Caroline Nokes, the Immigration Minister, has caused considerable confusion and concern among employers and industry after seemingly announcing new government policy on immigration.
In a statement to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Nokes said that it would be up to companies to ascertain the eligibility of EU citizens who apply to work in the UK. In her statement, Nokes said that EU citizens who had not been in the country before the end of March next year would have to undergo ‘rigorous’ checks to prove their right to work in the UK.
This has caused considerable consternation among employers. Over 40%, for example, of the London hospitality industry relies on recruiting workers from EU countries. There is also the issue of claims of discrimination against EU citizens who have come to live and work in the UK.
Britain currently has no process to register EU citizens who arrive in the UK wanting to work, and with three million people who currently fall into this category there is no way of proving eligibility or otherwise.
The Confederation of British Industry, the British Chamber of Commerce and trade unions all state that they have received no clear guidance so far from the government on how they will be required to proceed if there is no Brexit deal.
The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has suggested that the government will have to be ‘practical’ and that employers will need a period of transition as they get used to their new role of immigration enforcers.
The Home Office has issued a statement, presumably in order to offer some reassurance, to the effect that the rights of EU citizens will be protected when we leave the EU whether the outcome of the arrangement is a deal or a no-deal.
The Shadow Immigration Minister has accused Nokes of misleading Parliament, which is a serious charge. Nokes has been invited to return to Parliament having been accused of not having a clear idea or understanding of exactly what the government’s immigration policy entails.
What is most likely it that the government will introduce a transition period so that employers will be able to get used to all the changes that the new relationship with the EU will present. What is also true is that the nature of the checks that will be introduces is still, at least for most of us, completely unknown.
Whether Nokes knows the answer to all of this is in many ways perhaps academic until we discover the nature of the deal.