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31 October 2018

Caroline Nokes offers a stark reminder that the hostile environment policy must change

For the government, the immigration minister’s admisssion on EU citizens’ rights post-Brexit was the other shoe that has been waiting to drop.

By Stephen Bush

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes’s difficult encounter with the Home Affairs Select Committee makes all of this morning’s papers after she told fellow MPs that businesses will be expected to make “adequately rigorous checks” as to whether EU citizens have the right to be in the United Kingdom after Brexit, despite the fact neither the government nor the Home Office has given either businesses or European citizens any guidance as to what this will be – and that, due to the lack of a British ID card system, it may well be essentially impossible to do so.

It’s the other shoe that has been waiting to drop as far as the government’s hostile environment policy and Brexit goes. The hostile environment policy essentially recruits a large chunk of civil society – businesses, charities, landlords, and registry offices to name a few – into the border force and requires them to act as immigration enforcement.

It was questions over targets that did for Amber Rudd, but the question of whether the Home Office has targets for the number of people who leave the United Kingdom has only ever been part of the problem as far as the hostile environment policy goes. Most landlords are small-time and don’t have the resources (financial or organisational) to act as border guards on the side, so they “solve” the problem by screening out possible tenants with unusual surnames or foreign accents, while some small businesses do the same.

As the three million EU citizens living here come within the scope of the hostile environment policy, and as ministers make it clear that the obligations on civil society will be the same as they are for people coming from outside the EU, the same thing will happen to everyone with a name that betrays a hint of European ancestry. Unless there is a radical change to how immigration enforcement works – and I don’t mean a mere rebrand to a “compliant environment” – this won’t be the last time that draconian measures cause bad headlines for the government and anxiety for EU citizens.

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