We hear masses about a Brexit “Bill” and about the future role of European Court of Justice. But what has happened to the issue of free movement? Wasn’t this supposed to be one of the Government’s fabled “red lines”?
While Theresa May in her manifesto renewed David Cameron’s vow to bring net migration down to 100,000 a year we have scarcely heard a thing on the subject since the election. There has to be a suspicion that the Goverment is preparing for a climbdown, that it is opening the way for a deal in which Britain would remain partially in the single market with EU citizens free to travel to Britain, to look for work here and to claim benefits here much as before. In fact the Government began to change tone subtly on free movement as early as the first week in April even before Theresa May made her decision to call a general election.
Speaking on a trip to Jordan, about as far from the political fray of Westminster as she has been in recent months, the Prime Minister started to talk of an “implementation period” in which free movement could continue to operate for an unspecified time. There has been a similar shifting of position in the Government’s promise to guarantee the rights of EU citizens already resident in Britain. There is widespread agreement that people settled in Britain should have the right to stay in return for UK citizens resident abroad having the right to remain there.
But there is the issue of a cut-off date: since when should an EU citizen have had to be living in Britain to qualify for the automatic right to stay? At first it was suggested that it should be the date of the referendum: June 23 last year. But the date keeps slipping forward. It now could be any date between when Article 50 was triggered – in March this year – to the date on which Britain officially leaves the EU, expected to be March 2019.
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