Boris Johnson facing pressure not to end freedom of movement on Brexit Day
The ‘reckless’ overnight change to freedom of movement in the event of a no-deal Brexit is ‘chaos gone mad’, according to campaigners.
The decision to change immigration laws on October 31 will harm the economy and the NHS and risks discrimination against millions of EU citizens.
Boris Johnson has said that EU nationals will no longer be able to come freely to live and work in the UK once we leave the bloc.
Ministers have been warned they are facing ‘another Windrush’ – the scandal in which thousands of mainly elderly Commonwealth immigrants were wrongly detained and, in dozens of cases, deported.
But the Tory government has decided to press on with the sudden changes to immigration laws to ‘regain control of the UK borders’ despite the issue not even being debated in Parliament.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: ‘Freedom of movement as it currently stands will end on October 31 when the UK leaves the EU.
‘So for example we will introduce, immediately, much tougher criminality rules for people entering the UK.’ The details are still being developed and will be set out by the Prime Minister alongside new Home Secretary Priti Patel.
But opposition leaders, campaigners and business groups have reacted with anger saying it will cause confusion at the borders, particularly as it will be ‘impossible’ to know who has the legal right to be here and who doesn’t.
The move is a dramatic departure from Theresa May’s plan to extend freedom of movement to 2021 while alternative arrangements were made.
Mr Johnson wants an Australian-style points-based immigration system tailored to suit the UK’s needs after Brexit. He has said that the number of foreigners arriving would be ‘democratically controlled’ and said the UK would not ‘become hostile to immigration.’
Some 3.2 million people from the EU live in the UK and are currently having to apply for settled status if they want to stay after Brexit. Around two million have yet to do so and the cut off date is December 2020 – over a year after Mr Johnson’s proposed immigration changes.
The Downing Street spokeswoman insisted that EU citizens currently resident in the UK would not be prevented from re-entering the country after trips abroad, although it was unclear how checks would be carried out.
The 3 Million group, which campaigns for the rights of EU citizens in the UK, said in a statement: ‘The idea of ending freedom of movement abruptly on October 31 in case of no-deal is reckless politics. ‘It hollows out the Prime Minister’s unequivocal guarantee to EU citizens he has given only three weeks ago.
‘Ending freedom of movement without putting legal provisions in place for those EU citizens who have not yet successfully applied through the settlement scheme will mean that millions of lawful citizens will have their legal status removed overnight.
‘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.
‘Otherwise this will open the door to mass discrimination under the hostile environment 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.’
The Lib Dems questioned whether the ports and borders would be able to ‘cope logistically’ with the overnight changes.
Home affairs spokesman Ed Davey told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: ‘This is increasing uncertainty for all employers and I think could be highly damaging for people using the NHS or depend on the services of a business that has EU workers.’
He said the government ‘hasn’t even said what they’d put in its place’, adding: ‘This is chaos gone mad. Priti Patel is almost setting fire to the British economy and British public services.’
Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general, said: ‘Businesses and workers know the immigration system is changing. Yet announcing that the existing arrangements may end before a replacement has been designed, delivered or tested will only cause confusion.
‘Now is the time for Government to reduce uncertainty, not add to it unnecessarily and hinder no-deal preparations.’ Free movement between the UK and Ireland will not end in the event of a no-deal Brexit because the agreement pre-dates freedom of movement rules within the EU.
However, there is huge uncertainty about what will happen to the 1.3millon UK-born people who are living in the EU in the event we crash out of the bloc without a divorce deal. The priority for most will be to register as residents but the rules and deadlines vary from country to country.