IMMIGRATION NEWS JANUARY 2017
Brexit – Where Does It Leave UK European Migrants?
In June 2016 the British electorate voted for the UK to leave the European Union: “Brexit”, as the media loves to call it. The subject is nothing if not confusing. The previous Government, led by ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, decided to give the People the opportunity to vote on the subject, and legislation was passed through Parliament to enable the referendum to take place. Logic might dictate that the result of the referendum should be binding on the Government, ie that if the People voted to remain in the EU then the UK should remain and if they voted to leave then the UK should leave. After all, what would really be the point of the referendum otherwise?
But – in the curious soft, indeterminate way that the British tend to have with constitutional issues – the legislation (the European Union Referendum Act 2015) did not say anything about this. It would appear from the wording of the Act that if the People voted to remain then the UK would remain, and that if the People voted to leave then the UK would either leave or, er, remain.
There may have been a strong feeling around (and possibly also in the mind of David Cameron) that the British people would surely not be foolhardy enough to vote to leave, and so it would not be necessary to deal with the consequences of a leave vote. Previous referendums have indicated that, when it really comes to it, the British electorate are not prepared to contemplate divorce from Europe. And various economists and politicians made dire predictions about what would happen to the UK economy and to the UK level of employment if we left.
But these expectations were confounded, to the evident horror and disbelief of some people. One lady, Gina Miller (who came to play a prominent part in the aftermath of the Brexit vote) explained that she “felt physically sick” when she heard the result, and there may have been many others.
There is one point about this, which must be an important one and which some commentators do not give sufficient weight. The Brexit vote was not just about the prospects for the British economy. It was also about European migration into the UK, which some people think has been just too high. If it be true, as estimated statistics indicate, that there are currently some three million European nationals in the UK (out of a total population of around 65 million) this is indeed a remarkable statistic.
The Brexit vote might be characterised (and indeed by some people it was) as a protest against European free movement principles which, some have argued, have operated to the advantage of other European countries but to the detriment of the UK.
Gina Miller and some colleagues took out a legal action in the High Court to prevent the Government from triggering Brexit without the agreement of Parliament. So far they have succeeded but the matter has been appealed to the Supreme Court, which is currently deliberating. But whatever the result from the Supreme Court it has become clear, from statements made by Ministers and Shadow Ministers in the Opposition, that Parliament will not try and frustrate the wishes of the People and that Brexit is going to happen at some point (but probably not until some time in 2019).
Which of course leaves a couple of important questions. When Brexit does happen, what will happen to the large numbers of Europeans who are still likely to be in the UK at that time? And how easy or difficult will it be for Europeans to come to the UK after Brexit has happened?
At the moment, it is not possible to be definite about either of these issues, although it is rather difficult to imagine the Government forcibly removing three million people from the UK – and similarly difficult to contemplate the effect that this would have on many organisations and industries in the UK which employ large numbers of Europeans. It is very possible (and there have been some statements to this effect by the Home Secretary, Ms Amber Rudd) that those Europeans who are present in the UK at the time of Brexit will be granted visas of some kind that will allow them to stay.
Regarding future European immigration after Brexit, it must be assumed that after Brexit Europeans will be subjected to something similar to the immigration controls that non-Europeans are currently subjected to, but Ministers have made only made vague statements about this. Certainly, it is very likely that free movement as we have it at the moment will die.
But one thing is quite clear about this situation. Those Europeans who qualify or who will qualify for permanent residence in the near future and who want to stay in the UK for the long term should apply for it. The basic requirement for permanent residence is five years lawful residence in the UK exercising Treaty rights, ie by working, studying or being financially self-sufficient. It is extremely difficult to imagine that any future Government would ever try to rescind permanent residence once it has been granted, so anyone who holds permanent residence should be saf. Indeed, in the last few months there has been a large increase in the number of applications to the Home Office for European permanent residence.
Europeans who hold permanent residence may also, after they have held it for one year, be able to apply for British citizenship, and this is something that Brexit is unlikely to affect.
So for Europeans the writing is on the wall: Brexit is going to happen, and it is important to be prepared for it.