Author: Tom Peck
If you don’t want to get bogged down in the the nitty gritty of the post-Brexit status of EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit, it’s best just to think of Caroline Nokes as the Minister For Her Own Arse, whose performance last week before the Find It With Both Hands Committee was so bad she was forced to do it all over again at the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, and with precisely the same results.
Some background: Now, this might shock you, but when the UK voted to leave the European Union, there were some Brexit voters, not many but a few, for whom it wasn’t all about ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, or the UK at last being able to submit its own independent schedules to the World Trade Organisation. No, there were, and I’m as stunned by this as you are, one or two people who were concerned about a minor EU policy known as the free movement of people.
I mean we’re talking ten voters, probably, maybe as many as a dozen. But they really care about this stuff, they do, and they’ve got rights too you know. Which was why, when, with five and a half months till Brexit, the immigration minister Caroline Nokes’ accidental admission that the Home Office has got no idea whether free movement of people will continue after the UK has left the European Union, caused something of a stir.
Last week she told Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, employers would have to check whether staff they wanted to hire had arrived in the UK before or after Brexit. This was later clarified by her boss, Sajid Javid, who said there would have to be a “sensible transition period”, thus confirming what had not yet been said, that Ms Nokes is anything but sensible.
It was then further clarified by the Home Office, whose clarification made it as clear as the Icelandic glacial melt water through which scuba divers occasionally report being able to see four hundred metres or more. “Employers will not be expected to differentiate between resident EU citizens and those arriving after exit,” it said, clarifying the truth to be the complete opposite of what the immigration minister had said.
So what exactly will happen to free movement then, because that infinitesimally small constituent of Brexit voters who are bothered about immigration really want to know.
Because if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, and after this point, employers require no more in the way of proof of eligibility for work from an EU national than their EU passport, then guess what: free movement of people has not come to an end, as the Brexit Select Committee chairman Hilary Benn pointed out.
“The minister has in effect told the House that free movement will continue,” he said, pointing out that under such circumstances, the right to work in the UK could be secured simply with an EU passport, thus rendering the last two years of division and hate all but worthless.
“Free movement will end,” Ms Nokes said back. “The government is committed to it.” And on the tiny off-chance that wasn’t enough to convince you, she even pointed out that, “Theresa May has said so in a speech.”
So that’s that then. Someone has said it will happen so therefore it will.
Of course, the wider, more depressing truth was the only thing Ms Nokes made clear, albeit by accident. That the chaos, the cluelessness, the brutality, and the vicious rows over it are yet to even start in earnest, and they assuredly will.