Repeal of the main retained EU law relating to free movement etc

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 9:25 am, 26th February 2019

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend’s comments. Labour has tabled a number of new clauses to the Bill that would put the rights of EU citizens into primary legislation. We hope that the Government accept those when we get to that point.

The second question is what our new immigration system should be doing in the future. The Bill is incredibly flimsy; it is only 16 pages long, which is extraordinary given that it will mean the biggest change to our immigration system in decades. Instead of putting forward a new immigration system that Parliament can discuss and debate, amend and improve, the Bill grants powers to Ministers to introduce whatever system they like through extensive Henry VIII powers. We were given an indication of what such a system might be like in the White Paper published by the Government in December. In fact, Ministers are under no obligation to use the powers to implement that system. If they implement the system described in the White Paper, it will spell disaster for our economy and our society.

We will go into these matters in more depth in subsequent debates, but expert witnesses at our evidence sessions criticised almost all aspects of the Government’s plans. The £30,000 threshold would be a disaster for business and public services such as the NHS. The 12-month visa would lead to exploitation. Labour has no problem with immigration that would treat all migrants the same no matter where they came from, but that is not the system the Government propose. The White Paper is explicit that there will be certain visas and conditions that will apply only to people from “low-risk countries”—a categorisation that the Government are not at all transparent about. Apart from those two glaring absences, the Bill before us fails to address a litany of problems with our immigration system, some of which we seek to remedy through our amendments.

Before I conclude, I have two questions that I would like the Minister to address. First, under what circumstances would the Government use the powers in the Bill? We have heard that this is a contingency Bill, so if there is a withdrawal agreement and thus a withdrawal and implementation Bill, will the Government use powers in that Bill to repeal free movement? Secondly, could the provisions in this Bill lead to a change in immigration law that affects non-European economic area migrants? Could the Government use the powers in the Bill to amend immigration legislation that affects non-EU citizens?

As the Minister will know, the Government are asking for extensive Henry VIII powers. During our Committee sittings, Adrian Berry, Steve Valdez-Symonds and Martin Hoare, all experts in immigration law, confirmed to me that the powers in the Bill could be used to make legislation affecting non-EU citizens. Is the Minister willing to contradict the experts? Does she agree that, if it is indeed the case that the powers in the Bill could be used to make legislation that affects non-EU citizens, its scope is much wider than the end of free movement?