The claimed ‘certainty’ in the UK government’s ‘cut and paste’ job on EU law clearly doesn’t apply to EU nationals working in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Last month the UK government published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. It was going to be called the Great Repeal Bill, until people started calling it Gerbill for short. Insufficient gravitas I suspect!
The Bill will repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which means EU law will no longer apply in the UK and European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgments won’t be binding on UK courts. However, it also aims to ‘cut and paste’ EU sourced laws by incorporating them in UK law once we exit the EU. We are told this will provide certainty, with the exact same rights as the day before we finally leave.
It is questionable if it does that on workers’ rights generally, particularly in areas like health and safety. However, for the many thousands of workers who are EU nationals, the UK government’s approach is very different.
These are set out in a separate UK government proposal as part of the Article 50 negotiations. These proposals would take away rights citizens currently have, create new red tape and uncertainty for millions of people. So much for the promises made by the Leave campaign that EU citizens would be treated no less favourably after Brexit. Bit like the missing £350m for the NHS!
In contrast, the EU Commission has set out a more sensible plan, which includes:
- the right to acquire permanent residence after living in a country continuously for five years, no matter how many years prior to the withdrawal date the person had been living in that country.
- the right of “current and future family members” to join the person that has exercised their right to free movement, at any point after the date of withdrawal.
- the protection of recognised professional qualifications which were either obtained or recognised in any member state prior to withdrawal.
The UK also wants a retrospective cut-off date of March 2017 for its new ‘settled status’. It is hard to see how a cut-off date other than the date of withdrawal from the EU could work and it would impact on the ability to achieve ‘settled status’ under the UK proposals. A retrospective cut-off date will also discourage health care workers from coming to Scotland now, something that is already obvious from the nurse registration data.
There needs to be a disputes mechanism and the EU is proposing the ECJ while the UK wants it to be limited to domestic courts. I don’t think either of these would work, but it should be possible to reach a compromise position on a suitable disputes mechanism.
Getting a quick agreement on this matters not only for the workers concerned, but for the many industries in Scotland that rely on EU nationals. Universities have recently expressed their concerns over the UK plan for staff and students. A study by Deloitte’s indicated that half of skilled EU workers were considering leaving after Brexit. Nurse registrations from the EU have already almost dried up, adding to the acute staffing shortages in the health and care sector.
Nowhere in the UK is the economic and social case for immigration stronger than in Scotland. Welcome recent increases in population are almost entirely driven by migration (see chart below).
Our working age population is not projected to increase at the same rate as the rest of the UK. The biggest increase in demand for new jobs is in health and care with 65,000 extra jobs needed by 2020. The numbers of working age Scots to support our ageing population is not going to be available without immigration.
Public opinion polls in Scotland and the UK shows strong support for letting EU migrants stay and that includes three quarters of leave voters. By wanting to change the current status of EU nationals, the UK government position is inconsistent with its stated approach to other EU law in the Repeal Bill.
The key principle should be the protection of existing rights for EU nationals in the UK and reciprocal rights for UK citizens living in the EU. That’s the right approach for workers and the essential services they deliver.