The Brief: Britain is not ready to take back control of its borders

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.


Taking back control of Britain’s borders is not going to be as simple as painting a slogan on the side of a big, red bus.

Theresa May believes the referendum result gave her the mandate to crack down on immigration. She will take Britain out of the single market because access to it is conditional on the free movement of people.

This has been rightly described as economic vandalism but it also presents major practical problems for the British government.

Brexit minister David Davis today admitted the UK would need to continue accepting EU immigrants after the UK quits the bloc. This will infuriate those Leave voters who were seduced by promises of steeply dropping immigration numbers.

On a trip to Lithuania, Davis said it would take “years and years” to fill all the jobs that are now held by EU immigrants with British workers.

That’s not the only problem. The UK has no population register and it will be hard to know which EU citizens were living in Britain before Brexit, according to a report by the European Parliament’s employment committee.

There are simply not the resources or systems in place to monitor EU citizens living in Britain. The UK government knows this but its Brexit white paper is very light on detail.

“We will design our immigration system to ensure that we are able to control the numbers of people coming here from the EU,” it blithely states.

Any new immigration laws, once they are finally written, will also face scrutiny in both of the British parliament.

Britain has no national ID card system to keep tabs on immigrants.

Tony Blair tried and failed to introduce a card scheme and population register in 2007. It was scuppered because it was too expensive and because of fears over civil liberties and data protection.

One MP resigned in protest, sparking a by-election, and earning himself much of the credit for the initiative’s downfall.

He was none other than David Davis MP, the UK’s Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.


We were expecting the Commission to come out with its white paper on the future of Europe this afternoon. There was no sign of it.  Fortunately, Jorge Valero has got the inside track of what to expect.

Gerry Adams, leader of Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, told Catherine Stupp that Brexit talks over the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland were doomed to fail. The Irish government is scrambling to protect its agriculture industry from the threat of Brexit.

Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK ambassador to the EU, told the Brexit select committee in London that Britain must wait until the mid-2020s for a trade deal with the bloc.

Former British politician David Miliband has defended the UK’s foreign aid budget and has denounced media attacks on it as “fake news”. Aid costs UK citizens about €340 a year each, half what is spent on uneaten food.

Emmanuel Macron told Theresa May he will stand up for the EU during the divorce talks and Italy’s former PM, Matteo Renzi, is facing a party leadership challenge.

Dutch elections on 15 March could be a dry-run for France’s presidential election one month later. The extreme-right party of Geert Wilders still has a narrow lead according to some polls but his support is flagging. His older brother, Paul, said in an interview: “I love Geert, but I reject his ideology”.

The EU’s Ukraine deal continues to be controversial after the lower house of the Dutch parliament voted in favour despite last year’s non-binding referendum. The Association Agreement has been approved by the rest of the 27 member states.

The EU-Canada trade deal CETA continues to drag on after 100 French MPs appealed to France’s constitutional court. The Commission has warned France its economy is too imbalanced and that Germany’s current account surplus is still too high.

Mysterious radioactivity has been detected lately in Europe, confounding experts, and a NGO is taking Italy to court over its pollution levels.

France is fighting back against illegal drones by unleashing golden eagles to pluck them out of the sky. The fearsome birds have shown a natural flair for destroying the unmanned machines.

The results are in. 269 voters backed a European Commission ban on pineapple on pizza by a 60% to 40% margin…

Sam Morgan contributed to this Brief.


Enda Kenny, Ireland’s Taoiseach, is in Brussels tomorrow to meet Jean-Claude Juncker. Brexit will doubtless be on the menu but Kenny has other matters on his mind as well. He is expected to quit after meeting Donald Trump in Washington for the annual St Patrick’s Day celebration. Not exactly going out on a high…

Views are the author’s. 

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