Thursday 1 November 2018 / 1:12 PM Afzal Khan / Immigration

Labour accuses Immigration Minister of misleading Parliament over EU citizens right to work checks

Today Labour is accusing Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes of misleading Parliament and demanding she sets the record straight, following comments she made to the Home Affairs Select Committee about employers carrying out “rigorous checks on EU nationals’ right to work in the UK” after Brexit.

Ms Nokes said that it would be “incredibly difficult” for employers to differentiate between an EU citizen who had been living in the United Kingdom before March 2019 and those who had arrived afterwards. However, last night the Home Office issued a clarification, stating that “employers will not be expected to differentiate” between EU citizens resident here before Brexit and those who arrived after March 2019.

Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister Afzal Khan has written to Caroline Nokes, saying that following this clarification “it is clear that you provided misleading evidence” to Parliament earlier this week. Khan accused Nokes of lacking “even the most basic level of understanding and knowledge of your own immigration policy”.

Labour is demanding that Nokes comes before Parliament to set the record straight.

Ms Nokes also appeared to U-turn on plans to increase staffing in the Border Force post-Brexit. She told the Committee about plans to hire 600 additional staff for the Border Force, however in July to Parliament that a target of 1,000 additional staff was being worked towards.

The Immigration Minister is already under pressure after appearing to mislead Parliament over DNA tests, telling Parliament in June that “there is no specific requirement for DNA evidence to be provide in immigration cases”. The Home Secretary Sajid Javid subsequently apologised to hundreds of immigration applicants forced to give DNA samples to the Home Office and ordered a review into Home Office processes. Caroline Nokes was also previously accused of misleading Parliament over the application of the controversial section 322(5) of the Immigration Act, under which at least 1,000 highly skilled migrants seeking indefinite leave to remain in the UK were wrongly faced deportation.

Labour is also demanding answers on the government’s scheme for granting settled status to the estimated 3.5 million EU nations who will need to apply for settled status to remain in the United Kingdom after Brexit. So far, just 650 have gone through the process. Afzal Khan warned that “with five months to go until March 29th 2019 and millions of EU citizens requiring urgent clarification over their right to settled status post-March 2019”, the government risks creating another Windrush scandal involving “millions of people with the right to be here, but lacking the ability to prove this right as a result of the inability of your government to put in place an immigration system and settled status scheme that is fit for purpose”.

Full text of the letter

Dear Minister

I am writing to you following your appearance in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday (30th October).

During your oral evidence, you stated that in a no deal scenario employers would be expected carry out “adequately rigorous checks” on EU nationals’ right to work in the UK. However, you then admitted that it would be “incredibly difficult” to differentiate between those who have settled status and those who do not given that not all EU nationals will have acquired settled status by 29 April 2018.

Last night your Department issued a clarification that “employers already need to carry out right to work checks on EU citizens, and that will not change”. If nothing has changed, then why did you imply otherwise? And why then did the Prime Minister’s spokesperson say that you were “putting forward options that are going to be considered”?

As you yourself admitted to the Committee yesterday, the problem is that employers will not be able to differentiate between “an EU citizen who is coming here for the first time, an somebody who has been here for a significant period of time but simply has not yet applied for their settled status but would be perfectly entitled to it if they were able to apply”. This is unacceptable and demonstrates yet again total chaos in the Home Office. Businesses and EU citizens require urgent clarity on these issues.

How can employers accurately carry out right to work checks on EU citizens when the status of millions of EU citizens will be unclear following March 29 and millions of EU citizens will not have been granted settled status by 29 March? Do you accept that the government’s lack of preparedness for a ‘No Deal’ scenario means employers are at risk of criminal charges, fines and even custodial sentences for inadvertently hiring workers who have not been granted the right to work in the United Kingdom?

Last night the Home Office issued a “clarification”, on the basis of which it appears you were completely wrong when you told Parliament that “employers will not be expected to differentiate” between EU citizens who had been living here before March 2019 and those who had arrived after. From this clarification, it is clear that you provided misleading evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee this week. Either you wilfully misled Parliament, or as Immigration Minister you lack even the most basic level of understanding and knowledge of your own immigration policy. You must come to Parliament to set the record straight. As you will be aware, the Ministerial Code states that Ministers must give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, and any Minister who knowingly misleads Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.

You also claimed during yesterday’s session that in talks with business groups, no employer had raised this issue with you. This has since been disputed, with the British Chambers of Commerce making clear that “We’ve raised this as a source of serious concern for business communities given the shortening timeframe.” Given this disparity, could you tell me how many business groups have you actually spoken to and would it be possible to publish minutes of these meetings?

You admitted that new controls could kick in from March 29 2019 if we leave the European Union without a deal, leaving millions of EU citizens without a guarantee of their status. So far, just 650 of the estimated 3.5 million EU nationals who will need to apply for settled status have gone through the process. What is the estimate of the numbers of EU citizens who will have been granted settled status by 29 March 2019?

Our security must be our first priority. Yesterday you also spoke about hiring 600 additional staff for the Border Force, but in response to a Parliamentary Written Question on 24th July 2018 you stated that a target of 1,000 additional staff was being worked towards. What is the reason for this downgrade?

Senior officials from the Home Office and Border Force said they could not say what the security implications at the border would be in the event of losing access to EU criminal databases, merely restating the Home Secretary’s comment that this would be “sub-optimal”. Will you now commit to carrying out and publishing an assessment of the impact to our security if we lost access to EU intelligence databases and other key aspects of our relationship with the EU on cross-border security and policing?

The Immigration White Paper was due to be published more than a year ago. When will it be published? Will the Immigration Bill be published before the end of the year? Will the White Paper and Immigration Bill include the government’s plans for leaving the European Union without a deal?

Yesterday you admitted that the Immigration Bill will not be in place before March 2019. As Immigration Minister you are responsible for a situation whereby we are set to leave the EU with no clarity about our future immigration system or the rights of over three million European citizens currently resident here and one million British nationals living in Europe. That is a shocking dereliction of duty.

You have previously claimed your Government is committed to learning the lessons from the Windrush scandal. With five months to go until March 29th 2019 and millions of EU citizens requiring urgent clarification over their right to settled status post-March 2019, what steps are being taken to avoid another Windrush scandal involving millions of people with the right to be here, but lacking the ability to prove this right as a result of the inability of your government to put in place an immigration system and settled status scheme that is fit for purpose?

Yesterday’s Oral Evidence session exposed a shambolic lack of preparedness in the Home Office about crucial issues pertaining to our immigration system, our nation’s borders and future security arrangements. I would appreciate an urgent response to the questions set out in this letter.

Given the public interest in this matter, I will be making this letter public.

Yours Sincerely

Afzal Khan

CC Prime Minister Theresa May

CC Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill