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MPs slam government over its Brexit immigration plans

Home Affairs Select Committee report sparks alarm among healthcare leaders

Caroline White

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Delays to the immigration white paper and lack of clarity over the government’s intentions on immigration are creating huge anxiety for EU citizens in the UK and preventing proper planning for business and public services on where they can resource staff, concludes a scathing report* from a panel of influential MPs today.

With little more than a year to go, the government is still failing to set out crucial details on the registration of current residents, says the Home Affairs Select Committee in its report into immigration—the result of its third enquiry into the government’s preparedness for Brexit.

The government has failed to allocate sufficient resources to cope with additional border requirements on people or goods, says the report. Services are already struggling without the additional workload that Brexit will bring, it says.

And given the delays, lack of decisions, and resources, it will be impossible to deliver effectively the intended two EU citizen registration schemes—one for existing residents and one for new arrivals—by March 2019, insists the report.

The delay to the proposed white paper on immigration, which is now not expected until the end of the year at the earliest, has caused anxiety for EU citizens in the UK, a situation the report describes as “extremely regrettable.”

And the government’s failure to set out its immigration objectives for the negotiations over the transition soon will deny parliament and those affected the chance to debate plans before they are finalised: “That is unacceptable,” states the report.

The government must urgently provide answers on its plans for existing residents and for those who arrive during the transition, it argues. With so little time until Brexit, and months before the registration process for EU nationals resident here already is supposed to begin, the rules that will govern residency status for existing residents still lack crucial detail, says the report.

That includes the status of those with gaps in residency, posted workers, and reunion rights for future spouses.

The needless uncertainty is preventing individuals from planning for their futures, and businesses and public services knowing how and where they can resource staff.

The government must provide clear and accessible guidance on the rights that UK, EU and EEA citizens will enjoy after Brexit. It should also urgently clarify that EEA citizens will have the same rights as EU nationals, says the report.

Chair of the committee, Yvette Cooper commented: "Government drift is putting everyone in an impossible position. Decisions and announcements keep being delayed. Crucial details are still lacking. There aren’t enough resources and staff in place. Our inquiry found that the immigration and border system is already understaffed with significant problems and it will not cope with last minute and under-resourced Brexit changes.

“The lack of detail with just over a year to go is irresponsible. We recognise that the government needs time to consider long-term changes, but the Home Office urgently needs to set out its intentions for next year.”

She continued: “The litany of questions that remain over the status of EU citizens is causing needless anxiety and uncertainty, both for EU citizens and their families and for employers who need to plan. Ministers need to provide urgent answers.

“The government does not seem to appreciate the immense bureaucratic challenge they are facing or how much time and resources they need to plan on Brexit. The Home Office will end up in a real mess next year if there isn't enough time to sort things out."

The findings have sparked alarm among healthcare leaders who say that the uncertainties are driving much needed clinicians away from the UK.

“This report throws serious doubt on the government’s ability to plan and deliver the proposed Brexit changes to immigration services. The EU referendum was well over 18 months ago now and too many questions remain unanswered. It is especially concerning that the immigration white paper has yet again been delayed,” commented Dr Andrew Dearden, BMA treasurer.

“Despite some reassurance provided in the first phase of negotiations, there is still continued uncertainty over the status of EU nationals. Our own research has shown that many EU doctors are either considering or actively planning to leave the UK because of anxiety around Brexit, which is a cause for real concern. Many have dedicated years of service to the NHS and medical research in the UK, and without them our health service will not be able to cope.

It was essential to end “the uncertainty and insecurity that could see many voting with their feet,” he said.

“It’s also vital that any future immigration system is flexible enough to ensure the NHS can recruit and retain doctors and other NHS workers in sufficient numbers but equally and fundamentally that the Home Office has the capacity to deliver it,” he added.

Nadra Ahmed, co-convenor of the Cavendish Coalition, a group of health and social care organisations working to ensure that the health and social care system can continue to meet its staffing needs after Brexit, agreed.

“The health and social care system remains under intolerable pressure and so we simply cannot afford to lose the talented EU staff we currently employ. Faced with shortages of key staff and skills which cannot be met domestically, it’s imperative we do not continue to see fewer colleagues choosing the UK.”

*Home Office delivery of Brexit: immigration. A report prepared by the Home Affairs Select Committee, February 2018.

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