The UK on Sunday announced plans to introduce a post-Brexit, points-based immigration system so that it an “take back control of its borders and unleash the country’s full potential.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the new system will apply from January 1, when the UK ends its 11-month transition following its official departure from the European Union.
Read more: Does the coronavirus crisis make a no-deal Brexit more likely?
Post-Brexit UK will be “a sovereign nation with an immigration system that attracts the best from all over the world,” Patel wrote in British newspaper The Sun.
The government has vowed to cut back on low-skilled migration and instead entice skilled English-speaking professionals such as “scientists” and “innovators” with confirmed job offers.
“We are cutting red tape and giving businesses more freedom to hire people from across the globe,” said Patel, adding that the UK government was following a “clear instruction to take back control of our borders” in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Opposition Labour Party’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, warned that the government had “rushed through immigration legislation with very little detail in the middle of a global pandemic.”
Multimillion-dollar UK-EU border control system
The UK government has also announced almost £705 million (Є788 million, $890 million) in funding for a new border infrastructure system to prepare for checks and controls and help keep trade flowing from January onwards.
Cabinet chief Michael Gove said the funding includes £470 million to build port and inland infrastructure, including in the southeast of England to allow major freight crossings to France. There are also plans for new border posts, improved IT systems and recruitment of 500 new staff to deal with the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU’s Customs Union.
It’s essentially a choice of a harder or softer Brexit. Harder prioritizes border control over trade. UK firms would pay tariffs to do business in the EU, and vice versa. The softest Brexit would see access to the single market, or at least a customs union, maintained. That would require concessions — including the payment of a hefty “divorce bill” — to which the UK has provisionally agreed.
Businesses have expressed concern about a “cliff edge” scenario, where Britain leaves the EU with no deal. Even if an agreement is reached at the EU bloc level, the worry is that it could be rejected at the last minute. Each of the 27 remaining countries must ratify the arrangements, and any might reject them. That could mean chaos for businesses and individuals.
If there is no agreement at all, a fully sovereign UK would be free to strike new trade deals and need not make concessions on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK or pay the financial settlement of outstanding liabilities. However, trade would be crippled. UK citizens in other parts of the EU would be at the mercy of host governments. There would also be a hard EU-UK border in Ireland.
The EU and the UK could reach a deal on Britain’s exiting the bloc without an agreement on future relations. This scenario would still be a very hard Brexit, but would at least demonstrate a degree of mutual understanding. Trade agreements would be conducted, on an interim basis, on World Trade Organization rules.
Most trade tariffs on exported goods are lifted, except for “sensitive” food items like eggs and poultry. However, exporters would have to show their products are genuinely “made in Britain” so the UK does not become a “back door” for global goods to enter the EU. Services could be hit more. The City of London would lose access to the passporting system its lucrative financial business relies on.
Under the Swiss model, the UK would have single market access for goods and services while retaining most aspects of national sovereignty. Switzerland, unlike other members of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), did not join the European Economic Area (EEA) and was not automatically obliged to adopt freedom of movement. Under a bilateral deal, it agreed to do so but is still dragging its feet.
As part of the European Economic Area, Norway has accepted freedom of movement – something that no Brexit-supporting UK government would be likely to do. Norway still has to obey many EU rules and is obliged to make a financial contribution to the bloc while having no voting rights. Some see this as the worst of both worlds.
Turkey is the only major country to have a customs union with the EU, as part of a bilateral agreement. Under such an arrangement, the UK would not be allowed to negotiate trade deals outside the EU, instead having the bloc negotiate on its behalf. Many Brexiteers would be unwilling to accept this. It would, however, help minimize disruption at ports and, crucially, at the Irish border.
In a letter to Gove, leaked to the media this week, International Trade Minister Liz Truss expressed concern that border infrastructure would be delayed, citing disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
She warned that the delay in imposing checks could trigger a legal obstacle at the World Trade Organization, adding: “I would like assurances that we are able to deliver full controls at these ports by July 2021.”
When asked whether the UK’s borders would be ready and secure by the end of the year, Gove told local media: “I am absolutely certain that everything that we do is compliant with the law, indeed is designed to ensure that we cannot just comply with the law and keep people safe, but also facilitate trade as well.”
Regarding the negotiations between the UK and the EU about a post-transition trade deal, Gove said, “There are hopeful signs, but I wouldn’t want to be over-enthusiastic.”
The Conservative Party politician also added that more information concerning the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol will be released “later this month.” The border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU-member state Ireland will be subject to specific guidance.
mvb/sri (AFP, dpa, Reuters)