The free movement of people between Britain and the European Union (EU) is set to end with Brexit in March 2019, the Tories have decided.
Home secretary Amber Rudd, international trade secretary Liam Fox and immigration minister Brandon Lewis were all firm on this issue last week.
Lewis even said it was “very clear” and a “simple matter of fact”.
But it evidently wasn’t clear and simple enough for cabinet colleague Michael Gove, who had argued the opposite the previous week.
Britain’s government will no longer be obliged to uphold freedom of movement after Brexit. But nor will it be obliged to impose any new restrictions.
It will have the right to set its own immigration policy. Whether that policy is harsher, more relaxed or substantially the same for EU nationals is a decision to be made, not a “fact” to be recognised.
The Tory ministers who seem to be making Brexit policy on the hoof while Theresa May is away and parliament is in recess do largely agree on one thing.
They say an interim arrangement will be put in place for up to three years after Brexit to make time for further negotiations. Even Gove, a right wing “hard Brexit” supporter, argued that ending freedom of movement could wait until 2022.
But Rudd said that the “implementation phase” would involve all new EU workers who arrive in Britain after Brexit giving their details for a register.
She claimed that eventually “our new immigration system will give us control of the volume of people coming here”. Rudd said this is about “giving the public confidence we are applying our own rules on who we want to come to the UK and helping us to bring down net migration to sustainable levels”.
In reality there is nothing unsustainable about current immigration levels, and little the Tories can do to substantially bring them down.
Their proposals for a post-Brexit system mean more restrictions on the rights of workers who come here.
And they mean pouring more fuel on the fire of anti-immigrant racism.
This will make migrant workers more vulnerable to repression from the law and harassment from racists. It will make it harder for them to organise and easier for bosses to exploit them.
So despite many claims that freedom of movement helps bosses drive down wages, ending it would only make things worse.
The leaders and supporters of the EU are guilty of the direst hypocrisy when they criticise the Tories’ clampdown plans.
“Fortress Europe” is no friend of those who need to cross borders (see below).
Labour could insist that future migrants, as well as EU nationals here now, keep their rights after Brexit.
It’s a missed opportunity that even most of its left—including Jeremy Corbyn—refuses to do so.
Meanwhile the Tories are shambolically groping towards a plan that, if it isn’t stopped, will be racist, repressive and damaging to all workers.
EU moves to step up deportations
The EU’s top court threw its weight behind rolling back the refugee exodus of 2015-16 last week.
It ruled that the heroic journey of hundreds of thousands of people through the Balkans into central Europe did not constitute exceptional circumstances.
This means that under the rules of the “Dublin convention” refugees can be sent back to the first country they entered.
In this case, two Afghan families in Austria and a Syrian in Slovenia lost their appeal against being deported to Croatia.
The case allows more refugees to be deported to Spain, Bulgaria and especially Greece and Italy.
Italy is at the frontline of this year’s European refugee crisis.
Tightening restrictions there have driven hundreds of thousands onto overloaded dinghies on the Mediterranean.
For any humane and sustainable solution to the refugee crisis, freedom of movement must not be restricted to Europeans but extended to all of those who are in need.