The recent European election results, giving marked gains to the anti-Europe UK Independence Party (“UKIP”), have led some, including the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to again question what can the UK do to limit the numbers of unskilled European immigrants entering the UK, a move that has popular support in some parts of the electorate (although it is worth noting that only 1 in 10 of those eligible to vote voted for UKIP in the European election).
The Home Secretary would like to establish a quota on the number of EEA nationals who can come to the UK in search of employment, targeting in particular, low-skilled migrants from the poorer eastern European Member States. This has reportedly led to a conflict with the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who has argued that such a limit is legally unenforceable, being fundamentally contrary to the basic principles of the Treaty of Rome (the legal basis of the European Union).
Theresa May’s comments come in a week when she has also publicly picked a battle with the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. She has previously stated (see earlier news articles on our site) that the UK immigration rules benefit only foreign criminals and UK immigration lawyers. This leads us to ask, is the government genuinely looking to limit Europeans’ access to the UK, or is the Home Secretary just seeking to improve her stock in the eyes of Tory voters who have placed her in the lead as the favoured candidate for the next leader of the Conservative Party.
So is a limit on the number of EEA nationals and their non-EEA partners or families coming to the UK likely? The answer is difficult to predict.
It is a core principle of the European Union that nationals of Member States can travel freely throughout the European Economic Area (EEA) to pursue employment or self-employment opportunities. William Hague rightly observes that trying to impose a limit on the rights of free movement would be illegal. This view was corroborated by the Foreign Minister of Portugal, Rui Machete, who affirmed that to flout such a fundamental principle of the European Union would be inconsistent with the UK’s continued membership. The answer would therefore appear to be “no”.
However, with political parties trying to outdo each other on the subject of immigration, the answer may not be so clear cut.
The Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, as long ago as 2010 questioned whether a limit on lower skilled European migrants is necessary. This week 7 labour MPs have written to Ed Milliband urging a limit on free movement from Europe whilst the Labour leadership itself refuses to confirm whether or not a European referendum will form part of its election manifesto.
The Conservatives have promised that they will hold a referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU if re-elected, the outcome of which is anybody’s guess: it is not inconceivable that the UK could vote to leave the European Union.
Whilst a quota on the actual number of migrants appears unlikely for legal reasons, the UK’s continued membership of the union itself could be in question. The cost to the UK of leaving the EU would be a loss of regional and global influence, reduced investment in the UK and greater skills shortages in the labour market.
If you are a European national or non-EEA family member looking for assistance with your EEA Family Permit, EEA Residence Card, permanent residence, retained residence or British citizenship matters, please contact David Robinson or Evan Remedios, specialist UK immigration solicitors, on 020 7038 3980, at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our online contact form.