UK facing legal action for failing to comply with free movement rules despite leaving EU

Brussels gives government four months to comply or be referred to European Court of Justice

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 14 May 2020 18:46 BST
European Parliament's UK trade negotiator concerned about slow progress in Brexit talks

Britain is facing legal action in the European Court of Justice for failing to comply with free movement rules, even though it has left the European Union.

Brussels has begun infringement proceedings giving the UK government four months to "address the shortcomings" or be referred to the Luxembourg court in a case which could end in financial penalties.

According to the European Commission, UK national laws are unfairly restricting the rights of EU citizens under free movement legislation and could adversely affect their rights after the end of the transition period which will see Britain cease to be subject to European directives on 31 December.

An infringement decision issued by the Commission stated that the UK has breached the free movement directive as well as three articles of the EU's treaties by failing to “comply with EU law on the free movement of EU citizens and their family members”.

And it added: “EU law on free movement of persons continues to apply to and in the United Kingdom as if it were still an EU member state during the transition period.

“Furthermore, the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK after the end of the transition period, as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, are built on the rights that they currently enjoy in the United Kingdom under EU rules.

“The United Kingdom’s shortcomings in the implementation and transposition of EU free movement law risks therefore also affecting the implementation of the citizens’ rights under the Withdrawal Agreement after the end of the transition period."​

Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told a Brussels press briefing: “On substance, the commission is of the view that the United Kingdom has, over the last few years, limited the scope of beneficiaries of EU free movement law in the United Kingdom as well as the possibilities for EU citizens and their family members to appeal administrative decisions restricting free movement rights.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We will look at what the EU has to say and we will respond in due course.”

The UK formally left the EU on 31 January but is now in a transition period during which it follows Brussels’ rules without having a say in how they are made.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine said: "It is beyond frustrating that it has got to the point where the UK government is facing legal action to protect the rights of people who contribute so much to this country. The fact that the commission feels it has to take this action to protect rights after the transition period reflects terribly on the UK government and their actions.

"The current crisis has made it clear just how vital immigration is. For our NHS and social care systems, EU workers are key.

"Liberal Democrats will continue to call on the Government to scrap its damaging immigration plans and instead build a fair, effective immigration system that treats everyone with dignity and respect."

Additional reporting by Press Association

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