Policy options for future migration from the European Economic Area: Interim report Contents


Background to our inquiry

1.Two years on from the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, the Government is still to give a firm indication of what kind of immigration arrangements it wants post-Brexit. The Government has proposed replacing free movement with a ‘labour mobility’ framework which will require EU nationals to have a visa in order to work in the UK for an extended period of time. Both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU have suggested that the Government’s proposals on labour mobility or visas will be subject to negotiation with the European Union as part of the proposed ‘future deep and special relationship’,1 but basic details about how such a scheme might work in practice or what its costs and benefits might be, remain unknown.2

2.Following the referendum in June 2016, our predecessor Committee launched an inquiry to assess whether it might be possible to build greater consensus on immigration policy. We agreed to continue this work and have published two Reports; Immigration policy: basis for building consensus in January 2018 and Home Office delivery of Brexit: Immigration in February 2018.3

3.This is an interim report published to inform Parliament and the public about the limited statements so far from the Government on future migration policy, the range of options for EU/EEA migration during, and after, the transition period that have been raised with us in evidence hearings, and the potential trade-offs between future immigration policy and future economic and trade relationships. We will await the conclusions of the Migration Advisory Committee in the autumn, and—we hope and expect—some substantive proposals from the Government before making recommendations on the future shape of EU migration policy.

4.We heard evidence from the Home Secretary, and from a range of academics, think tanks, campaigning organisations, business representatives and other experts. We particularly wish to thank Guy Verhofstadt MEP, Chair of the Brexit Steering Group, European Parliament, and Professor Michael Ambühl, former Swiss State Secretary for Foreign Affairs for travelling from Belgium and Switzerland respectively to give evidence to our inquiry. We are also grateful to the individuals and organisations who submitted their views in writing.

Status of the negotiations

Withdrawal Agreement

5.In March 2018 the UK and EU27 reached agreement on large parts of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement, particularly those aspects covering citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, and the transition period. Both the UK Government and the European Commission have said they hope to conclude negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement at the October Council. On 12 July the Government published a White Paper which set out its proposals for the future UK-EU relationship but which included only limited information on a ‘framework for mobility’ within a document that ran to nearly 100 pages.4 We discuss these proposals in the next chapter.

6.Successive Home Secretaries have told us that details of a future immigration system would be set out in a White Paper on Immigration but the timetable for its publication has been changed several times. In October last year the former Home Secretary, Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP, told us it would be published by the end of 2017,5 then in March she told us it would not be published until the autumn of 2018.6 After his appointment the current Home Secretary Sajid Javid told us in June that the White Paper on Immigration would be published before the summer.7 On 10 July he told us it would be published “in the autumn” with an Immigration Bill expected in early 2019.8

7.We welcome the Government’s efforts to secure the status of EU citizens currently living in the UK—and we join the European Parliament in urging the Members States to provide clarity and support for British citizens living in the European Union. However, we are extremely concerned about the current lack of information over future UK immigration policy towards EEA nationals. The shifting timetable for the publication of a long-awaited White Paper on Immigration—and the Immigration Bill announced in the 2017 Queen’s Speech—is not the result of design, but indecision. Whilst we recognise the need for evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee to inform final decisions, we believe that public consultation on broad options is needed. So, it is shocking that it has taken more than two years since the referendum for the UK Government to set out any information on future arrangements at all.

Consensus on a future EEA migration policy

8.A key recommendation of our previous report, Immigration policy: basis for building consensus, was that the Government should lead an open and honest debate on immigration and commit to the principle of transparency in making and debating immigration policy. We set out a series of recommendations on how policy-making should change, and what needed to be done to build a new consensus, based on community discussions and evidence we took from across the country.9

9.After the referendum debates, we called for government-led action, dialogue and policy processes to challenge misinformation and build trust, support and credibility. We also noted that after the referendum the UK had the opportunity to reset the immigration debate and design the new system in a way that allowed the Brexit divide to heal. We warned that division, polarisation, anger and misinformation risks doing long-term damage to the social fabric, economy and politics of the United Kingdom.

10.It is a serious disappointment that in the two years since the referendum there has been no attempt by the Government to build a consensus on immigration reform, to consult the public on options for change. We welcome the Home Office commissioning evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee and the work it is doing to consult employers on their needs. However, we are concerned that the Government has left a wider debate until late in the process.

11.Immigration has been an important part of our economic, social and cultural history, and will continue to be important for us in future. As the Prime Minister said at Mansion House, after the UK leaves the European Union “UK citizens will still want to work and study in EU countries—just as EU citizens will want to do the same here”.10

12.Geography and the shared economic, social and cultural bonds between the UK and the European Union mean that the movement, or mobility, of people will remain vital. It is therefore imperative that the debate about our future EEA migration policy does not see a resurgence of the polarisation that characterised some elements of the 2016 referendum campaigns. We warn all those involved in the debate on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement over the next few months not to exploit or escalate tensions over immigration when it should be possible to hold a sensible debate and build greater consensus instead.

1 Q396; HC Deb, col 1154, 12 July 2018

2 In this report we refer to negotiations with the European Union (EU) but do so with the expectation that any agreement will apply to all Members of the European Economic Area (EEA) which comprises all EU Member States plus three of the four EFTA states - Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The fourth EFTA state, Switzerland, is not a member of the EEA but instead has a bilateral relationship with the EU.

3 Home Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2017–19, Immigration policy: basis for building consensus, HC 500; Home Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2017–19, Home Office delivery of Brexit: immigration, HC 421

5 Evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee, 17 October 2017, HC 434, Q29

6 Evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee, 28 March 2018, HC 434, Q207

7 Evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee, 15 May 2018, HC 990, Q280

8 Evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee, 10 July 2018, HC 434, Q396

9 Home Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2017–19, Immigration policy: basis for building consensus, HC 500

Published: 31 July 2018