The Queen’s Speech was today. This sets out the legislative agenda for the new Government and lists expected new Acts of Parliament the Government hopes to pass in the coming year. There are reports that this Queen’s Speech may be intended to cover a two year period, but with the likelihood of an early election it may end up being very short indeed. Either way, the agenda is dominated by Brexit to the exclusion of almost everything else. This will be the story of our country for the next decade or so: trying to sort out Brexit to the exclusion of all else.
A new Immigration Bill is proposed. However, it is extremely thin on detail and it is aimed entirely at dealing with EU immigration. The full text of the briefing notes on the proposed Bill read as follows:
“This will be complemented by legislation to ensure that the United Kingdom makes a success of Brexit, establishing new national policies on immigration”
The purpose of the Bill is to:
• Allow the Government to end the EU’s rules on free movement of EU nationals in the UK and make the migration of EU nationals and their family members subject to relevant UK law once the UK has left the EU, whilst still allowing the UK to attract the brightest and the best.
The main benefits of the Bill would be:
• To ensure we have the flexibility to create a fair and sustainable immigration system that gives us control over the numbers of people who come to the UK from the EU.
The main elements of the Bill are:
• To allow the Government to repeal EU law on immigration, primarily free movement, that will be saved and converted into UK law by the Repeal Bill.
• To allow the Government to make the migration of EU nationals and their family members subject to relevant UK law once the UK has left the EU.
Territorial extent and application
• The Bill would apply to the UK. Immigration is a reserved matter.
• The Repeal Bill will save and convert EU law into UK law before we leave the EU. We are introducing an Immigration Bill that allows us to end free movement in the UK and bring EU nationals within the UK’s immigration system.
And that is it. There is no detail on what will replace EU free movement law, no indication of whether new UK rules might be introduced specifically for EU migrants in future, no hint as to whether existing EU residents might be treated differently to future EU law entrants, nothing on guaranteeing the rights of existing EU residents and nothing on whether there might be transitional arrangements.
There is also nothing on the net migration target, increases to immigration charges, increasing the spouse minimum earnings threshold, or deportation of foreign nationals. The net migration is not a law but a policy intention, though, and many changes can be made by secondary legislation, which need not be trailed in the Queen’s Speech.
The only Brexit based amendment to primary legislation I can think of that needs to be made by an Act of Parliament is to replace section 7 of the Immigration Act 1988, which is the root of the exclusion from UK immigration control for EU nationals:
7. Persons exercising Community rights and nationals of member States.
(1) A person shall not under the principal Act require leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom in any case in which he is entitled to do so by virtue of an enforceable EU right or of any provision made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972.
(2) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument give leave to enter the United Kingdom for a limited period to any class of persons who are nationals of member States but who are not entitled to enter the United Kingdom as mentioned in subsection (1) above; and any such order may give leave subject to such conditions as may be imposed by the order.
(3) References in the principal Act to limited leave shall include references to leave given by an order under subsection (2) above and a person having leave by virtue of such an order shall be treated as having been given that leave by a notice given to him by an immigration officer within the period specified in paragraph 6(1) of Schedule 2 to that Act.
This section allows for EU nationals to be granted limited leave under UK law anyway, although not indefinite leave to remain. The section could be amended or scrapped in the Not-So-Great Repeal Bill. Everything else could be accomplished with changes to secondary legislation.
So maybe the Immigration Bill will be very short indeed and we will see a lot more in secondary legislation. Or maybe the Bill will include more than the briefing notes suggest.