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Freedom of Movement

Volume 797: debated on Wednesday 8 May 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will produce a comprehensive list of (1) the type of, and (2) the reasons for, movement between the United Kingdom and the European Economic Area countries under Freedom of Movement and related provisions, as defined by the Treaty on the European Union, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

My Lords, information on the different types of free movement rights available within the European Economic Area can be found on the European Commission website. The Office for National Statistics already publishes information on the reasons for migration to the UK by EEA nationals in its quarterly report on long-term international migration statistics.

I thank the Minister for her reply. However, even taken together, all the documentation does not give us the big picture when it comes to the mobility impact of Brexit, depending of course on how much will be left of our participation in the internal market—some of it or none of it. Right across the international services sector, significant numbers of firms are now considering moving lock, stock and barrel to places such as Amsterdam. Will Her Majesty’s Government urgently produce a Green Paper by the end of this month on the options, with some range of likely impacts and the numbers likely to be involved, getting practical feedback from the industry sector and umbrella bodies such as the TUC and the CBI?

My Lords, in any scenario—deal or no deal—there will be a transitional period until the end of 2020 to give businesses time to adjust. In a deal scenario, free movement will continue during the implementation period, but in a no-deal scenario, the Government’s European temporary leave to remain scheme will enable EU workers to continue to come to the UK visa-free for three years. On the question of the Green Paper, in December last year, the Government published a White Paper setting out our proposals for the UK’s future skills-based immigration system after our exit from the EU, taking as a starting point the MAC’s recommendations.

My Lords, should we not also focus on the fact that this Government are stealing from British citizens the freedom to live, work, study or retire in another EU country? Can the Minister explain why the Prime Minister talks misleadingly about ending free movement as “taking back control of our borders”? She was perfectly capable three years ago of explaining that passport checks, which we can and will continue to impose as we are outside Schengen, sit compatibly alongside the freedom to move to work without red tape. They are not the same thing.

I am not sure what the question was there. As for stealing UK citizens’ rights, from a UK point of view we have made provision for EU citizens’ rights in the UK. It is clearly up to individual member states how they reciprocally deal with that.

My Lords, surely the central issue here is that freedom of movement is tied up with the delivery of services. Service industries, which dominate our economy, can trade effectively only if their personnel can be moved. It is not just a question of border control; every service industry, from banking to ballet dancing, needs to move people across borders. The problem is that in any future deal—for example, as set out in the political declaration—the two issues of mobility and access to the single market by the service industries are separated. It is time that the Government brought those two strategies together, otherwise the bulk of our service industries will suffer.

The noble Lord is right: it is absolutely clear that we need an environment friendly to businesses both at home and abroad, and “abroad” will include the EU when we leave it. Our immigration system will be skills-based. We want the brightest and best to come to this country to work, study and live. That is why we consulted the MAC on our future system.

My Lords, have the Government done any work to quantify the economic and social disadvantage that citizens of the UK will suffer by losing the right to live, work and study anywhere in the European Union as a result of being a citizen of a member state, in comparison to any other arrangements that may be put in place in future?

The noble Lord has asked me a question that is a little out of the Home Office’s purview. Until a deal is done, it is very difficult to tell what the future economic landscape will look like, and in fact the best way to advantage the economy is to get a deal done.

My Lords, why have the Government still not taken full advantage of the various provisions that exist under free movement to member states to return people who do not have a job, as the Belgians do? Given that we are still in the European Union until 31 October and will be under European legislation until the end of 2020 or perhaps longer, why are the Government not taking advantage of the flexibility within European free movement?

The noble Lord will of course correct me after Questions when I am wrong, but it is my understanding that the Government are fully abiding by the provisions under EU law and will continue to do so until we leave the EU.

But does the noble Baroness not accept that for certain sectors where income levels are low, particularly tourism and care homes, there is a real danger of losing key staff? What provisions do the Government have to make up for that?

Obviously the tourism industry is incredibly important, particularly where we sit in London. It is hugely vibrant. As I said, we consulted the MAC on longer-term migration. There is of course a trial period that we have already articulated for short-term work in the UK.

My Lords, why are the Government making it difficult for EU citizens living in the United Kingdom to exercise the right to vote in the European elections?

My Lords, the noble Lord strays into another department again with election law. Election law is quite firmly fixed. I would have to refer to—

I am speaking on a range of matters today, actually. The noble Lord is talking about election law, which precludes certain EU members from voting in local elections.