The difficulties with May’s position go deeper than the fact that it will be very hard to negotiate her preferred outcomeby Jonathan Portes / February 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
Two weeks ago, Theresa May drew another red line in the Brussels negotiations, this time on the Brexit transition and the free movement of people. “I’m clear there’s a difference between those people who came prior to us leaving and those who will come when they know the UK is no longer a member of the EU,” she said.
What does this mean? It has already been agreed that European Union migrants who arrive before Brexit Day can stay on indefinitely if they so wish, and eventually will acquire the right to permanent residence. But if Theresa May has her way, those arriving during the transition period—when free movement will continue as now—will not have the same guarantee. Their position will depend on the UK’s future, post-Brexit system.
The reaction in Brussels wasn’t exactly positive; Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s lead spokesperson on Brexit, was particularly unimpressed, and on his recent visit to London Michel Barnier made clear that this was one of the remaining issues that could derail the whole transition deal. The EU27 have said all along that any transition means that the UK will have to follow all EU rules.
But the difficulties with May’s position go deeper than the fact that it will be very hard to negotiate her preferred outcome.
First, think what this would actually mean for individuals, families and employers. People coming here now from the EU know free movement means that they can, broadly, stay as long as they like. Those entering from outside will do so under a specific set of conditions on what they can do, how long they can stay and so on.
But it’s looking increasingly likely that we won’t know what the post-Brexit immigration system is going to look like for some time. The government has just delayed its planned White Paper until the end of this year. That means that we’d be telling EU citizens that they can come here with no restrictions at all in 2019 and 2020, but that there are no guarantees after that.
Universities, for example, will start in the summer of 2018 to look for academic staff to arrive in 2019; what will we tell potential recruits from elsewhere in Europe? The inherent uncertainty under May’s proposed policy would…