Criminals will stay, hard workers will be expelled in Brexit shakeout

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at 2016.10.13
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Criminals will stay, hard workers will be expelled in Brexit shakeout

Nick Miller

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London: The British government will inevitably grant citizenship to European “rapists and murderers” while kicking out “hardworking, upstanding people” in the Brexit shakeout, a respected migration expert has warned.

Britain faces a huge bureaucratic and political challenge as it works out what to do with the millions of EU citizens living and working in Britain, Jonathan Portes said.

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The struggling pound rose after a brutal sell-off, as PM Theresa May’s offer to give lawmakers some scrutiny of the process to leave the EU calmed market fears of a “hard Brexit”.

Mr Portes was chief economist in prime minister Gordon Brown’s Cabinet Office and is now a research fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in London.

His comments came on a day when the British Parliament held a vexed debate on Brexit, with Prime Minister Theresa May denying a claim by Labour’s Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn that the country was headed for “a shambolic Tory Brexit”.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, centre, stands to answer a question during Prime Minister's question time in the ... Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, centre, stands to answer a question during Prime Minister’s question time in the Commons. From right to left, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Education Secretary Justine Greening, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond.  Photo: PA

Several Conservative MPs also demanded the government be clearer about its aims in the Brexit process, and lamented that confusion about Brexit had sent the pound plummeting.

“Is the Prime Minister really willing to risk a shambolic Tory Brexit just to appease the people behind her [Conservative backbench MPs]?” Mr Corbyn asked in the first Prime Minister’s question time of the season.

Labour demanded “full and transparent” parliamentary scrutiny of the terms of Brexit, giving a list of 170 questions which it said the government should answer before signing any deal.

The government allowed the motion, promising MPs more say over the government’s Brexit strategy.

Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Photo: Supplied

Though it has still not conceded that Parliament has veto power over a Brexit deal, the government conceded there should be a broad approval by the House of Commons of the country’s negotiating position with Europe.

And Mrs May seemed to contradict her previous statements at her party conference that Britain would leave the European single market.

A Brexit deal would aim for “maximum possible access to the single market”, she said, while also providing “maximum control” over immigration.

Mr Portes predicted that migration to Britain would fall “quite sharply” in the next year, even before Brexit took effect.

It had probably already peaked in 2015, as a surge from the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into Europe’s free movement zone faded.

But other factors such as the euro recovery, a slowing in the British economy and the big fall in the exchange rate between the pound and European currencies would also put off migrants from Europe.

There would also be a psychological “Brexit shock”, Mr Portes said, as people felt less welcome.

This was already taking effect, especially in high-skilled areas. He pointed to the resignation of Victoria and Albert Museum director Martin Roth, who returned to Germany saying he was disillusioned by the Brexit vote.

“You can’t centrally plan the labour market,” Mr Portes said.

He dismissed the Leave campaign’s slogan that Britain could have an “Australian points-based immigration system”.

“It’s not an answer; it’s a way of dodging the question,” Mr Portes said.

“What are the criteria, what are you prioritising? Calling it a points-based system is just a way of dodging all those quite difficult and complicated questions.

“There’s no appetite in government for tearing up the system of work permits we already have just to fulfil a fairly meaningless soundbite.”

Mr Portes said about 2 million people working in Britain were born elsewhere in the EU, and another million were not currently in work.

“The vast majority have not yet acquired UK citizenship, but have rights of residency at the moment that will be thrown into question,” he said.

“What is going to happen to them? There’s been a lot of talk about this at a political level … there is a political consensus that the vast majority should be allowed to stay. 

“[But] no matter what system you have, there is no easy way to identify who should be eligible to stay permanently. It’s not just a question, as some people say, of picking a cut-off date.”

Britain has no population register. “We do not know who lives here,” Mr Portes said.

Various official databases do not give a complete or accurate picture of which EU citizens have been in Britain and for how long.

To examine each and every citizen’s case for residency would be an impossibly expensive and time-consuming process, he said.

“The idea of rolling it out to 3 million people is not feasible,” he said.

“With the best political will in the world … there will be a long period of uncertainty. This will be pretty tough on the individuals involved and bad for the businesses involved.”

But an alternative “light-touch” automatic system would lead to “hard cases on either side of the line”, Mr Portes said.

It was inevitable that “there will be criminals, murderers, rapists who we choose to offer automatic citizenship … equally there will be hardworking, upstanding members of the community … who we are going to kick out because for some reason they don’t tick all the bureaucratic boxes.

“That is almost baked in to whatever is going to happen.”

Meanwhile in the House of Commons, conservative MP Kwasi Kwarteng said the Speaker was “chairing a group therapy session”.

Many in the House were in denial, angry or depressed, he said.

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Published at Thu, 13 Oct 2016 03:10:29 +0000

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