MPs have lambasted the UK government for “failing to set out any substantive proposals on long-term migration between the UK and the EU” after Brexit.
In a report by the UK Parliament’s Home Affairs committee published on Tuesday (31 July), MPs accused Theresa May’s government of having made “no attempt…to build consensus on future migration policy despite the fact that the issue was subject to heated, divisive and at times misleading debate during the referendum campaign”.
The victory for the ‘Leave’ campaign in the June 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU was widely attributed to its success in tapping into public fears that the UK had lost control of its borders and was unable to control migration and access to welfare benefits.
The number of EU migrants moving to the UK has already dropped significantly since the referendum, with an estimated 223,000 EU citizens moving to the UK in 2017, down from 284,000 the year before.
With eight months to go until the UK leaves the EU on March 29, 2019, the UK government has offered little clarity on what its post-Brexit immigration policy will look like, other than to repeatedly state that freedom of movement, one of the ‘four freedoms’ that form the basis of EU membership, will end.
Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP who chairs the Home Affairs committee, stated that “the e misinformation and tensions over immigration during the referendum campaign were deeply damaging and divisive.”
“It is essential that does not happen again, and those who exploited concerns over immigration during the referendum need to be more honest and more responsible when it is debated in the run-up to the final deal,” she added.
Theresa May’s government has promised a Migration bill to be published in September 2018, to be based on a report by the Migration Advisory Council. However, the Migration Bill has already been delayed by a year.
MPs added that government’s silence on future migration policy meant that “an opportunity to help business and employers plan, and a crucial moment to rebuild confidence in the migration system, has so far been missed.”
The report also calls on the government to “explore” immigration curbs, including an “emergency brake” that are possible with membership of the EU single market, membership of which the government has ruled out.
Ministers have insisted that students and skilled workers would be able to study and work in the UK. The government will also seek mutual recognition of professional qualifications, according to its White Paper on future relations with the EU.
Meanwhile, EU nationals living in the UK will have until June 2021 to apply for permanent residency at a cost of £65 per person, under a proposed EU settlement scheme that will come into force in the autumn.
Under the scheme, any EU citizen or family member of theirs who has been living in the UK for five years will be eligible for ‘settled status’ giving them indefinite leave to remain.