Wednesday 6 September
The leaked post-Brexit EU migration document looks far from accidental, its purpose is less obvious.
A leaked Home Office document laying out in detail the Government’s future immigration policy regarding EU nationals has sparked optimism – Nigel Farage described it as “a big step in the right direction” – and mutterings of confusion in near equal measure. The paper makes a welcome departure from the Conservative Party’s obsession with pleasing low-cost labour hungry businesses, obliging employers to look to the domestic labour market before exploring recruitment options further afield.
The document, leaked by the Guardian, contradicts the Government’s public preference for a transition deal by proposing implementation of the various recommendations immediately after Britain leaves the EU. The confusion is compounded by comments from a Whitehall insider published in the Times:
“This [document] was drawn up by Home Office officials still working to Theresa May rather than Amber Rudd. She has been working to modify this significantly and it is not where the government is any more.”
According to the source, Theresa May, who as Home Secretary oversaw a historic increase in immigration (see graph), now finds herself leading the argument for a less open immigration policy against Brexit campaigners Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, supported by the current Home Secretary, Rudd.
Home Office Document’s Key Proposals
“Britain First” policy: businesses required to give existing residents priority
Maximum two-year residency for unskilled migrants
High-skilled workers to be granted permits of three-five years
Migrants required to earn £18,600+ before spouses can join them
Biometric based residency permits
EU visitors must present passport to enter the UK
May’s own severely dubious credentials as an advocate of a more selective immigration policy would indicate the document was deliberately leaked by Number 10 to enhance the PM’s image with disenchanted leavers, while also acting as a sign that a soon-to-be independent United Kingdom fully intends to exercise its repatriated sovereign powers at the earliest opportunity. A show of force to a Brussels elite revelling in pot shots over how “stupid” the referendum outcome was.
Or is the Remain campaigning May simply reclaiming the starting position of her January Lancaster House speech, which has since been undermined by successful calls from within her own cabinet for a post-Brexit transition period?
Even though the document has not been approved at cabinet level, its length (82 pages), recent composition (last month), and its publication in a Remain respected newspaper have encouraged the mass media to treat it as an official document, a status reinforced by the Government’s existing position on immigration, which is limited to the future of EU migrants already resident in the UK. Rather than being a spring bud of future government policy, is the leaked paper, in fact, an opening position on the future of UK-EU migration, one that is open to compromise?
With the Article 50 negotiations currently at a standstill over the loathed divorce bill, a commitment Johnson and Gove essentially promised during the referendum campaign would never be made, this Tory Government has every incentive to divert attention to the other prize in the EU’s sights, continued free movement.