Campaigners welcome UK backtrack on ending free movement on 31 October

Written by Martin Banks on 6 September 2019 in News

Rights campaigners have welcomed news that the UK Government has backtracked on a highly controversial decision to end free movement on 31 October.

Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

In a dramatic policy reversal, the UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has announced that free movement will not end on 31 October as originally planned.

In a written statement to the House of Commons Patel said, “After careful consideration, myself, the Prime Minister and Cabinet have therefore agreed that EU citizens moving here after a no-deal Brexit will be able to access a temporary immigration status, until the new skills-based immigration system goes live at the start of 2021.”

The move marks a significant climbdown for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had stressed his commitment to ending free movement immediately after Brexit.


However, New Europeans, a Brussels-based citizens’ rights campaign group, wants assurances from the EU for the 1.5mBritons who live and work in EU Member States who are concerned about their post-Brexit legal rights and status.

Roger Casale, from the group, said, “We will be working to make sure that there is a confirmation from the EU that they will be willing to reciprocate and allow Britons to continue to travel freely between the EU and UK for a transition period.”

“The British Government may assume that the EU will do its bidding on this, but we make no such assumption.”

Commenting on Friday on the government U-turn, Richard Corbett, a senior UK Socialist MEP, told this website, “This is another case of Brexit supporting ministers having to climb down when confronted with a reality that differs enormously from their fantasies”.

“This is another case of Brexit-supporting ministers having to climb down when confronted with a reality that differs enormously from their fantasies” Richard Corbett MEP

Casale, a former Labour MP, said, "This is welcome recognition that the abrupt and ill-considered ending of free movement on 31 October would have been unworkable. There needs to be a transition to the new regime, it can't be done from one day to the next."

The decision to end free movement on 31 October gave rise to a furious outcry from campaign groups and experts alike, with many pointing out that there would be no way to distinguish between EU citizens legally resident in the UK and those coming to Britain for the first time.

In its briefing paper the UK Home Office concedes that in response to these concerns, border arrangements will remain unchanged from 31 October until a new immigration system is introduced. 

EU citizens will not face routine 'intentions testing' - a procedure whereby they are asked why they are coming to the UK - and will be able to continue to use the e-gates.

Those coming to the UK for the first time will be able to apply for a three-year temporary residency status -European Temporary Leave to Remain, or European TLR - which will be valid for 3 months and also allow them to work.

Concerns remain, however, that without a physical proof of status, EU citizens in the UK will continue to face difficulties when applying for jobs or trying to rent property.

Britons in Europe are concerned about losing their free movement rights within the territory of the EU.

"This is welcome recognition that the abrupt and ill-considered ending of free movement on 31 October would have been unworkable” Roger Casale, New Europeans

Commenting further, Casale said, "The Government's U-turn will ease congestion at the border, and it is to be hoped that other EU Member States will similarly decide to grant  Britons moving between the UK and the EU post Brexit with temporary leave to remain.”

“However, it will not remove the problem of discrimination by potential employers and landlords. Only a physical proof of status will do that.”

One possible solution, he says, is the introduction of an “EU Green Card” which is currently under active consideration by the European Parliament.

Its aim would be to ring fence the rights and status of the 5 million EU citizens in the UK and Britons in the EU who had already settled before Brexit day, including the right to free movement within the EU.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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