Unhindered travel after Brexit is in the interests of all 

Unhindered travel after Brexit is in the interests of all 

I recall the opening presentation from the Chief Training Officer when I joined the Immigration Service in 1970. His opening words were: “98% of non-Brits entering the UK are of little immigration interest” – this was 47 years ago – “and your job on the desk will be to send them on their way quickly and with minimum fuss.”

He continued: “You must also admit the other 2%, as soon as you are happy that they qualify under the Immigration Rules and only refuse leave to enter if they do not.”

What the Chief Training Officer said all those years ago still holds true and broadly underlies the principles of our border control system to this day. Indeed, they guided Migration Watch UK’s thinking in putting together the paper we recently published, Movement between the UK and EU after Brexit.

As polling from June 2016 indicates, the need for a considerable reduction in long-term EU net migration was very much at the heart of the Brexit vote. That fact needs to be at the heart of any future immigration proposals, which also honour the referendum result.

However, there are nearly 35 million passenger arrivals from the EU at the UK border each year. Partly for this reason, the government is right to be keen to ensure the preservation of smooth entry procedures for legitimate travellers to the UK after Brexit. EU reciprocation along such lines would be in the interests of both sides. Of course, any future arrangements which require visas to be issued in advance of travel should definitely be avoided.

This is partly true for simple reasons of practicality – the last thing anyone wants to see is long queues at the passport desk. Unhindered travel is also necessary for the continued success of the tourism and leisure industry. For the UK’s part, this is a major player for the economy, worth a mammoth £127 billion. Figures by Visit Britain also reveal that 80% of the top ten visiting countries to the UK are in the EU.

Of course we also treasure our cultural, familial and academic links with the continent. We may be leaving the EU but, after March 2019, we should continue to play our vital role on the European stage. Under MW’s post-Brexit proposals, those arriving here would simply need to have reliable proof of their identity – meaning a passport rather than an I.D. card, with EU business visitors, tourists, students and the self-sufficient free to come in very much along the lines they do now. Visitors would be admitted for a period of several months and need not have their passports stamped.

The only exception should be that those from the EU who wish to take up a job in the UK after Brexit should be required to obtain a work permit. We have suggested a number of specific schemes that would protect flows of the best and brightest from the EU and also ensure a reduction in net migration of around 100,000 a year from recent record levels. This would be achieved by cutting out the current large inflows from the EU into lower skilled and lower-paid jobs which do not significantly benefit the economy or the Exchequer but do add considerably to pressure on population growth, roads, schools, hospitals, housing and on our congested transport networks, as our paper explains.

As well as implementing sensible, streamlined controls of the kind outlined above, the government should also keep in mind that the EU is working on two new border technology schemes that will be material to the Brexit talks.

Firstly, there are plans for a new pre-authorisation scheme for visa-exempt travellers to be put in place by 2020. The European Travel Information and Authorisation Scheme (or ETIAS) will cost each prospective traveller ten Euros for a three-year permission. During this, the traveller would be allowed to take unlimited trips to the Schengen area of up to 90 days during a 180-period.

Secondly, the EU is also planning to introduce fingerprint and photograph checks on all non-EU travellers arriving at the Schengen border by 2020 (the Entry-Exit Scheme or EES). There is a clear risk that both schemes will be applied to UK nationals after Brexit (indeed top EU officials have already indicated as much with respect to ETIAS).

Meanwhile, the UK has in mind its own version of a ‘light-touch’ pre-authorisation scheme for future arrivals. If, as has been reported, this mirrors the United States’ ESTA scheme, authorisation would cost $14 (or just over £10) and last two years.

The question will be whether controls of this kind between the UK and Europe are necessary or desirable in future. Should the EU decide to apply ETIAS and the EES to UK nationals after Brexit, it would of course be an option for the UK government to reciprocate.

While measures for protecting security and the rule of law are of course necessary, no one sensible wants to see major new obstacles to UK-EU travel. It is in everyone’s interests, therefore, for movement to remain as unhindered as possible. With the Brexit negotiations set to move on to a critical stage as the New Year dawns, there is everything to play for.