The recent Conservative Party conference in Birmingham put a few important issues on the agenda and, not surprisingly, immigration took centre stage once again.
‘Untouchable’ until now, the rights of EU citizens are coming under review. In particular, in an interview with the Sunday Times, Home Secretary Theresa May announced:
"We are looking at this whole area of the abuse of the freedom of movement. But we will go further on this, and the issue of free movement will be part of the review”.
These rights are enjoyed by around 500 million citizens in the EU and they are among the rights they value most. They allow anyone coming to the UK from the EU to work and live in this country without restrictions (except for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals whose access to the labour market is somewhat limited but due to be lifted next year).
It has been tough for the government to bring the immigration figures to "tens of thousands rather than hundreds”. And it may be that the government now realises that it is not likely to achieve this just by imposing tougher rules for those who are coming from outside the EU. After all, EU migration accounts for about a third of total migration to the UK in recent years, with most of the migrants coming from the so-called Eastern European states that joined the EU less than 10 years ago. Although, with economic problems brewing in Greece and Spain, the UK might see an influx of migrants from there too. Not to mention the non-EU family members of EU citizens.
Without any details from Ms. May, it is hard to guess what is being planned for EU citizens and their family members in the future. We may see restrictions introduced for citizens of some EU countries but not others. What about the many EU citizens who have been living and exercising their treaty rights for some years now in the UK? It is not clear how they may be affected in the future either.
It’s still early days but watch this space. It will be interesting to see what happens to the proposals following the review and how they correspond to the UK’s status as an EU member state under current treaties.