Brexit: business anxiety over freedom of movement U-turn

Business leaders have expressed dismay over the government's announcement that freedom of movement for European Economic Area citizens would abruptly end if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal on October 31.

A photo of UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, superimposed over an image of the UK Home Office headquarters in Croydon England

Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, Priti Patel, whose department will be responsible for implementing all immigration controls. c. UK Department for International Development, Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Until now, employers had been working on the assumption that the new government would adhere to plans drawn up when Theresa May was premier, which would allow freedom of movement, with some limitations, until the end of 2020 or allow EU nationals to stay for three months before having to apply for a longer stay.Now, however, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has announced freedom of movement will end on October 31 if there is no-deal Brexit despite the fact that senior Home Office officials have recommended that free movement should continue until a new immigration system is ready in January 2021 in order to provide "maximum certainty" to EU citizens and employers.Ministers have yet to work out details of how the tough new system will operate if there is a no-deal Brexit and it is unclear how immigration officials will be able to distinguish between the three million-plus EU nationals eligible to remain in Britain (more than two million of whom have yet to register under the government's settlement scheme and are not required to do so for another 16 months) and anyone else.Although Mr Johnson promised the UK would not "become hostile to immigration" after Brexit, it remains unclear what will happen to prospective workers and students arriving in the UK after day one of a no deal.

No-deal Brexit: from an employment specialist's perspective

Fraser Vandal, an employment specialist at law firm TLT, told Personnel Today, “If we look at today’s developments, the planned interim measures for those arriving in the UK between November 1 and December 31 2020 following a no-deal Brexit have been scrapped and will be replaced."New arrangements are yet to be announced, but the current direction of travel would suggest that these will be less generous than those proposed by Theresa May’s government.“There could be significant issues around the enforcement of any new rules. With those who are legitimately living and working in the UK potentially having 14 months between the UK leaving the EU and needing to register under the scheme, there are questions around whether any new rules can be effectively policed.

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"There will be EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who are legitimately in the UK without necessarily having immediate proof of that to hand, which could be problematic. The previous government had also confirmed that there would be no change to the right to work checks required for EU, EEA and Swiss nationals until 2021 in the event of no deal. This may also now be subject to change.”

Confederation of British Industry: no-deal Brexit and the latest UK government's announcement

Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, 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. "Taking time to prepare a new system will help protect the UK's attractiveness. Firms will need at least two years to adapt to any new immigration system. Most importantly, getting it right matters to millions of people."

London First on ending unilateral freedom of movement

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of the lobby group London First, added: “With only weeks to go until October 31, announcing a unilateral end to freedom of movement in the event of no deal piles further pressure on businesses. Planning ahead is impossible when rules of the game continually change.“The government must avoid a cliff-edge and give clear, definitive advice to EU citizens and employers, as continually moving the goalposts only adds to the already high level of confusion. Our economy needs a fair and managed immigration system that keeps the UK open to the talent we need, while restoring public trust.”

British Chambers of Commerce and Institute of Directors: concerns over UK government's plan to end freedom of movement

Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, also expressed deep concern over the government's plan and warned that “at a time of critical labour shortages, UK firms need continued access to skills at all levels to fill local shortages when they arise”.Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said: “Slamming the door shut as the UK leaves the EU will only exacerbate skill shortages. With many businesses deeply concerned about the disruption of a no-deal Brexit, the announcement on ending freedom of movement — with little clarity on alternate arrangements — will only add to the confusion many firms are experiencing.”

The 3 million group: ending freedom of movement abruptly on October 31 is "reckless politics"

Nicolas Hatton, founder of the3million group, which campaigns on behalf of EU citizens already in the UK, said, “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.”

What do UK immigration law firms say about this proposed sudden end to freedom of movement?

Hudson McKenzie

Rahul Batra, Managing Partner of the UK immigration law firm, Hudson McKenzie, said, "There is a strong sense of fear amongst individuals and businesses alike that the EU will mirror towards British citizens in the EU, what we do with EU nationals post-Brexit. There is no doubt that if the Boris administration abruptly terminates the legal arrangements in respect of EU citizens, it will directly negatively impact on innocent British citizens working in the EU. It goes without saying that this uncertainty will hugely increase the damage caused by a no-deal Brexit."We need to remember that circa 40 million people arrive from the EU every year into the UK, Therefore, for the ports and airports that will mean enhanced checks if freedom of movement rules are abolished straightaway and will put quite a burden on the staff working at Britain's ports and airports."Read more about the implications of an abrupt end to free movement

Ilda de Sousa, Kingsley Napley

Ilda de Sousa, Partner at the London law firm Kingsley Napley LLP, commented, "The impact of a no-deal Brexit will be big on UK employers, NHS, landlords, etc because there is no clear guidance on how to distinguish between pre- and post-Brexit arrivals. Equally I cannot find any reference as to how border officers at port will be able to distinguish between EU nationals arriving in the UK for the first time post-Brexit versus those who have lived here but have not applied to stay under the EU settlement scheme. Surely the Home Office will want to avoid another Windrush scandal, so clear guidance must be made public now."

For more news, visit our Brexit and United Kingdom sections.

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