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

2Objectives for a future EEA migration policy

13.In this chapter we look at the UK’s proposals for future immigration policy as outlined so far, the guidelines adopted by the European Commission on the future of the UK-EU relationship, and the objectives for future migration policy.

European Commission guidelines

14.At the end of the March meeting of the European Council, EU27 leaders agreed to move Brexit talks into the final phase and adopted negotiating guidelines for talks on the future of the UK-EU relationship. This gave chief negotiator Michel Barnier the mandate to talk directly to the UK about the future relationship with a view to reaching a broad political agreement in the autumn to accompany the Withdrawal Agreement. The guidelines took into account the stated intentions of the UK (including to leave the single market and the customs union and no oversight by the European Court of Justice) and that such intentions limit the depth of the future partnership. The guidelines make clear the EU’s desire to include immigration arrangements in negotiations on the future partnership:

The future partnership should include ambitious provisions on movement of natural persons, based on full reciprocity and non-discrimination among Member States, and related areas such as coordination of social security and recognition of professional qualifications.11

15.At the June 2018 meeting of the European Council, Michel Barnier restated the EU27’s negotiating position, notably that the EU27 considered the four freedoms of the single market as indivisible:

After Brexit, we want, the EU want, an EU-UK ambitious partnership, on trade as well as on security. But we have to base this partnership on our values and principles, respecting also the UK red lines. That means for us integrity of the single market, indivisibility of the four freedoms [freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital], autonomy of the decision making of the EU, and protection and respect of the fundamental rights of EU citizens. And this point is key for our future cooperation and security.12

The Home Secretary told us that he expected the EU to raise issues around mobility as part of the negotiations, “we will listen to those. That is not unusual. In any free-trade agreement, labour mobility is always discussed”.13

The UK’s objectives for the future immigration system

16.In February 2018, we said that the Government had a responsibility to Parliament, the public, EU and other EEA citizens who will be affected, employers and the public servants it expects to deliver the policies, to provide some urgent clarity on its intentions for post-Brexit immigration policy.14 Since then, while there has been welcome progress on plans for the settlement of EEA citizens in the UK during the transition period, the Government has given very little detail on its intentions for immigration after the transition period.

17.When the Government published supporting material for the Queen’s Speech in June 2017, it said:

With the repeal of the European Communities Act, it will be necessary to establish new powers concerning the immigration status of EEA nationals. The Bill will allow the government to control the number of people coming here from Europe while still allowing us to attract the brightest and the best. The Bill will: allow for the repeal of EU law on immigration, primarily free movement, that will otherwise be saved and converted into UK law by the Repeal Bill; make the migration of EU nationals and their family members subject to relevant UK law once the UK has left the EU.15

18.In her Mansion House speech in March this year, the Prime Minister said that “We are clear that as we leave the EU, free movement of people will come to an end and we will control the number of people who come to live in our country.16 The UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019; however, the Government has agreed with the EU that the Withdrawal Agreement will specify a transition period lasting until 31 December 2020, during which time free movement will continue between the UK and the EU. If the UK leaves the EU with no deal, then a new immigration system may need to be implemented from 30 March 2019 unless the UK decides that existing arrangements should continue.

19.On 6 July 2018 the Cabinet reaffirmed earlier commitments to end free movement and agreed that the Government should seek an agreement that would:

Include a mobility framework so that UK and EU citizens can continue to travel to each other’s territories, and apply for study and work—similar to what the UK may offer other close trading partners in the future.17

The Government has not said what the costs and benefits of its preferred approach might be or what it hopes to achieve—beyond general aspirations announced earlier ‘to take back control’, to introduce “an immigration system that works in the national interest”, and to continue to attract the ‘brightest and the best’.18 With regard to the Government’s ‘net migration target’, the Home Secretary refused to endorse such an approach when giving evidence as part of this inquiry:

Chair: It is a massive chain around your neck, this net migration target, is it not? Don’t you really want to ditch it?

Sajid Javid: Next question.19

20.On 12 July 2018 the Government published the White Paper, The future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.20 The White Paper sets out that the Government is seeking a UK-EU free trade area for goods with “ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods, covering only those necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border,” and proposes a Joint Committee to resolve disputes. The White Paper states that the proposed framework for the future partnership should take the form of an Association Agreement.21 Recognising the implications of leaving the Single Market, the Government concedes that under its proposals the UK and EU will not have “current levels of access to each other’s markets” for services.22 In comparison to extensive sections on trade, security and governance, just four out 97 pages were dedicated to the ‘mobility framework’. Despite the movement of people being one of the most prominent issues around the referendum, the White Paper provided very limited additional information.

21.The White Paper states that “free movement of people will end as the UK leaves the EU”.23 The Home Secretary emphasised the Government’s determination on this issue when he appeared before us:

there will be a complete total end to freedom of movement. Freedom of movement, as we understand it today, will end but, also, there will be no version of that, no derivative of that, no type of free movement. There will be no backdoor version of free movement. Free movement will end.24

The Government’s ambition is for EU nationals to continue to have visa free access to the UK (and vice versa) for tourism and temporary business activity—the White Paper states that in the latter case arrangements “would permit only paid work in limited and clearly defined circumstances, in line with the current business visa policy”.25 For longer periods of employment, the Home Secretary told us that from January 2021 any EU national wishing to move long-term to the UK to work would likely require a visa.26 He could provide no information, however, about the criteria or conditions an EU citizen may need to meet to acquire one.

22.The White Paper refers to building on current WTO GATS (mode 4) commitments:

Trade agreements which cover trade in services include provisions on the mobility of people for the provision of services (known as mode 4 commitments). Given the depth of the relationship and close ties between the peoples of the UK and the EU, the UK will make a sovereign choice in a defined number of areas to seek reciprocal mobility arrangements that the UK might want to offer to other close trading partners in the future, where they support new and deep trade deals.27

We discuss the mobility arrangements usually available in the free trade agreements later in this report.

23.The Government wants the mobility framework to cover the recognition of professional qualifications held by UK and EU nationals. It also proposes a UK-EU youth mobility scheme, modelled on similar existing arrangements with other countries “to ensure that young people can continue to enjoy the social, cultural and educational benefits of living in each other’s countries”.28

24.The proposals contained in the White Paper are extremely limited. The White Paper does not offer any detail with regard to long-term migration for the purposes of family reunion and little information on migration for work or study. It says that the UK would ‘facilitate mobility’ for students but provides no guarantee that conditions will not be applied. In terms of work, the White Paper does not provide any information with regard to how the recruitment of doctors and nurses from Europe by the NHS might work, or how people could come to work in social care or agriculture. Nor are there any provisions for people who are self-employed. Given that the European Commission and the UK Government have said they expect immigration arrangements to be reciprocal, this means we also have no idea what this will mean for British citizens wanting to work abroad.

25.The White Paper and the Home Secretary’s evidence appear to imply that the Government is moving towards similar arrangements for EU citizens as for other countries with similar trade arrangements. The Home Secretary explained:

we will still want to be open to talent from across the world that can help us with some parts of our economy, for example. But it should be from across the world. There is no magical reason why it should only be, for example, from the EU. There is talent across the world and being that global Britain requires us to be open to all of it.29

However, we note that in practice the Government’s objectives for the trade arrangements with the EU are far deeper than with any other country. We also note that both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have refused to rule out preferential arrangements for EU citizens.

Limitations of the Government’s position

26.The lack of information about what Brexit will mean in practice for EEA citizens wanting to come to the UK, or for UK citizens wanting to live or work in the EEA, means that a wide spectrum of policy approaches remain open, from a very liberal to a very restrictive immigration regime. Even the statements about introducing a visa regime for long-term residency tell us nothing about what conditions—if any—a visa applicant would need to meet.

27.The Home Secretary was unwilling to provide any more details on the approach envisaged by the UK Government and told us that the Cabinet had not yet discussed or agreed what future policy would be.30 The Home Secretary told us that such details would be set out in the White Paper on Immigration, but that it would not come out until the autumn, so that it could take account of advice from the Migration Advisory Committee. He suggested that this work had not been prioritised because the future immigration system will not start until the end of the transition period. However, he confirmed that “a draft paper” for the Cabinet had already been prepared.31 The Home Secretary also argued that it would be a poor negotiating strategy to reveal too much information.32

28.The lack of detail on immigration in the White Paper on the future relationship stands in stark contrast with the proposals being brought forward in the areas of customs, trade and security. It is unfortunate that by waiting so long to commission work from the Migration Advisory Committee the Government now finds itself without the information it needs for negotiations that are underway. We agree that final decisions should ideally be informed by information from the Migration Advisory Committee, but we believe that consultation on different options should still take place. In the meantime, we caution the Government against implying that the only EEA migration post-Brexit will be in the limited categories referred to in the White Paper, as that is not conducive to an open and transparent debate.

29.We repeat our recommendation in previous reports that meeting the net migration target should not be an objective of EEA migration policy. It is not working and should be replaced.

Overarching objectives for migration policy

30.In our previous report, Immigration policy: basis for building consensus, we set out five key areas where we believe reforms are needed to build consent around a fair, principled and effective immigration policy in the UK. These were:

It is clear that future immigration arrangements need to be capable of securing broad public support and work for our economy. In designing policy for future migration from the European Union, however, there are two added considerations: that arrangements will be reciprocated for British citizens wanting to live, work or retire in the EU, and that there will inevitably be trade-offs in the negotiations between immigration, market access and trade.

The trade-offs

31.We heard considerable evidence that there would be trade-offs in the negotiations between immigration arrangements and the level of access to the single market. Sir Ivan Rogers, for example, told us that immigration arrangements “do not have to be part of the negotiations” but that choosing not to make it a matter of negotiation would “have consequences elsewhere in the trade discussions to come in 2019 and 2020”.34

32.The EU has a surplus with the UK in goods which suggests it would be in the interests of the EU to have trade arrangements with the UK which are as frictionless as possible. The reverse is true of services—a key sector of the UK economy. Zsolt Darvas, Senior Fellow at the European think-tank Bruegel told us that whilst the UK could decide on any future immigration regime it wanted, the EU would view that decision in close association with the other parts of the deal such as access for the financial services of UK-based firms to the EU27. In his view, this might only be granted if the immigration regime of the UK were very liberal or very close to the current system of free movement.35

33.Guy Verhofstadt MEP confirmed to us that he would also expect immigration arrangements to form part of the discussions on the future relationship, but that the EU was waiting for a proposal on this from the UK in the July 2018 White Paper.36 In his view, immigration arrangements would be influenced by the terms of the overall agreement, and the closer the trade and economic relationships, the more “smooth and easy” the future system of migration.37 He explained that:

[Immigration policy] has to be part of the total agreement on the future, in the political declaration that we are preparing for October/November. I cannot imagine a political declaration where we don’t also tackle migration and mobility, where we give an indication of how it will work.38

The evidence we have taken, including from those with direct experience of negotiating with the European Commission, makes clear that extensive market access usually involves trade-offs elsewhere, for example on the movement of people, particularly when it comes to services.

34.During the referendum over 70% of people polled said they wished to see levels of immigration reduced, however since the referendum public attitudes towards immigration may have softened.39 In 2017, the think tank IPPR suggested that the UK public are more pragmatic on immigration than is often assumed. They stated that only a small minority expect full control over EEA immigration post-Brexit and that a majority accept that there is a trade-off between restricting freedom of movement and accessing the single market. They suggested that there is therefore more political scope for a compromise on UK-EU migration as part of the Brexit negotiations than many have thought possible.40 The latest British Survey of Attitudes surveyed opinion on the trade-offs between control of EU migration and market access, it found:

As many as 30% say that the UK should definitely allow people from the EU to come here freely to live and work in order to secure free trade, while another 28% state that it should probably do so. This represents a combined tally of 58% support. In contrast, just 12% say that the UK should definitely not allow people from the EU to come freely to the UK to live and work, while another 18% state that it probably should not, a total of 30%. Another 11% indicate they cannot choose which option is best.41

35.In autumn 2017, the Constitution Unit at UCL conducted a ‘Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit’ over two weekends with 50 members of the public, considering what the UK’s trade and immigration policy should be post-Brexit. The UCL team, led by Dr Alan Renwick, found overall “a mixed picture where people wanted the benefits of immigration and saw benefits from immigration but also saw that there are costs to immigration and wanted steps to be taken to address them”.42 Dr Renwick explained that when participants were presented with various options on immigration, a majority wanted the UK to maintain free movement of labour but also to make full use of controls so that migrants who are unable to support themselves financially cannot abuse the system. Regarding an overall deal with the EU, Assembly Members preferred a comprehensive trade deal combined with favourable access for EU citizens.43

36.There is clear public appetite for debate and discussion of immigration policy. Even at this late stage in the process the Government could be doing more to consult and build public consensus on the future of EEA immigration rules. It would be wrong for the Government to make simplistic assumptions, or underestimate the public’s interest in debating and engaging with the necessary trade-offs in forging a new relationship with the European Union.

37.Overall, we heard considerable evidence that refusing to discuss reciprocal immigration arrangements in the future partnership would make it much harder to get a close economic partnership with the EU. The need for a good economic deal, the fact that the EU is our closest neighbour and trading partner, and the shared economic, social and cultural bonds that exist between the UK and the EU mean that mobility of people will remain important. The proximity geographically, economically and socially between the UK and the EU, and the need for a good overall deal, supports a distinct arrangement for EEA migration in future, linked to our economic relationship.


11 European Council, Guidelines (Art 50), 23 March 2018

12 Guardian, Barnier says ‘huge and serious’ gap remains between UK and EU demands on Brexit, especially on Ireland, 29 June 2018

13 Q441

14 Home Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2017–19, Home Office delivery of Brexit: immigration, HC 421, paragraph 7

15 HM Government, Queen’s Speech 2017: what it means for you, 21 June 2017

19 Q458

21 Ibid.

24 Q398

26 Q424

29 Q415

30 Q416 and Qq423–425

31 Q395; An Immigration Bill is expected to follow early in 2019 which will bring EU migration under UK law, enabling the UK to set out its future immigration system in domestic legislation.

32 Q402

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

34 Q222

35 Q30

36 Q244

37 Q245

38 Q250

41 NatCen, British Attitudes Survey 35, July 2018

42 Evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee, 31 October 2017, HC 500, Q2

43 UCL Constitution Unit, The Report on the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit, December 2017




Published: 31 July 2018