LCHR’s response to the leaked Home Office document

The recently leaked Home Office paper proposing a post-Brexit border, immigration and citizenship system may have only offered us a glimpse into the government’s mindset. Yet it was enough to validate fears that when balancing human rights, an immigration system which benefits our economy and the wishes of hard-line Brexiteers, this government would topple towards the latter with harmful and long-lasting consequences.

As one campaigner succinctly put it, the paper “is explicit about ending a rights-based approach” to immigration. EU citizens arriving after Brexit would have to show passports rather than their current ID cards, and could have to apply for biometric residence permits; erecting a symbolic barrier between us and our closest neighbours. In a dramatic reduction of the right to settle in Britain, lower-skilled EU migrants would be offered residency for a maximum of two years. The paper also plans to constrict the range of family members permitted to join EU citizens in the UK and make EU citizens subject to the destructive and unjust spousal migration income requirements, an approach which risks the splintering of thousands of families.

A worrying by-product of these proposals is that they would accelerate the delegation of border control away from the home office and into our communities. As Home Secretary, Theresa May intentionally created a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants which incentivises private sector landlords, teachers, medical staff and other public-sector workers to act as unpaid immigration officers by forcing them to provide information to the authorities. With no regard for the cohesion of our communities, Prime Minister May now intends to use her promotion to extend this damaging policy to EU citizens.

Many prominent Labour figures have criticised the constricting effect that this approach may have on the economy, with Sadiq Khan describing how the plan “read like a blueprint on how to strangle [London’s] economy” and “risks thousands of families being split up.” The economic validity of these policies appears to be in question, as demonstrated by the leak of a government begging letter imploring that corporations set aside their reservations to offer their support.

Yet the shadow cabinet’s hesitance to criticise the economic aspects of the proposal outright is understandable. Labour MPs represent a diverse range of constituencies, the majority of which voted to leave the EU – a decision which was most likely influenced by a desire to see increased control over immigration. Many Labour voters hold legitimate concerns about the squeeze on jobs, wages, healthcare, housing, and welfare.

Labour must help constituencies that have suffered from the worst excesses of globalisation. But equally, Labour must fight against this current government’s tendency to place the full weight of our economic difficulties upon those who actively contribute to our society. The leaked briefing wilfully ignored the overwhelming weight of evidence that migrants contribute to our economy to assert that “to be considered valuable to the country as a whole, immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but also make existing residents better off.”

Labour cannot feel trapped by a discourse which defines migrants as a drain on our economy, and therefore sees their rights as dispensable. If this leaked document is to form the basis of the government’s immigration bill, Labour must see this as an opportunity to impose its parliamentary strength and to begin reshaping the narrative. Backing a cross-party amendment to reduce or scrap the pernicious means test for spousal migration would, for instance, send a clear message that human rights must be at the centre of any post-Brexit immigration policy.

Perhaps the most unnerving discovery of this leak is that, far from being ludicrous empty rhetoric, Theresa May’s desire for a ‘Red White and Blue Brexit’ now appears to be the blueprint for our future immigration policy. Within a global context in which our increasingly international and intersectional crises are ominously met with the rise of those who propose nationalist and isolationist solutions, Brexit has brought Britain’s role on the world stage to a crucial junction. Labour must not allow us to succumb to retreating inwards at a time when climate change and convulsions against globalisation make our rights contingent on global solutions.

Joe Duffy is the Campaign Intern at the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

This article was published as part of our dedicated Brexit and Human Rights Campaign

EU Nationals: The Right to Remain Silent?

The 2017 General Election witnessed the highest voter turnout in 20 years.  Much of this was attributed to 18-24 year-olds, who after registering in Facebook-inspired force, also went to the polling stations on 8 June and ended two decades of disproportionately low turnout among younger voters. While this feat was remarkable, and helped Labour crush the Tories’ pre-election majority, spare a thought for the vast swathes of UK residents who were unable to vote at all.

EU nationals living in the UK form a large and diverse body, numbering around 3 million and having arrived from a wide variety of European countries at different times and for different reasons. Many have lived here for decades. They are also proportionally younger than the UK average and more likely to be in employment. However, despite their significant contributions and deep roots in UK society, none of them are able to vote in general elections.

The fact that they have so much at stake in the election result and the subsequent Brexit negotiations only compounds their sense of helplessness. Take Polish-born Michal, a charity sector worker and former councillor who lives in Watford with his two kids. In almost every way he feels deeply embedded in British society. This is particularly so during the local elections, which he is able to take part in and which he relishes doing so. But come the general election, he is made to feel an outsider.

Must it be this way? While nobody is advocating that immigrants should be handed voting rights upon arrival, surely voting rights should be extended to those like Michal who choose to settle here. At the moment the only way of doing so is through acquiring British citizenship, which is costly, heavily bureaucratic and unattainable for many. There is certainly room to debate the necessary criteria and time frame. Perhaps three years of residence. Perhaps five. However, the current blanket-ban is not the answer.

The UK public seem to agree. A recent poll showed that nearly half of all British citizens support an extension of the voting rights of EU nationals in Britain to include a right to vote in general elections after Brexit. Both Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians also back extending this right. Understandably, there is a growing recognition that if we are letting EU residents stay, we should also let them vote.

The UK government however appear unwilling to even guarantee their existing voting rights. The UK’s policy paper published recently, which detailed the offer of “settled status” for EU nationals after Brexit, made no mention of safeguarding their right to vote in local elections.

At a time when EU nationals feel increasingly uneasy about their future in the UK, affirming and expanding their voting rights would go a long way to easing these fears and ensuring that they feel like full and valued members of society once and for all. And at a time when complaints about immigrants not integrating into society are commonplace, such a move would be the best possible way of providing the conditions for full integration and finally rendering these claims obsolete.

Josh Cooper is a Campaign Volunteer with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

This article was originally written for our dedicated Brexit and Human Rights Campaign

Immigration reform through labour regulations

Many have suggested free movement between the EU and the UK should not survive Brexit because it would continue to facilitate the kind of large-scale immigration from Europe that people specifically voted to end.

It’s certainly true that many are hostile to low-skilled immigration, of which there is a significant amount from the EU, though there is much more support for higher-skilled immigration. This hostility isn’t necessarily the product of xenophobia – there are legitimate concerns about downward pressure on jobs, wages, healthcare, housing, and welfare – and about the pace of cultural change in communities where thousands of new immigrants can arrive in a very short space of time. These concerns should be taken seriously.

But is wholesale immigration reform actually necessary to reduce migrant numbers? One of the most common answers I’ve heard to the immigration question during the course of this project is that labour regulation reform would be sufficient to address the concerns people have.
What exactly does this mean?

Firstly it means cracking down on companies and recruitment agencies that fail to advertise jobs in Britain and instead go straight to Eastern Europe and elsewhere. It also means cracking down on false self-employment and raising the minimum wage, which should make low-wage jobs more appealing to British workers.

If this plan succeeds, it might mean any changes to free movement with the EU are rendered unnecessary, assuming addressing public concerns over immigrant numbers is our main objective.

However, the picture is a little more complex than this proposal perhaps allows. Arguably, what people are looking for more than reducing immigration policy to a numbers game, is greater control. Interfering with the supply and demand of immigration from Europe wouldn’t necessarily address this concern, but introducing reforms such as yearly quotas for low-skilled migration probably would.

The proposal is also untested. What impact would raising the minimum wage really have, for example? Would it really be enough to motivate British workers to pick strawberries and perform other jobs they may consider undesirable? Or would it actually increase the financial draw for workers from overseas? There’s really no way to know unless we go ahead and try it.

Reforming labour regulations should most certainly be part of the equation when we’re looking at addressing the post-Brexit immigration question, but it may not be the whole picture. Whatever the case, we must ensure that whatever immigration system emerges after Brexit, it is underpinned by progressive principles rather than the reactionary politics that gave us the net migration target and other senseless policies.


Andrew Noakes is the Director of the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

This article was originally written for our dedicated Brexit and Human Rights Campaign 


Briefing: Making the Case for Legal Aid

In our latest briefing, we argue that access to legal aid is crucial in ensuring that human rights protection is a reality for all. We encourage Labour MPs and members to continue to campaign for positive change to the provision of legal aid and access to justice.

You can read it here.

Written by Charlotte Blackbourn, Campaigns Volunteer, LCHR
Edited by Tom McNeil, Director for Human Rights Act Campaign, LCHR  

Exploring the EFTA template: How Labour can overcome the impasse on citizens’ rights.

Despite persistent calls from Labour and various citizens’ campaign groups to ringfence the rights of the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and the 1.2 million Britons living in EU countries, they are now seemingly stuck within the posturing and trade-offs of the Brexit negotiations.

Theresa May’s “serious and generous offer” centres around all EU citizens in the UK having to apply for a rebranded version of the indefinite leave to remain status currently available for non-EU citizens. It was met with near-universal disappointment, as it would result in a de-facto reduction of current rights for EU citizens, such as freedom of movement and the ability to emigrate with a family member.

The offer therefore fundamentally differs from the EU’s desire to see EU citizens continue to enjoy the “same level of protection as in EU law”, or in the words of one senior official – to live “as if Brexit never happened.”

But perhaps the most significant point of conflict stems from Theresa May’s red-line demand that European courts will no longer have jurisdiction over anyone living in the UK, and that the rights of EU citizens will be incorporated into the framework of British law. This is completely antithetical to the EU’s demand that “the Court of Justice of the European Union should have full jurisdiction corresponding to the duration of the protection of citizen’s rights.”

The EU have valid reasons for wanting their citizens to remain in the UK based on their EU treaty rights. If, as the UK government proposed, the rights of EU citizens were enshrined only in UK law and determined only by UK courts, they would be extremely vulnerable to unilateral future changes by the UK parliament.

This stand-off over citizens’ rights demonstrates a conundrum that Labour simply cannot shy away from. However vague and inaccurate some of the referendum promises were, one of the powerful overarching messages of the Leave campaign was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.

Labour has consistently proposed a solution which first and foremost guarantees the rights of EU citizens to reside, work and to be treated equally in the countries that they have built their lives. Yet to realise this, Labour must also formulate a mechanism for enforcing these rights which simultaneously respects the referendum’s call for sovereignty whilst bridging the sizeable gap between the UK and EU’s stance on legal jurisdiction.

A solution may, surprisingly, be found by revisiting an under-discussed element of the divisive ‘Norway option’. Whether the UK should seek a similar economic relationship with the EU as the Economic Free Trade Association countries (Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein), has been a subject of much debate. Yet setting aside economics, the model of international legal arbitration that presides over the relationship may provide a template that will enable the EU and UK to overcome its impasse on citizens’ rights.

The EFTA Court is an international body which interprets and applies laws that govern the relationship between EEA members and the EU. As the judges are appointed by common accord of all participating nations, a similar body governing Britain’s withdrawal from the EU would likely assuage European fears that the rights of its current citizens will be at the mercy of future British legislators. Yet crucially, the EFTA court is comprised solely of judges appointed by the government of the three member countries, and unlike in the EU, there is no supranational panel scrutinising the nominees. Bearing in mind that a degree of sovereignty must inevitably be sacrificed in the legal arbitration of international agreements, an EFTA style judicial arrangement offers a realistic compromise whilst maintaining a high degree of British sovereignty.

Labour has rightly opposed the government’s willingness to leave millions of citizens in the dark regarding the future protection of their rights. But to help guarantee these rights in practice, it must show that it can be more flexible and creative than the red-line approach taken by Theresa May. Advocating for an EFTA-style international body to guard over the rights of citizens may offer the common ground which is desperately needed to move the negotiations forward, and secure the rights of millions living in the UK and Europe.


Joe Duffy is the Campaign Intern for the Labour Campaign for Human Rights.

This article was originally published as part of our dedicated Brexit and Human Rights Campaign.

Beyond the transition period: working towards a post-Brexit immigration system that serves Britain’s long-term interests.

Recent reports that the cabinet had united behind a transitionary period for freedom of movement seemed like a rare flicker of certainty amongst the government’s chaotic Brexit negotiations. Amid fears that decades of precedent could instantly disappear over a ‘cliff-edge’, few would disagree that a transitionary period could be helpful.

Yet this was all extinguished when Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis confirmed that free movement of labour will end the second that we leave the EU in the spring of 2019. Lewis also reiterated the government’s farcical aim to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’.

Perhaps the most difficult balancing act that Brexit has demanded of politicians is that of creating an immigration system which protects human rights and serves Britain’s long-term interests whilst fulfilling the mandate for ‘taking back control’ of UK borders and sovereignty. The government’s U-turn on freedom of movement demonstrates the power of the Tory right to call the shots and push us down a path that will cause irreversible damage to the cohesion of our communities and our standing on the global stage.

The invaluable contribution that immigrants make to our country cannot be doubted. Freedom of movement enabled European immigrants to contribute over £20bn to the economy in a single decade, plugging our skill gaps with human capital that would have cost the UK £6.8bn in education.

Businesses up and down the country have highlighted the necessity of a flexible immigration system which does not encumber necessary overseas recruitment with excessive fees, with Sadiq Khan expressing concerns that the uncertainty regarding freedom of movement has been hampering business recruitment.

Yet the government’s track record on immigration policy, coupled with the post-election increase in the authority of backbench Brexit hardliners, raises the likely and worrying scenario that the government will prioritise arbitrary reductions in net migration over a system which harnesses its benefits.

Theresa May’s immigration policies for those living outside the European Economic Area have been notoriously harsh and rigid, leading two of Britain’s largest non-EU trading partners to suggest that entry rules must be relaxed if Britain expects to agree a trade deal. Now that EU citizens are also likely to be subject to UK immigration law, it seems likely that her government’s instinct to deter migration at any cost will undo hard-fought rights and damage our economy for generations to come.

In order to respect the referendum outcome, Labour has declared that continuing freedom of movement in its current form is not an option. But to square the circle of controlling migration whilst ensuring prosperity and protecting human rights, Labour must push for a system that enables the flexibility required to benefit all areas of our economy and regions of our country.

If Labour advocates for a system that closely resembles freedom of movement, such as welcoming all those with a job offer or installing the option for a temporary brake in immigration, it is crucial that the system is safeguarded against worker exploitation – an issue which the party leadership already appears to be aware. Labour has also recognised the need for flexibility by focusing on a “bespoke”, “jobs first” deal, enabled by a “tailored mix” of approaches including employer sponsorships, work permits and visa regulations.

In contrast, the Tory’s policy of attracting only the ‘brightest and the best’ lacks the nuance that our industries require, and their track record on immigration raises doubts that essential rights will be adequately defended. Labour must use every ounce of its newfound parliamentary strength to ensure that we are planning for a post-Brexit system that looks beyond the transitionary period and prioritises jobs and protections equally and indefinitely.

Joe Duffy is the Campaign Intern for the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

This article was initially published for our dedicated Brexit and Human Rights Campaign