The UK government is adding to its – and our - woes. Theresa May’s refusal to accept full freedom of movement during any transition period is ‘red meat’ for hard Brexit supporters but will open an administrative can of worms that spells chaos for the three million EU citizens already here plus any newcomers.
For a while it seemed the UK government would be pragmatic about a transition period, during which for all intents and purposes the UK is still in the single market/customs union, and free movement would legally need to continue – and also hugely benefit British citizens living, working or studying in Europe.
Scenarios of more than one million EU nationals moving to Britain by the end of the two-year transition period are highly dubious given we have zero net migration from Europe already, while the NHS is crippled by a shortage of staff.
And the government’s own analysis on the impact of Brexit indicates that cutting EU migration would cost the British economy more than what is gained from a US trade deal.
What are the implications of May’s refusal for the three million EU citizens already living in the UK?
Not allowing full freedom of movement will create two classes of EU citizens. One that will qualify to stay in the UK indefinitely through settled status and one that might become illegal at the end of the transition.
The two groups of EU citizens will be indistinguishable to banks, employers and landlords as any application system for the three million EU citizens already here will not be rolled out until late this year. Details about this new system are still vague and it is unlikely it will cope with registering three million people in six months.
With banks, landlords and employers facing high fines for providing services to illegal immigrants on the back of the Home Office’ Hostile Environment discrimination against EU citizens without proof of settled status will be unavoidable.
This is not a fantasy, even without the chaos of two groups of EU citizens in the UK with different rights landlords have already started to discriminate.
With her refusal Theresa May is creating a new group of EU citizens in the UK, with no right to work and stay post-transition, indistinguishable from those who qualify for those rights. This will create utter chaos and will have real-life impact for the three million EU citizens who are already here.