May is 'unlikely' to pursue hard-line Brexit immigration proposals as they would be 'catastrophic'

LONDON — Theresa May is unlikely to pursue the most “hard-line” post-Brexit immigration proposals that have been touted for European nationals as they would have “catastrophic consequences,” according to a business immigration lawyer.

Andy Williams, a partner and specialist business immigration lawyer at law firm DMH Stallard, told Business Insider that it was “very difficult” to have any clear view of post-Brexit immigration policy because it is not possible to predict the negotiating demands of the UK government or the European Commission.

He said, however, that “it is unlikely that we will end up with the government taking a short, sharp, hard line in relation to removing the rights of EEA (the European Economic Area, which refers to countries within the EU’s single market) nationals to live and work in the UK.”

Prime Minister Theresa May and senior cabinet colleagues have consistently refused to guarantee the right to remain to the 3 million EEA nationals living in the UK.

Trade minister Liam Fox has described EEA nationals in the UK as one of the government’s “main bargaining chips” in upcoming negotiations, and May has argued that the UK would be left “high and dry” in negotiations by guaranteeing the rights of EEA nationals without receiving similar assurances for UK nationals living in the EU.

“A hard line would have a very, very negative impact”

Williams said that the “economic damage” that would come from removing such rights makes such a “hard-line” approach too risky for the government.

“There are certain sectors which are heavily reliant on labour from the EEA — construction and care are a good example — where it just doesn’t make sense for the government to take a hard line because it would have a very, very negative impact on those sectors.”

“Catastrophic consequences for the NHS”

Williams also said that a hard-line approach would have “catastrophic consequences for the NHS.”

Across the UK, EEA immigrants make up 10% of registered doctors and 4% of registered nurses, but that number is falling dramatically: The number of EU nationals registering as nurses in England has dropped by 92% since the Brexit vote referendum in June, and a record number are also quitting.

Williams said: “The NHS is a slightly different example but the same principle is true. There has already been a significant drop off since the referendum vote to the NHS and that sector is already seeing a drop-off in the availability of applicants. A hard line — a very hard line — like the requirement for EEA nationals to leave the UK after a certain period — would have catastrophic consequences for the NHS.”

A cross-party group of MPs last week told the prime minister that it was “unconscionable” to force EU nationals to wait two years to find out their fate. The prime minister is yet to change her position.

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