Minister admits it will be 'almost impossible' to check status of EU citizens after no-deal Brexit
It will be “almost impossible” for bosses to tell whether European Union citizens working for them have the right to be in the UK under a no-deal Brexit, the immigration minister has admitted.
As part of the Brexit negotiations, Britain has vowed that EU citizens who have been here for five years or more by June 2021 will be able to apply for “settled status” allowing them to stay in the country.
But Caroline Nokes said fresh immigration controls on EU citizens could kick in if Britain leaves the bloc without a deal - with employers expected to individually check the immigration status of any EU workers from next year.
In a stormy session of the Home Affairs Committee today, the immigration minister said: “If somebody hasn't been here prior to the end of March next year, employers will have to make sure they go through adequately-rigorous checks to evidence somebody's right to work.”
But Ms Nokes was unable to tell Committee chair Yvette Cooper how firms would be expected to tell the difference between a long-standing UK resident waiting to be granted settled status and one who had only just arrived in the country.
She said: “You are absolutely right to be pointing out that [for] somebody who has been here for 10 years and has simply not yet been through the scheme, it will be almost impossible for an employer to differentiate between them and somebody who is a new arrival.”
Asked by Labour MP Kate Green what specific checks would be required, Ms Nokes replied: "As far as the challenge of how someone who hasn’t yet been through the scheme but has a right to be here evidences that, I think that might be something I need to write to the committee about."
NUMBER 10: MANY OPTIONS BEING LOOKED AT
The comments, which come just five months before the UK is due to the leave the EU, were immediately downplayed by Downing Street, who said Ms Nokes had been “putting forward options that are being considered”.
A spokeswoman for Theresa May said: “There are many options being looked at and we're going to set out more details on that shortly." They said: "Employers already need to carry out right to work checks. That applies to everyone in the UK."
But Stephen Doughty, a Labour member of the Home Affairs Committee, told PoliticsHome the Government’s preparations for a post-Brexit immigration system had become a “complete shambles”.
“It’s all very well talking about how it’s going to work in theory,” he said. “But we all know that, particularly if they think they’re going to be liable for penalties or fines under the hostile environment [immigration policy], that employers, landlords, and other public service providers are going to act in the most cautious way.
“And if they don’t have the right information, I can just imagine a million different incorrect decisions being made purely because people don’t have the right documentation or clarity on what is being expected.”
Raising the spectre of the Windrush scandal which saw longstanding citizens from Commonwealth countries deported because they had been unable to produce required documents, Mr Doughty said: “I can just see it happening all over again.”
That view was echoed by Sir Edward Davey, home affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats.
He said: “Millions of EU citizens in the UK have been living under a cloud of uncertainty for more than two years. Far from clearing up that uncertainty today, the Immigration Minister made it worse.
“We’ve already seen in the Windrush scandal how the Conservatives’ hostile environment checks can destroy the lives of people who have every right to be in the UK. The Government’s chaotic approach to Brexit risks a repeat of that scandal for EU citizens.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe