Government ‘is not ready to deal with changes to immigration after Brexit’, report finds

'Failure to set out detailed plans for the registration and transition period soon will make it impossible for the already overstretched UK Visas and Immigration, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement to do their job properly'

Benjamin Kentish
Wednesday 14 February 2018 01:13
Border security could be compromised if key changes are rushed through without proper parliamentary scrutiny, MPs on the Home Affairs Committee say
Border security could be compromised if key changes are rushed through without proper parliamentary scrutiny, MPs on the Home Affairs Committee say

The Government is chronically underprepared to deal with immigration changes after Brexit, is responsible for “unacceptable” delays in setting out its plans, and continues to starve key border agencies of resources, according to a damning report from a parliamentary committee.

The influential Home Affairs Committee called ministers’ failure to outline their plans for post-Brexit immigration “extremely regrettable” and said it means over-stretched authorities are being left with “barely any time to recruit or plan” for Britain leaving the European Union (EU).

As a result, key changes could be rushed through without proper parliamentary scrutiny, and border security compromised, the MPs warned.

The criticism is likely to pile fresh pressure on the Government to clarify its plans for immigration, including making clear who will be granted residency in the UK after Brexit.

A white paper laying out the proposals was initially due to be published last summer, but was then pushed back to the end of last year. It was delayed again earlier this month, with ministers telling MPs the paper will be released “when the time is right”. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, would only say it was “likely” to be published by the end of the 2018.

Criticising the delay, the Home Affairs Committee said a “lack of decisions, proper planning or sufficient resources” was creating “serious problems” for agencies tasked with dealing with immigration and border security. It claimed there were now “serious questions” over the Home Office’s ability to deliver the changes Brexit will require.

The committee said: “The delays to the immigration white paper and lack of clarity over the Government’s intentions on immigration are creating anxiety for EU citizens in the UK, uncertainty for UK businesses, preventing proper planning and putting already overstretched immigration officials in an ‘impossible position’. That is unacceptable.”

It added: “The delay and the lack of any timetable for crucial decisions is extremely regrettable. Failure to set out detailed plans for the registration and transition period soon will make it impossible for the already overstretched UK Visas and Immigration, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement to do their job properly. The Government’s failure to set out its immigration objectives for the negotiations over the transition soon will deny Parliament and those affected the chance to debate plans before they are finalised. That is unacceptable.”

The damning report also found ministers had allocated “insufficient resources” for managing the process of registering all EU citizens currently living in the EU and coping with the additional border security likely to be introduced after Brexit.

UK Visas and Immigration has been asked to undertake two registration drives: one for all EU nationals living in the UK and another for new arrivals from Europe.

However, the committee said the agency “will not be able to deliver” these major projects by the time Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019. And it warned the organisation “does not have the capacity to deliver additional checks” that will become necessary once freedom of movement ends and the EU leaves the single market and customs union.

The delays and the failure to give immigration authorities the resources they need to deal with the increased workload “will undermine border security”, the MPs warned, saying current Home Office funding is “not sufficient to address existing weaknesses never mind cope with the substantial additional Brexit workload”.

In an attempt to rectify this, they called on the Government to commit to keeping customs arrangements the same during the Brexit transition period, in order to give officials more time to prepare for the new system.

Issuing a stark warning about the consequences of indecision, the committee said: “The Government needs to be realistic about the lack of time left to make substantial changes to the border arrangements … Rushed and under-resourced changes will put border security at risk.”

The cross-party group of MPs said there needed to be particular clarification on what conditions European nationals must meet to be granted residency in the UK after Brexit, warning that the “needless uncertainty is preventing individuals from planning for their futures, and businesses and public services knowing how and where they can resource staff.”

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the committee, said: “Government drift is putting everyone in an impossible position. Decisions and announcements keep being delayed. Crucial details are still lacking. There aren’t enough resources and staff in place. Our inquiry found that the immigration and border system is already understaffed with significant problems and it will not cope with last-minute and under-resourced Brexit changes. 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.

She added: “The litany of questions that remain over the status of EU citizens is causing needless anxiety and uncertainty, both for EU citizens and their families and for employers who need to plan. Ministers need to provide urgent answers. 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 anti-Brexit Best for Britain group said the report amounted to “political character assassination” of senior ministers. “This is the equivalent of a political character assassination of both Theresa May and Amber Rudd as their fellow MPs tell them they are failing in their basic duty to the keep the country safe” said Eloise Todd, its CEO.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “It is ridiculous to suggest that we are not preparing sufficiently for leaving the EU.

”It is precisely for this reason that we have already invested £60m in 2017-18, are planning to recruit an additional 1,500 staff across the immigration, borders and citizenship system and are well advanced in the development of a new scheme to give EU citizens currently here the right to stay after Brexit.

“We will keep staffing under review as negotiations progress, but will always ensure we have the resources and workforce we need to run an effective system.”

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