that parliament didn’t know the answers when they triggered article 50, and that we won’t know the answers to them until just before we leave is government negligence on an unacceptable scale.