Theresa May is Britain’s new prime minister but what are her beliefs on the key Brexit issue of immigration and what is the future likely to hold for migrants in Britain?
May as Home Secretary
One of May’s most controversial policies as Home Secretary was aimed at reducing the numbers of immigrants coming into Britain from outside of the EU. This came in the form of a ruling that British citizens could not bring children or spouses into the country unless they could prove earnings of more than £18,600 themselves. This was regardless of the amount that their non-British partner earned.
Families and immigration lawyers are currently challenging these rules in the Supreme Court, however, and there are widespread concerns about the long-term separation of young children from their families.
One of May’s most criticised policies was the ‘go home vans’. These drove around offering illegal immigrants assistance in order to get them to go back to their home nations. The idea received widespread condemnation and resulted in only 11 individuals leaving Britain.
However, May’s supporters cite numerous immigration successes achieved after she became Home Secretary in 2010. These include the overhauling of border policing and a clamp-down on fake colleges offering courses to foreign students to issue student visa.
She will, however, be constantly linked to what was a key Home Office target; to reduce net migration to Britain to less than 100,000. Instead of falling from the 244,000 level it had reached when May took office, it had risen to a figure of 333,000 by last year, largely as a result of the arrival of EU citizens.
May on current residents in post-Brexit Britain
Theresa May has thus far refused to give any guarantees of security to the five per cent of Britain’s population that is the three million citizens from the EU. In fact, both May and Philip Hammond have indicated that they may become bargaining chips in negotiations with other countries once Britain’s departure from the EU is triggered.
This failure has received widespread condemnation, including from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The latter slammed May’s stance as ‘a disgrace’ and called it ‘a shameful stain’ that would affect her reputation and credentials and potentially be far more damaging than May realised.
In a joint statement published in The Guardian, members of the high-profile Britain in Europe think tank said that the refusal to offer a unilateral promise of stability to EU nationals already living in Britain was serving to ‘exacerbate’ anxieties, leading to increased levels of distrust, anger and division.
There is also the concern that a failure to offer a guarantee of continued residence to EU nationals before negotiations are completed with the other 27 nations of the EU, could result in a similar stand-off by these countries. This would prolong the period of uncertainty for British nationals living elsewhere in the EU, according to those who advocate maintaining the status quo for people who are already living successfully in countries other than their home nations.