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Jean Lambert London's Green MEP

Jean writes for Metro: Free movement of EEA nationals must continue after Brexit

21 September 2018

To coincide with the launch of Jean Lambert MEP’s new report, Migration and Brexit: A call from migrants, communities and sectors for a UK migration policy that benefits all, she has written a blog post on its recommendations for Metro.

Read the full article below, or on the Metro website here.


Free movement of EEA nationals must continue after Brexit – a fair policy will benefit us all

In some ways, the long-awaited Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report on European Economic Area (EEA) migration to the UK provided a breath of fresh air. While it’s far from perfect, it does finally bury some persistent myths.

It confirms that EEA migrants pay more in UK taxes than they receive in benefits. They contribute more to the NHS than they use in its services. They bring training opportunities for the UK-born workforce, and increase levels of productivity and innovation.

Moreover – in news that will particularly sting for some elements of the right-wing press – EEA migration has no impact on crime levels, does not reduce parents’ choice of schools for their children, and has little effect on the wages of UK-born workers.

These findings beg the question, why exactly is the Government so committed to ending free movement for EEA nationals? The answer, I fear, is that ministers are set on building a new UK migration policy which is rooted in ideology and self-preservation – not the realities of modern Britain.

As the UK prepares to leave the EU, we need the Government to stop burying its head in the sand and listen to the needs of migrants, communities, social partners and businesses.

That’s why I commissioned my own report, asking representatives of these groups to outline what they need from the UK’s post-Brexit migration policy vis-à-vis EU nationals.

The result, Migration and Brexit, contains essays from legal and rights-based organisations (such as Migrants’ Rights Network, Permits Foundation and the TUC), sector bodies (including the BMA, National Farmers’ Union and Federation of Small Businesses), and voices that are too often excluded from this conversation (such as the British Youth Council and British in Europe).

Several recommendations shine through.

First and foremost: on a practical level, we need free movement, both permanent and temporary.

There’s a strong sense among rights-based organisations and sectors that, if the free movement of people ends, the UK will need a post-Brexit migration system that guarantees similar flexibility and ease of movement to that which exists today.

This includes the plethora of EU legislation that the UK Government has, so far, barely mentioned – including visa-free travel, arrangements for posted workers, and the recognition of professional qualifications.

These legal terms may not sound sexy, but they’re important. They keep families together, public services functioning, and businesses operating.

Secondly, it’s time for Theresa May to finally ditch her impossible net migration target and its toxic by-product: the Home Office’s refusal culture.

An overhaul of the Home Office must also scrap the deeply unpopular ‘hostile environment’ that treats individuals as potential immigration offenders waiting to breach the law, rather than honest people trying to navigate a frighteningly complex gauntlet of requirements.

These reforms should be underpinned by the right to good administration, which is enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (although given the Home Office’s dismal track record of making simple admin errors, it’s no wonder the Government is intent on ripping up this valuable piece of ‘red-tape’ after Brexit).

Furthermore, any new migration system must work for the people using it – it needs to be easy to access, with costs kept to a minimum.

Despite the MAC report’s proposals to extend the ‘minimum income threshold’ and the ‘immigration skills charge’ to apply to both non-EEA and EEA nationals, a number of voices warn this would be these are extremely damaging to businesses seeking to attract and retain talent.

It’s particularly striking that, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, 95% of small businesses have no experience of using the current non-EEA immigration system due to its sheer complexity.

If the Government insists on expanding this legislation to apply to EEA nationals, it will tear more families apart, cause blockages in supply chains, and put small operations out of business.

Should, as the MAC report suggests, the policies applying to EEA and non-EEA nationals become aligned – they must be raised up, not stripped down.

The benefits of free movement can’t simply be charted on a balance sheet. Free movement helps to define the UK’s identity and place in the world; its respect for different peoples and cultures; and openness to new ideas, innovations and partnerships.

That’s why, together, we’re calling on the Government to build a migration policy that recognises and protects migrants’ immense contribution to our society and economy.

It must work to shift the tone of the debate, stop scapegoating migrants for its own failures and invest in integration if it hopes to reverse the economic and reputational damage being done to this country.

Immigration has largely been side-lined so far in the Brexit negotiations – treated as an elephant in the room, rather than a building block of the UK’s economy and a core part of millions’ of citizens lives and identities.

Now it’s in the spotlight, the Government must act in the overwhelming public interest.

I urge ministers to engage with my recommendations, and use them to construct an open, fair, humane and efficient immigration policy that will genuinely benefit all.