Delays to the government’s white paper setting out plans for a post-Brexit immigration system are causing further anxiety for EU citizens and uncertainty for UK business, a cross-party parliamentary report has said.
The Commons home affairs committee described the lack of a timetable for critical new rules to be enacted after Britain leaves the EU in just over a year’s time as extremely regrettable and unacceptable. They found that Home Office teams were already struggling with “a lack of resources, high turnover of staff and unrealistic workloads”, and warned that inexperience and pressure to meet targets were resulting in mistakes with “life-changing consequences”.
The committee concluded it would soon be impossible for the department’s overstretched agencies covering visas, borders and immigration enforcement to do their job.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee, said: “We need urgent clarity about both registration and border plans for next year so that parliament can scrutinise them and so that families, employers and officials can plan.
“The lack of detail with just over a year to go is irresponsible. We recognise that the government needs time to consider long-term changes, but the Home Office urgently needs to set out its intentions for next year.”
The findings come after it emerged that the immigration white paper, a draft of which was leaked to the Guardian in September, was being repeatedly pushed back. The key paper was initially due to be published last summer, but will now not be released until the transition deal is completed and could still be unpublished by the end of this year.
That means the Brexit immigration bill, promised in the Queen’s speech, will not reach the statute book before the registration of 3 million EU nationals already living in Britain gets under way this autumn.
Cooper said a “litany of questions” remained that were causing needless anxiety and uncertainty for EU citizens, their families and employers. She asked whether there would be one registration system or two, given Theresa May’s recent claim that EU citizens arriving in Britain during the transition period would not have the same rights as those already here.
She also said it was critical to know if there would be more border checks or not, whether landlords and employers would be required to demand registration documents, if the same rules would apply to Norway and Iceland, and what ministers’ negotiating objectives were.
Cooper said: “The government does not seem to appreciate the immense bureaucratic challenge they are facing or how much time and resources they need to plan on Brexit. The Home Office will end up in a real mess next year if there isn’t enough time to sort things out.”
The report suggested it was not feasible for the government to set up two effective registration schemes by March 2019